Dr Downes is a former medical practitioner, and is the owner of QBrand Consulting Pty Ltd, a leading marketing consulting firm, as well as a supporter of the Essendon Football Club.
Today, he takes a look at the under-reported connection between sports science, and the 'anti-aging' medical services industry that has sprouted recently.
Within 24 hours of the Essendon Football Club’s stony-faced press conference last Wednesday, a disturbing picture began to emerge.
Willcourt, who was typically described as an “
In interviews with newspapers, radio stations and even the ABC’s '7.30' program  , Dr. Willcourt said he had been approached by Essendon “sports scientist” Steve Dank and asked to review Bomber players’ testosterone and growth hormone levels.
In fact, Dr. Willcourt has no formal qualifications in endocrinology (the medical specialty that deals with hormones), nutrition, or sports medicine. He is specialist-qualified only in obstetrics and gynaecology – hardly the first specialty you’d think of when it comes to AFL players.
But these days Dr. Willcourt practices as a self-styled “anti-ageing medicine” specialist, in a fancy clinic with a fancy, scientific-sounding name in South Yarra. He’s an active self-promoter and it’s very likely he approached the media himself to comment on the Essendon situation.
At best, anti-ageing medicine could described as a “fringe” area of medicine that blends elements of cosmetic medicine with treatments for people concerned about looking and feeling older, or experiencing “stress” or “loss of mojo”. At worst, it’s plain quackery, offering treatments that target supposedly low levels of hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, with little or no evidence that these are responsible for symptoms, let alone actual disease.
And Dr. Willcourt’s practice is typical – a clinic in a well-heeled suburb, a name that sounds “high-tech”, openly offering leading-edge (and expensive) treatments like human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), platelet-rich plasma, stem cells and peptides. The front page of his website carries a long and rambling rant in which Dr. Willcourt apparently defends the use of unapproved treatments on the grounds that “Big Pharma” controls which drugs get approved and which don’t. Reports by Fairfax and the ABC  have previously raised concerns about the growth of anti-ageing medicine, with its use of unproven and unapproved treatments that were often imported and/or supplied illegally.
In his interviews, Dr. Willcourt spouted nonsense about levels of testosterone and growth hormone going down in response to mental and physical stress, but was careful to note that he had told Mr. Dank that there was no legal way to provide testosterone or HGH treatment. Yet Dr. Willcourt advocates that the use of these agents be allowed to restore athletes’ levels to the “normal physiological range”.
|Mr Dank, sporting the t-shirt and jacket combo|
special edition of Footy Classified said Essendon players had been injected “at the Botox clinic across the road”.
Then came the Australian Crime Commission’s bombshell report. On Friday, Fairfax’s Ben Grubb highlighted the ACC’s finding that some anti-ageing medical clinics were a "major source" of prohibited substances, supplying WADA-banned pharmaceutical quality drugs directly to athletes, and even in some cases without a prescription.
“Complicit doctors have been identified providing prescriptions to clients of anti-ageing clinics, even if there is no medical reason for the prescribing of these substances and they have had no contact with the patient or access to their medical records,” the ACC report [PDF] says.
It’s pretty logical to conclude that many of those clients have been sportspeople – or perhaps even sports scientists on behalf of individuals or teams.
The above was compiled prior to tonight's interview with Stephen Dank on the ABC's 7:30 program, and the full text of that interview highlights the above. Along with Mr Dank consulting with Dr Willcourt, he also is has an involvement with his own anti-aging clinics, as per the below:
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: But there's one product on Dank's website that stands out. Last week, 7.30 discovered that Dank's Medical Rejuvenation Clinics were selling a compound known as GHRP-6, or peptide 6. It's a supplement with similar properties to human growth hormone and it's banned by the Australian Anti-Doping Authority and drug testing won't pick it up in urine samples. Regulators here have no way of detecting it.Curious indeed!
This is the very supplement rumoured to be at the heart of the Essendon scandal.
STEVE DANK: Yes, yes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: It's a very curious link.
ABC 7:30 (Broadcast: 11/02/2013)
1. Refer to: ABC 7:30 (Broadcast: 06/02/2013), and The Age: Dank worry on players' blood results (06/02/2013).
2. Refer to: ABC 7:30 (Broadcast: 14/07/2010)
- Sydney Morning Herald: Anti-ageing clinics linked to sports doping (08/02/2013)
- Australian Crime Commision Report: Organised Crime And Drugs In Sport: New Generation Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs and Organised Criminal Involvement in their use in Professional Sport
- Epigenx Integrated Medicine: Webpage