Athletes who cheat by taking performance-enhancing drugs have ways to manipulate their urine samples so that those drugs are concealed. But now, thanks to research from Australian scientists, that drug abuse might be more easily detected.
Many chemicals dropped into urine specimens can destroy or mask “drugs of interest” that give athletes who take them a physical advantage over others who don’t. Drs. Shanlin Fu and Unnikrishnan Kuzhiumparambil from the UTS Centre for Forensic Science in New South Wales started working in 2010 to improve detection of prohibited substances. Their methods used primarily gas or liquid chromatography, reports Medical Xpress.
Dr. Fu says:
The 2010 project was to simply see if certain oxidizing chemicals, including some commercially available chemicals such as bleach, peroxide, chromate or nitrite, could change the natural structure of the native steroid profile of human urine. We selected 12 chemicals and tested what effects they would have on the natural urinary steroid profile. The selected chemicals were added to urine samples and we measured the levels of testosterone, epitestosterone and other steroid species in the urine and then compared that with the urine samples without the addition of the chemicals to see the difference.
The study showed that a large number of the selected chemicals either changed, destroyed, or lowered the concentration levels of steroids in urine. These changes allowed the drugs to be disguised by various chemical masking agents.
The Australian government has given the scientists $154,000 to continue their research. The scientists want to use the funding to delve further into the molecular entities — known as unique markers — that form as a result of the drugs being altered. Medical Xpress explains:
For example after testosterone is exposed to certain oxidizing chemicals its natural composition is destroyed forming a new entity. This new entity may have an additional functional group attached to some part of the structure which means it would have a different molecular make up.
The two scientists want to learn which molecules manipulate the normal steroid structure and then develop a list of them so that anti-drug doping laboratories will know what to look for. Those unique markers could be used in a test that would alert officials of any athletes trying to get a false negative from their urine sample.
“If we can build a database with all these listed chemicals and their unique markers then this can be incorporated into the current routine drug testing process and potentially revolutionise anti-doping procedures, making drug testing more direct, easy and cost effective,” Dr. Fu says.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.