An experimental drug which holds promise for people with damaged hearts is now the latest performance-enhancing drug under the spotlight of the horse industry.
The drug is myo-inositol trispyrophosphate (ITPP), and there are fears its use is on the rise in some racing jurisdictions.
Several initiatives are under way to develop a test able to detect it in blood samples.
Researchers have found that mice with damaged hearts increased exercise levels by 35 per cent when given the drug orally, and 60 per cent when it was injected in the abdomen.
The drug holds out hope for those with certain heart conditions, by increasing the oxygen supply to damaged cardiac muscle.
The drug works by making haemoglobin in the blood release more of its oxygen than normal.
Normally, haemoglobin will release just 25 per cent of its oxygen cargo during one circuit of the body. When ITPP binds to haemoglobin, it releases 35 per cent more than usual, boosting supplies of oxygen to tissues. Hence the increase in performance.
Concerns are mounting over its possible use in the racing industry, and last month the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in the United States allocated funding in the hope of developing a test to detect its presence.
The New Bolton Center, part of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, announced today it had received funding to research ITPP.
The donation will be used for developing methods to detect and study the effects of the drug.
The money comes from the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen Association, in conjunction with donations from the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, the Pennsylvania Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen Association.
It is understood that the Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory has been collaborating with overseas agencies in efforts to develop a suitable test.