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WADA lab defends EPO test

By Laura Weislo

The director of a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory has strongly criticised a recent scientific article which cast doubt on WADA's urine test for Erythropoietin (EPO), calling the study "scientifically unacceptable" and asking for its retraction. In the paper, which appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology (JAP), Danish researchers describe inconsistencies in the results of urine tests for recombinant human Erythropoietin between two different WADA-accredited laboratories.

Wilhelm Schänzer, director of the Laboratory for Doping Analysis in Cologne, Germany, said that the results of the study were "factually wrong, demonstrate great ignorance regarding the criticised method and the operations of doping control laboratories, and are based on a serious lack of careful examination of provided data".

In the report, two WADA labs (A and B) were sent samples from athletes before EPO administration, during a "boosting" phase (5,000 IU of EPO every other day), during a "maintenance" phase (dose given every 7th day) and post-treatment after the EPO administration had ceased.

Laboratory A found all boosting phase, six maintenance phase and two post-treatment samples to be positive for EPO, while Laboratory B failed to declare a single sample to be positive. The study was widely interpreted to mean that athletes could dope with EPO and escape detection.

Schänzer emphatically denied the accuracy of the study, saying that the Danish scientists misrepresented why the samples were being sent to "Laboratory B". In a letter to the editors of the JAP, he explained that the lab was not aware that the results would be published, and was under the impression that the samples did not come from athletes. The results, he said, "were not obtained by means of the accredited method for urine analysis," which means they were not subjected to the normal procedure for anti-doping controls.

The samples were only subjected to a "screening" analysis, according to Schänzer. The lab did not report any positives because a full procedure including the inspection of the results by a second laboratory would have needed to have been performed to declare a sample positive. Instead, samples which showed the presence of EPO were deemed "suspicious" - 15 samples were given this designation.

A true anti-doping control would be given either a negative, adverse, or atypical analytical finding, and Schänzer explained that the term "suspicious" is not used in a doping control analysis report. That word was used to underscore the fact that the results were not an analytical finding.

"Obviously the authors (and reviewers/advisors) were not familiar with rules and wordings commonly applied in doping control laboratories. This ignorance has led to wrong interpretations of results and caused a serious damage to the reputation of the rHuEpo detection method, the doping control system as well as laboratory B," Schänzer complained.