What can Erythopoetin do for you?

Erythropoietin is an effective drug to increase your number of red blood cells. It is primarily used in anemic patients with cancer and on dialysis, but it is also popular with athletes that want to (illegally) increase their endurance performance, most notably cyclists and cross country skiers.

Although the typical work of a scientist is a very different from a cyclist performing in the Tour de France, a first case of erythropoietin use(or rather misuse) has now been reported in Germany. A neurobiology postdoc working on the role of erythropoietin in Alzheimer disease has apparently had the idea to do a little self-experimenting – probably thinking of the famous experiment by Barry Marashall that won him a Nobel Price. Or he was pictured – during his long experiments lasting well into the night – the famous German cross country skier Johann Mühlegg who tried to win an Olympic Gold medal in Salt Lake City with the help of darbepoetin. What he didn't think of was the price of erythropoietin. After burning some 20.000 Euro, the technician and then the principal investigator became suspicious. The case is now under investigation by the university and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. What the authorities don't know is how to handle this case. Is this simply misappropriation of the research funds, is this brain doping, or is this a misunderstood brilliant scientist? The World Anti-Brain Doping Authority now got involved to help clear the issues.

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6 Responses to What can Erythopoetin do for you?

  1. Jonathan Eisen says:

    I think EPO can help scientists in another way. When you are at a conference and you are just not keeping up with all the talks/parties/etc .. take a little EPO and then you will rally.

  2. Martin Fenner says:

    The Wall Street Journal today “reports”:http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2008/04/01/marketing-of-anemia-drugs-back-in-the-congressional-spotlight that Congress is investigating the marketing of Erythropoietin by Amgen and Johnson & Johnson. I wonder whether that marketing gave some scientists the wrong ideas…

  3. Kyrsten Jensen says:

    That postdoc better be careful – although Epo doesn’t cause too much trouble (given to race horses and kidney patients all the time – race horses so they can process more oxygen, kidney patients to fight anemia), he’s lucky he didn’t try NeupoGen instead (G-CSF). It’s given to naive paid human donors who get paid to be “mobilized” ie given the drug so that the stem cells from the bone marrow are mobilized into the blood. The rumor is that the FDA is actually in the process of “relabelling” NeupoGen as there are contraindications. I always thought that injecting a cytokine into an exquisitely regulated organism like a mouse or human was much like taking a baseball bat to a fly….

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    I like to disagree with your statement about the safety of G-CSF, as we routinely do stem cell transplantations in our department. The use in healthy donors (who are not paid, but are picked up because they are HLA compatible) for hematopoetic stem cell transplantation is safe. There are reports of cases of leukemia following G-CSF, mainly from the “RADAR”:http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2141.2006.06312.x project, but the overall correlation is unclear. “This review”:http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1537-2995.2008.01694.x gives an overview of the current situation.
    The safety of erythropoietin is another story, with an FDA advisory committee meeting on “March 13″:http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2008/03/13/keep-anemia-drugs-for-cancer-patients-with-limits/?mod=WSJBlog recommending restrictions in cancer patients.

  5. Kyrsten Jensen says:

    Fair enough. I know that G-CSF mobilization is a normal practice in healthy donors, though it’s not something I’d choose to do myself.
    I must point out that the FDA has indeed warned against use of Neupogen in “healthy donors”:http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/568498. It must be pointed out, however, that this does not mean that people must “light their hair on fire”, and stop using it, but this is reported off-label use of this particular drug.

  6. Martin Fenner says:

    Kyrsten, thanks a lot for the information, I did not know about the FDA warning. It’s interesting how an “April 1st”:http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-is-so-bad-about-brain-doping.html article about brain-doping can lead to something completely different.