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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Measurements & testing projects > New standards for drug testing
Graphic element New standards for drug testing
    02-07-2001
 

The use and abuse of anabolic steroids is a growing problem. Current detection techniques suffer from an extensive sample pre-treatment and thus from low sample throughput. Developing new test methods, which requires the preparation of suitable reference compounds, will allow modern drug testing techniques to be more widely and more effectively utilised. A two-stage procedure, the liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) technique will become a much more effective and straightforward testing method, thus offering additional reliability on doping testing.

Chemical structure of a steroid glucuronide
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For many people, the word 'steroid' is synonymous with bodybuilders and weightlifters. Unfortunately, the proliferation of anabolic steroid (AAS) use indicates that these people are no longer the only ones putting their health at risk for the sake of their sport. Long-distance runners, cyclists and other athletes also claim that these drugs increase their muscle size and strength, giving them a competitive advantage over their opponents.

Hot topics
 

In light of this, the European Commission is endeavouring to prevent the abuse of these drugs among the young, as well as amongst sportsmen and women of all ages, by setting up the SGLC/MS project (Steroid glucuronides; development of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis in the detection of doping in sports). Once steroids have been ingested, the body starts to convert them so that they can be more easily discharged or eliminated as bodily waste matter. The main steroid derivatives found in urine samples are combined with glucuronic acid. This project aims to expand the repertoire of current test methods and to help combat the abuse of these drugs in sport.

According to Professor Risto Kostiainen of the Viikki Drug Discovery Technology Centre at the University of Helsinki in Finland: "The project will not only contribute to the preservation of clean, drugs-free sport in Europe, but will enhance several areas of current research." These 'hot topics' include finding out how drugs work, tests for detecting when food has been adulterated, and methods for examining the effects of pollution on living things.

 
Two-stage technique
 

Testing for anabolic steroids is carried out on a sample of an athlete's urine. It is analysed using a two-stage (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry i.e. LC-MS) technique. The components of the urine sample are first separated using liquid chromatography and then the presence of anabolic steroids is detected using mass spectrometry. The results can be quantified by comparison with those obtained from a series of standard solutions with known concentrations of steroid glucuronides. These steroid derivatives are complex molecules and, because several reaction steps are involved as well as the purity required, their preparation takes a long time and so the substances are expensive. "Therefore it is not surprising that there are only a limited number of such standards currently on the market," explains Kostiainen. This consequently means that the LC-MS methods of analysis currently available are not exploited to their full potential. "By finding new synthesis methods we will, however, allow the preparation of the exact molecules desired, in a much shorter time and at a lower cost than current production methods," he claims.

 
   A common goal
 

Those fighting drug abuse are faced with a number of problems ranging from the simple lack of suitable reference materials to the need to improve the instrumentation used. The project participants are pooling their expertise and experience in their various but specific areas of know-how and working together towards this common goal.

The SGLC team consists of four partners from three European Union countries. The co-ordinator, Dr Marjaana Ellfolk, comes from United Laboratories Ltd, Finland, one of the three doping control laboratories involved. The other two are the German Sports University in Cologne and the Olympic Athletic Centre of Athens in Greece. The fourth participant is the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Helsinki, Finland. Although the partners will be working together, each will lead a different section of the project.

 
In a good position
 

The multi-faceted nature of this project means that there are many problems to be solved, but, according to Kostiainen, the team should be in a good position to evaluate the suitability of their synthesis methods and testing techniques when the next Olympic Games comes around in Athens in 2004. Once perfected, these synthesis methods could be further scaled-up so that reference standards can be manufactured to meet the needs of modern forensic and clinical analysis methods.

 
See also
Anti-doping: the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in sport
   
Hot topics
Two-stage technique
A common goal
In a good position
   

Key data

Research under the measurements and testing generic activity of the Growth Programme is developing new methods for making reference standards and for drug testing in order to detect the use of anabolic steroids.

Projects

SGLC/MS project: Steroid glucuronides; development of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis (ref: no: GRD2-2000-

0023).

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