A new mass spectroscopic test could help doping inspectors find out if an athlete has used drugs that increase the body's natural steroid levels, it probably won't be used at the Beijing Olympics
A new mass spectroscopic test could help doping inspectors find out if an athlete has used drugs that increase the levels of natural steroids in his body. The test is more sensitive compared to previous alternative methods, and is better able to detect certain suspect chemicals in the body, quickly and in a manner suitable for normal drug testing laboratory equipment.
One of the functions of the male hormone testosterone is to increase the size and strength of the muscle. Taking a testosterone supplement, or another chemical that the body can use to produce testosterone, can therefore increase the athlete's performance. Because of this, any taking of supplements of the substance has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The exact level of testosterone varies considerably between different people, so a simple test of the total testosterone level in an athlete's urine cannot determine whether external testosterone supplementation has been given. However, there is a second chemical in the body called epitestosterone that is found naturally in an amount equal to the amount of testosterone. Comparing the ratios of the quantities between these two substances can indicate whether testosterone or its precursor was actually introduced into the body. The limitation is in the fact that it is not easy to measure these two substances, mainly because they are found in urine in very low concentrations.
A team of scientists from the Sports Medicine Research Institute at the University of Utah developed a test that uses liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectroscopy. This method has an extremely high sensitivity (up to 1 nanogram/millimeter) which strengthens the tools available to the inspectors in measuring the two substances in an athlete's sample. "Following the development of our method, we will be able to determine the exact ratio between testosterone and epitestosterone in a urine sample with a higher level of reliability and hence - we will be in a better position to point out drug use violations without falsely accusing innocent athletes," explains lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Danaceau. In addition to its higher sensitivity, the test is also much faster and more reliable, the researchers add.
Apparently, this is an experimental device and it is not clear if it will already be used in the Beijing Olympics, which are expected to open in a few weeks, on August 8, 2008.