Autologous blood transfusion test could be in place for London Olympics
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Autologous blood transfusion test could be in place for London Olympics

by Shane Stokes at 6:20 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping, Olympics
 
New detection method could be biggest step forward for anti-doping since EPO test

Blood bagCurrently undetectable under modern WADA tests, the use of an athlete’s own blood to gain a performance advantage could potentially be traceable by the time next year’s London Olympics take place. The news is a major boost to the fight against doping in sport, and could be as significant as the tests to detect EPO which were introduced in time for the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Scientists have been working for years on methods to detect so-called autologous blood transfusions, which many cyclists and other sportspeople have used for decades to gain a clear, but illegal, advantage.

Until now only homologous transfusions (using someone else’s blood) have been detectable. Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Perez, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin are four riders who have been given long bans after testing positive for this.

However a method has been developed to pinpoint if autologous doping has been performed. It involves studying the cells for signs of ageing, as Professor David Cowan explained at the British Science Festival in Bradford this week.

“A few years ago, scientists discovered there are processes going on in red cells [as they age outside the body],” stated Cowan, the director of the Drug Control Centre at King's College London, according to the Guardian. “We've been looking at the different RNA that's present and been able to identify those that are clearly changed in stored blood.”

As is the case with DNA, RNA is made up of a long chain of components called nucleotides, encoding genetic information, and appears in red blood cells.

Cowan is cautious optimistic that the test could be in place for London 2012, or shortly afterwards. “I've got 11 months to go [until the Olympics] and I would like to get it in in time but I'm not going to guarantee that we will do,” said Cowan. “When we do take it out, it will be sufficiently reliable to accuse an athlete.”

Another test is currently being finalised by other scientists, namely the detection of plasticizers in blood. This is however an indirect method of tracing transfusions, as it looks for residue from the blood bags which are often used to store the extracted liquid.

The RNA test is potentially far more powerful as it would detect transfusions even if the athlete avoided using bags containing plasticizers.

Boosting oxygen transport via transfusions and other methods is regarded as the biggest single advantage cheating athletes can gain. The effects of the new test would therefore be hugely beneficial for sport.

Cowan also stated that other tests should be ready in time for London 2012, including one to determine if substances such as nandrolone came from illegal external sources.

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