With Olympics round the corner, scientists from University of Utah have come up with a new anti-doping test that can help in quick and accurate detection of whether an athlete has used drugs to boost naturally occurring steroid levels.
The new mass spectrometry test is more sensitive compared to previous alternatives, more capable of revealing specific suspicious chemical in the body, faster to perform, and could be run on standard drug-screening laboratory equipment.
Athletes often take masculinising hormone testosterone to increase muscle size and strength. Taking extra testosterone, or taking a chemical that the body can use to create extra testosterone, could therefore enhance an athlete's performance.
This has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The current methods used include simply measuring total testosterone in an athlete's urine. As exact level of testosterone varies considerably between different people it cannot show whether he or she has deliberately taken extra.
However, there is a second chemical in the body, epitestosterone, which is normally present in approximately equal proportions to testosterone.
Comparing the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone can then indicate whether testosterone or a precursor has been taken.
Scientists from Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory at the University of Utah have developed a test that makes use of liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.
This method has incredibly high sensitivity (down to 1 ng/ml) and increases the power with which officials can search for both testosterone and epitestosterone within a sample.
"Our system means that we can determine the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio in a sample with greater confidence, and therefore be in a better position to spot doping violations without falsely accusing innocent athletes," said lead investigator Dr Jonathan Danaceau.
"Not only is the test more sensitive, it is also faster to perform," says colleague Scott Morrison," he added.
"Having this sort of test available makes cheating harder and lets us take one more step towards enabling free and fair competition," said Laboratory Director Dr Matthew Slawson.
This paper is part of a special issue for the Olympic Games from the Journal of Mass Spectrometry which focuses of drug use in sport.