According to an article published in today's International Herald Tribune, an Australian-based biotechnology company, Proteome Systems, has developed a refined urine test for EPO.
The current test for EPO first came under serious scrutiny this year after Belgian triathlete Rutger Beke had his 18-month ban from competition overturned by Flemish government authorities on August 9, citing there was "no evidence that he took EPO". Two weeks later, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was implicated for a similar offence, with French sports paper L'Equipe reporting that retrospective testing revealed 6 out of 12 positive EPO samples from the 1999 Tour came from his body.
The 33 year-old Texan has strenuously denied the L'Equipe allegations, including disputing the validity of the urine-based test for EPO. Armstrong's argument largely relates to the deterioration of his stored samples over time, along with accuracy of the testing protocol, which Dr. Martial Saugy, head of the Swiss anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne, implies is prone to error if not examined by an expert scientist. "You are looking at number and signals, but in the end what is most important here is the experience of the eyes of an expert. It's the 'now we see it - this looks like someone who has injected EPO,'" said Dr. Saugy to the Herald Tribune.
Although the UCI has been working with the French anti-doping laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry to refine the urine test - which was the impetus behind the retrospective testing from the 1999 Tour - it appears Proteome Systems has already developed a newer, more objective test.
Explained in scientific literature for the first time last month, the test applies electrical fields in two dimensions instead of one (proteins in the urine subject to an electrical charge leave patterned deposits, or bands, with the intensity of the bands used to identify recombinant EPO), and as a result, provides a clearer distinction between naturally-occurring and artificial EPO. Furthermore, head of the Austrian anti-doping laboratory, Dr. Günter Gmeiner, told the paper that his lab has developed software to help quantify the pattern of the bands, that, in theory, should reduce the margin of error.
Cyclingnews coverage of the L'Equipe allegations
June 27, 2006 - Carmichael defends Armstrong, Armstrong answers L'Equipe & LeMond
June 26, 2006 - LeMond: "Armstrong threatened my life"
June 19, 2006 - Armstrong calls for Pound's exit
June 18, 2006 - Lance Armstrong's open letter against Dick Pound
June 4, 2006 - UCI hits back at WADA
June 3, 2006 - WADA slams the Vrijman report
June 2, 2006 - L'Equipe stands by its story, UCI supports Vrijman's findings
June 1, 2006 - UCI, WADA and Armstrong react to Vrijman's report
May 31, 2006 - UCI lawyer asks for Armstrong's name to be cleared
May 14, 2006 - Two more weeks for Armstrong investigation
Click here for full coverage of the L'Equipe allegations.