SCU researcher recognised for work on effects of steroids
By STEVE SPINKS
RESEARCH of anabolic steroids used on human guinea pigs that aired controversially on a United Kingdom television station before the 2004 Olympic Games has won a Southern Cross University sports scientist a prestigious award.
Dr Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik, a post-doctoral research fellow at SCU's School of Exercise Science and Sports Management, has won the John Sutton Best Young Science Award for her study on the effects of testosterone enanthate on athletes' immune systems.
The research, which was criticised by high profile former Olympic champions such as Dawn Fraser and Kieren Perkins before its airing because they believed it set a bad example to aspiring sports people, has received widespread praise by leading sports scientists and the television series has since been aired in several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and India.
Dr Marshall-Gradisnik's award could be seen as vindication by SCU for its cutting edge research on anabolic steroids and their effects on humans.
However, the award winner is just happy that science is at the forefront.
"It's nice to win the award," Dr Marshall-Gradisnik told The Northern Star.
"But for me the most important thing is the science and the welfare of everyone involved in the study.
"It's a credit to SCU that it conducts research that has importance at a national and international level."
The John Sutton Award is judged by national and international leaders in the field of sports science and is awarded for research considered to be pioneering.
As part of her award, Dr Marshall-Gradisnik will present her findings at the American College of Sports Medicine in Denver, which is considered the leading sports science conference in the world.
The study involved 18 subjects, who were split into two groups.
One group was administered with testosterone enanthate, while the other received a harmless substance. Neither group knew if they were receiving the steroid.
During a six-week exercise program, it was noticed that the athletes who had taken testosterone enanthate had reduced immune cell function.
The study suggested that, potentially, athletes who take this type of steroid could be more susceptible to viruses or tumours.
"It was a strictly controlled study and the athletes were only given therapeutic doses of anabolic steroids," Dr Marshall-Gradisnik said.
"My findings are a first. Other side-effects of steroids are well known but this is the first time a link has been shown with immune function.
"People using steroids often only see the positives of taking steroids.
"This study demonstrates another reason why they are detrimental."
Dr Robert Weatherby, an associate professor at SCU and acting head of the School of Exercise Science and Sports Management, believes further research on steroids and their affects is needed.
"Fifty percent of positive drug tests are still anabolic steroids," he said.
"People should not be abusing these things."