IT is a performance enhancing drug that has been used by some of the world’s top athletes.

Sprinting stars including Great Britain’s Dwain Chambers and Canada’s Ben Johnson, who was famously stripped of an Olympic gold medal in 1988, have both admitted to using the human growth hormone, during their controversial careers.

Now, anti-doping chiefs will be able to better detect the illegal use of the substance, thanks to the work of Southampton scientists.

Researchers from the University of Southampton have led a dedicated team from across the UK, dubbed GH-2004, which was put together to develop a more comprehensive test for the use of growth hormones.

The previous test for the drug, which was put in place for the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, could only detect the hormone if it had been injected less than 24 hours previously.

But the revolutionary new method is able to reveal an athlete’s use of the hormones dating back over a two-week period.

Funded by the World Anti- Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency, the new test is based on the measurement of two proteins in the blood, which increase in response to the use of growth hormones.

Two drug cheats have already been caught out by the new technique, after it was used for the first time during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The International Paralympic Committee revealed earlier this month that Russian powerlifters, Nikolay Marfin and Vadim Rakitin, had been handed two-year suspensions after testing positive for growth hormones.

The test, which took ten years of research to complete, also involved scientists from King’s College in London and the University of Kent in Canterbury.

Richard Holt, professor in diabetes and endocrinology at the University of Southampton, said: “We are pleased to have another effective and reliable means to catch cheats and help deter harmful drug misuse.

“There has been a tremendous amount of team work to develop this test and I am delighted that this dedication has finally succeeded.

“After dedicating ten years of my life to the project, it’s in some ways a relief to see that it’s working, but I’d much rather see it used as a deterrent to stop people taking the drug, rather than seeing a load of athletes being caught.”

Andy Parkinson, chief executive at UK Anti-Doping, added: “Continual improvement in testing science is fundamental to the global anti-doping movement, ensuring that sophisticated dopers are caught and those at a tipping point are deterred.

“I am delighted that this UK developed test, which my team has been closely involved with, was used at the 2012 Paralympic Games to such good effect.”

  •  Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100m gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, after testing positive for a substance called stanozolol. But he and his coach, Charlie Francis, later admitted that he had also used anabolic steroids and the growth hormone, during his career.
  •  Dwain Chambers was handed a two-year ban from athletics, in February 2004, after testing positive for a banned steroid, called THG. But, like Ben Johnson before him, Dwain’s camp later admitted that he had used a potentially deadly cocktail of drugs, which also included the growth hormone.
  •  American sprint star, Marion Jones, won an impressive haul of five medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in Australia, but forfeited them all after admitting that she had used performance enhancing drugs, including the growth hormone. The father of her first child, former 100m world record-holder, Tim Montgomery, allegedly testified to the US Anti-Doping Agency, that he and a number of other athletes had used steroids and the human growth hormone.
  • Despite the series of admissions, it wasn’t until November 2009 that the former Bradford and Wigan rugby league player, Terry Newton, became the first professional sportsman to test positive for the growth hormone. He received an automatic two-year ban, but was found hanged in September 2010.