Hustle and muscleSaturday June 14 2008 21:45 IST

Praveen Raja

Early in 2008, when Olivier Rabin, science director at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was quizzed on whether WADA had developed dope tests for both Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) and Myostatin inhibitors, he nodded in the affirmative.

“In fairness to athletes who stay clean, we don’t say when detection tools are available,” he had said. “We say when we detect the first athletes using the drugs.”

We have to wait to tell if that optimism was feigned. But we already know what these two doping agents can do. These two new classes of drugs, which have made WADA’s 2008 list of prohibited substances, have super powerful muscle-building capabilities.

Unlike testosterone and other tried and tested steroids, SARMs and myostatin inhibitors target individual muscle groups.

Here’s how SARMs gets their name. An androgen is a male sex hormone (such as testosterone). Androgens bind to chemicals on the surface of certain muscles, and initiate cellular processes, like inhibiting or regulating muscular growth. An SARM molecule can activate certain chemicals in the muscle without affecting others. In effect, SARMs can safely ‘switch off’ certain fibres of muscles from bowing to heredity. The muscle just keeps growing. Athletes could build strength, and increase muscle mass or bone density without harmful side-effects or getting caught.

Myostatin inhibitors get the job done in a different way. They block Myostatin, a naturally occurring protein in the body that stops growth of skeletal muscle. An experiment was performed on mice whose myostatin genes had been disabled and they turned into what scientists called ‘Schwarzenegger mice’.

In WADA’s own words: “Based upon their mechanisms of action and early clinical results in humans, these compounds have the potential to be used as doping substances.”

WADA has reasons to be wary. No one could have forgotten the case of disgraced German coach Thomas Springstein, who was accused of gene doping athletes, including minors. The substance used was Repoxygen, a substance that stimulates the production of red blood cells. That infamous substance joined the WADA list in 2006 and still remains one of the most elusive of drugs to detect.

If experts are to be believed, in the future, an athlete could point to any of his muscles and simply ask his coach or doctor to ‘supersize it’ — like in a McDonalds. The same experts also warn that the ‘X-men’ athlete could debut at the 2008 Olympics. The future is now.