Anti-doping labs seek test for EPO masking agent

Recent news reports reveal that scientists from the Lausanne anti-doping laboratory think they've...

Recent news reports reveal that scientists from the Lausanne anti-doping laboratory think they've detected attempts by athletes to mask the presence of the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO). They hypothesize that a protease enzyme was introduced into the urine while the athlete was giving the sample in order to destroy traces of the drug. Is this possible, and can the scientists develop a test to detect this method? Laura Weislo reports.

EPO is so effective at improving performance that athletes have continued to risk scandal, sanctions or even death in order to gain its benefits. The introduction of an EPO urine test in 2001 should have reduced the prevalence of the abuse of the drug, but methods for avoiding positive tests have always stayed ahead of the anti-doping laboratories.

When the test was first introduced, it could only detect EPO within a few days of its administration. As the test was made more sensitive, athletes switched from using the normal therapeutic doses to "micro-dosing". Using this method, the drug is only detectable within a day of its use. But as the test continues to be refined, several high-profile EPO positives may be inspiring athletes to find new ways to continue to use the drug without being caught.

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