Research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society this week with an apparent breakthrough in PED testing noting that a new method has been identified which “is a thousand times more sensitive to performance enhancing drugs“.
The new method is apparently commercially viable, inexpensive and can identify various PED’s up to two years after the fact. Since higher costs associated with blood testing and the short identification window of conventional urine tests are some of the barriers to effective PED testing in combat sports this research may transform the current landscape.
The BBC, who interviewed the lead researcher, reports as follows:
The new detection method would radically alter the detection window in which an athlete could be caught after taking these drugs.
This is a critical issue in the fight against doping. A detailed knowledge of the length of time a substance is detectable has been used by many cheating athletes and their scientific advisers to avoid being caught.
“With steroids, it’s about two orders of magnitude, about 100 times more sensitive. We may be able to detect a steroid or something that’s long-lived a couple of years after it was taken,” said Dr Armstrong.
The Press Release notes the following points:
Hongyue Guo, a graduate student in Armstrong’s lab at the University of Texas at Arlington, explained that the new strategy is a simple variation on a common testing technique called mass spectrometry (MS). The International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and others routinely use MS to ensure athletes are “clean.” MS separates compounds by mass, or weight, allowing scientists to determine the component parts of a mixture. In the case of PEDs, technicians use the method to find the bits left over in blood, urine or other body fluids after the body breaks the dopants down.
Because some of the pieces, or metabolites, are small and have a negative charge, they may not produce a signal strong enough for the instrument to detect, Armstrong explained —- especially in the case of stimulants, which the body rapidly breaks down. Stimulants like amphetamine, or “speed,” increase alertness and reduce an athlete’s sense of fatigue.
The method Armstrong’s lab has pioneered, called paired ion electrospray ionization (PIESI, pronounced “PIE-zee”), gathers several of those drug bits together, making them more obvious to the detector…
Testing laboratories wouldn’t need to purchase new equipment to get PIESI’s advantages, according to Guo. The new method only requires adding one ingredient to existing MS procedures, and Guo noted that the chemical is already commercially available and inexpensive. Today is the first time anyone has reported using PIESI on banned dopants, but Armstrong said now that the information is out there, he expects anti-doping agencies to quickly get on board.
As previously discussed, cheating through illicit PED use amounts to fraud and this can stall limitation periods and open the door to legal repercussions years after the fact. If this research passes peer review and the two year detection window proves true many PED cheats will be haunted by the ghosts of their past.