Mass Spectrometry and Sports Doping

News of sports doping scandals has been prevalent this summer. While the use of performance-enhancing drugs is nothing new, the availability of advanced pharmaceuticals and the analytical methods to detect them are fairly recent developments. The most common tool of laboratory scientists working to catch sports cheats is mass spectrometry (MS). However, the market for MS for the detection of performance-enhancing drugs is still in its infancy.

Modern sports doping began around the turn of the century in horse racing, but widespread problems did not develop until after World War II, when the pharmaceutical industry emerged, and an assortment of effective drugs became available. More recently, as salaries of professional athletes have skyrocketed, both the incentive and the financial resources to acquire performance-enhancing drugs have risen as well. However, the scientific battle against doping has lagged far behind, with the first major screening test, which was for steroids, not developed until 1974. It was not until 1999 that the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) was established, which united all Olympic sports under a single set of standards, and has since accredited 34 laboratories to conduct testing. The major American sports association and the NCAA are only beginning to implement comprehensive antidoping measures.

With a few exceptions, MS-based methods are used for testing the increasingly diverse range of drugs used by athletes to cheat. Magnetic sector GC/MS was one of the first MS techniques used for such applications, due in large part to its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, quadrupole and ion trap GC/MS methods were developed for such applications. The latest advances for detecting banned performance-enhancing substances include isotope ratio magnetic sector MS (IRMS) and LC/MS.

The 34 WADA-accredited labs currently handle the majority of sports antidoping testing. Half of these labs are located in Europe, where roughly half of all antidoping tests are performed, although this percentage is shrinking. While there are only four WADA labs in North America, the UCLA Olympic lab is the largest in the world, processing more than 20% of all tests, including those for American sports that are not part of WADA. The demand for MS systems, service and consumables from antidoping labs is expected to be $15 million in 2007.

With the accreditation of additional labs, an increasing number of tests performed at each lab and the development of tests for previously undetectable drugs, the number of antidoping tests performed annually is increasing at more than 8%, with roughly 200,000 tests conducted in 2006. With the majority of antidoping tests performed with MS techniques and the research into new MS-based testing, related demand should experience close to double-digit growth over the next five years.

< | >