A key researcher has branded the use of Interleukin-6 in Essendon’s controversial sports science program last season as “rather surprising”, and suggested there was “no benefit whatsoever”.
Professor Mark A. Febbraio, Senior Principle Research Fellow at the National Health and Medical Research Council and researcher on the drug Interleukin-6, spoke to Bound For Glory News exclusively.
Febbraio refused to comment on Essendon’s ASADA investigation, but opened up on the drug, its history and the ethics surrounding its use on humans.
Interleukin-6 was named in a News Limited article on Friday as being a part of Stephen Dank’s regime at Essendon. Another source confirmed its use during the 2012 season, backing the initial reports it was injected into a small group of players at least once.
“Interleukin-6 is a cytokine in a response to inflammation or infection. It’s an immune cytokine, a cytokine being something that is released from one cell or tissue to talk to another cell or tissue,” Febbraio told Bound For Glory News.
He elaborated on his history in the field and the research that he had conducted on the drug.
“About 12 years ago, we discovered muscle cells make Interleukin-6 in a response to contraction and exercise. From a number of follow up studies from my lab and a collaborator in Copenhagen, and we’ve found that Interleukin-6 can increase fat burning.
“The results that occurred from this collaboration in Copenhagen, from ‘a knock-out mouse’ (a genetically engineered mouse which has an existing gene removed or disrupted with an artificial insertion of a new gene) yielded further intrigue.
“We made an Interleukin-6 knock out mouse, and we and others in Sweden found that this mouse got obese.”
Febbraio then discussed the ethical dilemmas that existed with testing it on human subjects, and described its use on humans as “ridiculous”.
“It wouldn’t do anything in the short term, except it’s pro-inflammatory,” he said. “So if anything, it could be detrimental [to athletes].
“We did a few human Interleukin infusion studies, but we did them in a medically supervised environment, in a hospital at the University of Copenhagen.
“I suspect we wouldn’t have gotten that through human ethics [in the Australian medical jurisdiction], although I didn’t try because I spent time in Copenhagen supervising the study.”
Febbraio declined to discuss the specifics of any applications within a sports science program, but suggested one-off injections of Interleukin-6 “made no sense at all”, and he was rather surprised at its use.
A secondary medical consultation suggested that there was a chance of abnormal results on liver function.
ASADA is currently in the process of consulting WADA for its status under Section 0, the code which stipulates that athletes can only induce substances which have received approval from the appropriate therapeutic regulatory bodies.