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Techniques & Tools Mass Spectrometry, Liquid Chromatography

Keeping Up with the Dopers

The cat and mouse game of anti-doping is in constant flux as new connections between drugs and performance are identified and exploited. A number of non-prohibited drugs have been linked to performance – but unless detection procedures are up to speed, the cheaters will always stay one pace ahead.

Francesco Botrè and his colleagues at the “Sapienza” University and at the Anti-Doping Laboratory of Rome have developed a screening procedure that can simultaneously detect a number of potential performance enhancing drugs (1). Botrè, co-author of the study, suggests that the method would allow for the prompt identification of the drugs, should they be included in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances and methods.

“Some other non-banned substances have been shown to alter the metabolic pathways of specific banned substances ‘in vitro’, with the consequence of potentially masking banned substances and confounding standard analysis.” says Botrè. “The method we have developed could help us to better understand whether these kinds of effects are real or just hypothetical.”

The work harnessed liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS/MS) because, says Botré, “This combination of chromatographic retention time and mass spectrometric fragmentation pattern gives a very high level of certainty of identifying each compound. LC-ESI-MS/MS can also be used to monitor a huge number of different substances in the same chromatographic run.” The LC-MS/MS methods currently in use in Botrè’s laboratory (using a triple quadrupole MS with selected reaction monitoring), allows 100-200 different substances to be screened from 1-2 ml of urine.

Botrè believes the secret to beating doping is to anticipate new challenges, pre-empt new illicit practices, and to be analytically-ready should they arise. “In other words, we have to forget for a moment that we are the ‘good guys’, and instead think like our ‘colleagues’ working on the other side,” says Botrè. “It is sometimes an unbalanced competition, since our work and results are public, and theirs are secret – as far as I know, there is no Journal of Doping Science and Methods in which they publish their results!” At least, not yet...

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  1. M. Mazzarino et al., “A multi-targeted liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry screening procedure for the detection in human urine of drugs non-prohibited in sport commonly used by the athletes”, J. Pharm. Biomed. Anal. 117 47-60. PMID: 26342446
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.


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