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The science of Stephen Dank

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In April, reporter Nick McKenzie conducted an on-the-record interview with controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank. Much of what Dank was asked about is central to the AFL's case against Essendon and its coach James Hird. Fairfax Media has decided to publish long excerpts from this interview, which revealed Dank's response to many of the key issues, including his dealings and defence with James Hird and the alleged use of Thymosin Beta 4 (TB-4) and anti-obesity drug AOD-9604.

In April, the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed that TB-4 was banned for use in 2012 under the catch-all section two rule of the WADA code. It also specifically listed TB-4 as banned. Shortly after this interview was conducted, Dank said he had been mistaken when he told Fairfax Media that he had given the players TB-4, a claim he has since made repeatedly. WADA has said that AOD-9604 is banned under section 0 of its code that prohibits athletes using drugs that are not approved for human therapeutic use. Dank has refused to be interviewed by the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

Nick McKenzie: I have had a doctor tell me that bovine colostrum [which is produced by a cow immediately after giving birth and is not banned by WADA] would not have done anything when given to Essendon players. So why did you use it?

Stephen Dank: It is very high in [proteins]. I think your doctor source could possibly be right but there is some very, very good data supporting it. There is some data not so supportive, to be honest. But at the end of the day, right, if we have to wait for an absolute blueprint piece of scientific literature on everything that is used in exercise we would end up using nothing.

NM: Thymosin Beta 4 – why was that used in Essendon players given there is an opinion from a doctor or researcher and other scientists that its effects are uncertain? (note: The AFL believes it has a strong circumstantial case that TB-4 was used on players.)

SD: That's not totally true Nick because, with all due respect, right, there is good data – very good data – that supports Thymosin Beta 4 in the immune system.

NM: OK, why give it to all Essendon players if only some of them had colds and flu?

SD: Well, the point is that there is a degree of immunosuppression after a game or a hard training week, right. Often times the ability to back up next week is decreased by the hit on the immune system.

NM: Did you see any indications in Essendon players that it actually helped them?

SD: Well apart from the fact they won 11 out of their first 14, right, and we did regular bloods [blood tests] . . . at the end of the day I was very happy with the science, I was very happy after working a long time in football, right, that there are periods of malaise which are possibly related to sub-clinical flus and sub-clinical colds, right, which can affect performance. When we want to be honest, Nick, how much performance data is there out there on Actovegin [calf's blood extract)]

NM: There's a lot, isn't there?

SD: No there's not! So, you know, you've got to extrapolate from the science.

NM: How often were Essendon players taking Thymosin Beta 4?

SD: [Explains the dosage level but asks that this be not published].

NM: ASADA has just released on its website that Thymosin Beta 4 is prohibited in all routes and out of competition.

SD: Well, that must have just only come in this year and I will get someone to speak to ASADA about that. That's just mind-blowing.

NM: Thymosin Beta 4, they must have just banned that.

SD: I think they've only just put that in to back up their case.

NM: On AOD-9604, let me ask you a specific question. It was not until this year, February, that researchers released the first positive data about its cartilage injury repair possibilities. But you were using it to treat injuries [at Essendon] before that. So how could you be sure?

SD: Well, first of all I had a very, very long discussion with the investor/founder of AOD, Professor Frank Ng, who was very excited about the possibility of AOD in injuries, coupled with the fact that we had seen definitive changes in bone density among the obese patients in the previous clinical trials. It comes back to things being used off label.

NM: Why are you sure supplements were not captured by WADA section S0 [which bans the use of supplements not approved for human therapeutic use]?

SD: Because they were compounded. (note: people can legally access and use drugs not approved for human therapeutic use, including AOD-9604, if they are sourced from a compounding chemist. In some cases, a prescription is needed.)

NM: Did James Hird know the names and properties of what his players were using?

SD: Yes.

NM: Did James Hird know he was taking [WADA-banned drug] Hexarelin or is it possible that he was just told that he was taking amino acids?

SD: He was told it was Hexarelin. It was discussed with him at length. He asked me if players could use it and I said no. Mind you, he wasn't the only coach who was a regular user of it. [The AFL has alleged that James Hird was injected with "amino acids" by Dank. "Amino acids" is a generic term for proteins. The AFL has said Hird “made no inquiries" about what the amino acids he was injected with were or whether “the substance he was to be injected with” were banned by WADA or the AFL.]

NM: Who else was using it?

SD: [Coaching staff] Simon Goodwin and James Byrne.

NM: Why were Hird, Goodwin and Byrne using Hexarelin in the first place?

SD: Because at the end of the day, they are in very, very stressful jobs, they are getting a little bit older in life, so like a good many thousands of other people around the country . . . they were using something to give them a little bit of a lift, to confront the stresses of their job, and something that they were well entitled to use. Whatever I think of James Hird as a bloke, and you can appreciate it is at an all-time low at the moment, in no circumstances did James Hird do or take anything he wasn't entitled to do.

NM: Wasn't that setting a bad example, that you were giving the coach of a footy club a peptide the rest of the footy club couldn't use?

SD: Not at all. In no way, shape or form does it set a bad example. How many coaches in their 40s in any country in any code of sport are using testosterone? So how is it a bad example?

NM: Everything you used at Essendon and Cronulla, did you get permission, when they were in the grey area, from ASADA or WADA to use them?

SD: Yes. (Note: Dank also explained he had witnesses who could corroborate his dealings with ASADA. ASADA has denied it gave Dank formal advice to use AOD-9604, TB-4 or other banned drugs).

NM: I have interviewed someone familiar with ASADA. They said that if you got assurances from ASADA, then that is a get-out-of-jail card, but you need to prove you got those assurances and one of the ways to prove it is if you got an ASADA receipt [which is usually given when a person makes an inquiry with ASADA and is given advice].

SD: You only get a receipt number when you ring up or online. I was straight inside the bowels of ASADA.

NM: Why don't you think some of the drugs you used breached section S2 of the WADA code [which bans certain drugs that stimulate the body's production of human growth hormones].

SD: Because there is no biological relationship either in terms of mode or structure [between the drugs used and the banned drugs] . . . The only similarity is the end point. And if you are going to question the end point, then you need to ban the squat [a gym exercise] and any other modality that stimulates growth hormone.

NM: Did Essendon football boss Danny Corcoran or [former] CEO Ian Robson know about your program and to what extent did they know the details? (Note: Hird and Corcoran have both been charged by the AFL with bringing the game into disrepute, while Robson resigned earlier this year).

SD: Of course they did. Danny certainly knew everything as he needed to. He promoted it. Each week he would check in with me, particularly in the early days. To be quite honest, we went to training for a week at the Gold Coast and I remember a discussion before we left that we were to make sure that the supplements went up there.

NM: Is it right that [convicted drug trafficker] Shane Charter stuck his head in during that training week at the gold coast? (Note: The AFL has alleged that Charter supplied peptides to Dank that were used on players. Dank denies this).

SD: He happened to be staying there exactly the same week we were staying there. He said hello to me because he saw some of the players and realised I was staying there. I think he went and said hello to James for about five minutes.

NM: Your critics say you think are the smartest guy in the room and you have a bit of a god complex.

SD: No. Quite the opposite.

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AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63 vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76 vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49 vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80 vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59 vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109 vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87 vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108 vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78 vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50 vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80 vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75 vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68 vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82 vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119 vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155 vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57 vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120 vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135 vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88 vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105 vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102 vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140 vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108 vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63 vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69 vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115 vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136 vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103 vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 8 8 0 0 155.29 32
West Coast Eagles 8 6 2 0 158.17 24
Sydney Swans 8 6 2 0 127.36 24
GWS Giants 8 6 2 0 118.87 24
Collingwood 8 5 3 0 129.90 20
Adelaide Crows 8 5 3 0 116.32 20
Hawthorn 8 4 4 0 145.81 16
Richmond 8 4 4 0 107.64 16
View all
 
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