Waterloo chemists revolutionize drug testing in sport

Friday, February 21, 2014

Close up photo of needlesOfficials at the Winter Olympics in Sochi are expected to have performed nearly 2,500 drug tests in 17 days, and a new protocol developed by chemists at the University of Waterloo will revolutionize the current drug testing methods at major sporting events in the future.

A team of chemists from the Faculty of Science at Waterloo developed a fully automated method for analyzing urine. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) funded the research, which appears in a recent issue of Analytica Chimica Acta.

The test allows officials to screen athletes across the drug spectrum with a single, automated analysis. It involves a 96-sample tray, and takes less than three hours to process, or two minutes per sample, on average.

“The challenge was to develop a robust method that could quantify hundreds of chemically different compounds,” said Ezel Boyaci, post-doctoral fellow and one of three lead authors of the study. “This automated method minimizes human error and speeds up processing time all in one test.”

The procedure simultaneously measures 110 doping compounds and their metabolites such as narcotics, steroids, diuretics, hormones, stimulants, and cannabinoids. Current methods can only detect a few substances or similar classes of compounds at a time.

Waterloo's method to detect banned substances in urine employs solid phase microextraction (SPME), a technique that uses a solid coating to selectively extract specific substances.

Officials will conduct an additional 1,200 tests for banned substances after the Olympics are over.

Because SPME covers so many compound classes, it can also cover substances that will appear later on the World Anti-Doping Agency's growing list.

“Retrospective studies for substances that we didn’t know about at the time will be easier with our method,” said post-doctoral fellow Angel Rodriguez-Lafuente, another lead author on the study.

The method meets performance values of the World Anti-Doping Agency and is ready for the next stage of clinical trials. Next, the chemists hope to develop similar detection methods for prohibited substances in blood and saliva samples.

The research team consisted of Professor Janusz Pawliszyn and post-doctoral fellows Ezel Boyaci, Krzysztof Gorynski, Angel Rodriguez-Lafuente and Barbara Bojko. Professor Pawliszyn holds a Canada Research Chair in New Analytical Methods and Technologies.

A copy of the study is available from ScienceDirect.

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