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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Research infrastructures projects > Testing the drug testers
Graphic element Testing the drug testers

There is considerable concern in the European Union over the abuse of drugs by athletes trying to improve their performance. This phenomenon, which seems to be on the increase worldwide, is worrying for both health and ethical reasons. Drugs testing of athletes, known as doping control, has been shown to be one of the most powerful weapons for combating the use of drugs in sports. ALADIN 2002 is a new project that aims to establish an external quality assurance scheme for all Doping Control Laboratories so as to increase the legal weight behind drugs tests and reduce the number of positive drug tests being challenged in the courts.

Inside a doping control laboratory
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Doping in sport is becoming increasingly sophisticated and sampling methods and testing procedures vary from one country to another. The absence of harmonisation in this area has led to an increasing number of doping accusations being contested. Such challenges are often very costly to the controlling organisation. More importantly, however, these disputed test results combine to weaken the authority of the testing bodies and so may even encourage cheating.

International seal of approval

Laboratories performing doping control tests are required to be approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Additionally, in Europe, all testing laboratories - not just in the sector of doping control, but also in all sectors - have been required to comply with the European Norm (EN45001). This standard is now being replaced by an international quality standard (ISO 17025) and laboratories will henceforth be required to obtain ISO approval before seeking accreditation from the IOC.

The major requirement under the new standard is that accredited laboratories have to participate in inter-comparison studies and must demonstrate the regular use of adequate reference materials. The aim of the ALADIN 2002 project is to develop the external quality assurance scheme that would meet these needs.

European IOC accredited labs would then have the means to support their application for ISO accreditation. The project is co-ordinated by the Institut Municipal d'Investigacio Medica (IMIM) in Barcelona, in close collaboration with the IOC laboratories in London (United Kingdom), Cologne (Germany) and Oslo (Norway). Prof. Rafael de la Torre of IMIM stresses the advantages of ISO accreditation: "In the past, the IOC has been criticised for being too closely involved in the accreditation process.

ISO accreditation will provide greater transparency and accountability and thus support the legitimacy of testing results." The long-term aim of the project is to develop an effective external quality assurance scheme which will itself receive ISO accreditation (ISO 43) and, once up and running, can be taken over by an independent body.

Standards are the key to quality

The initial stage of the project will involve the development of a supply of standard reference samples through a network of laboratories collaborating in the project. The quality, stability and validity of the samples under various conditions (for example, the effect of the packaging when samples need to be transported over long distances and the length of time they are stored etc.) will need to be controlled and common protocols developed. As a second stage, a co-ordinated programme will be introduced for the distribution of samples to the doping control laboratories. The participating laboratories will be provided with different samples on an ongoing basis and the results they obtain monitored to control quality. In order to manage this part of the project, it will be necessary to develop an effective data network linking all the IOC accredited laboratories. This will make it possible to track the supply of samples and the relevant results for each centre, and to detect possible problem areas.

Prof. David Cowan of the Drug Control Centre at Kings College, London (IOC accredited) stresses that the aim is not necessarily to harmonise methods but to ensure that quality is consistent across all centres regardless of the methods used. "We want to avoid a method-specific approach as this may impede progress. It is, however, important to be able to demonstrate that results are consistent from one country to another and that all centres conform to the same high quality standards."

   Setting the global standard

Although the majority, around 60% of doping control laboratories, are based in Europe, Prof de la Torre points out that the ultimate goal must be to establish an international quality assurance scheme for this sector.

"This is a relatively small sector in terms of the number of samples that are tested, but it is a highly complex one, and it is important that we co-ordinate our efforts on a global level." In this context, ALADIN 2002 has already obtained the support of the newly formed World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which will collaborate closely in the project. It will also draw on the experiences of a number of similar initiatives, which have been conducted on a smaller scale in other parts of the world.

See also
Anti-doping: the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in sport
International seal of approval
Standards are the key to quality
Setting the global standard

Key data

Research under the support for research infrastructures section of the Growth programme is developing an external quality assurance scheme for Doping Control Laboratories adhering to International Standards Organisation (ISO) quality guidelines.


ALADIN 2002 Analytical Laboratories for Anti-Doping control - International Network (GTC1-2000-28005)

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