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The science of Stephen Dank


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 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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