#LoveIrishResearch BLOG: Detecting the use of drugs in sport

Fiona Bradley is an Employment Based Postgraduate Scholar, based at the National Greyhound Laboratory, and working in collaboration with Limerick Institute of Technology.

Drug use and abuse is a phenomenon which can be traced back to ancient times, where athletes used special diets and took various substances to enhance their physical performance. As well as the detrimental health implications, there are many other aspects of drug taking, such as the ethics of fair play and the concept of having a level playing field, as well as the huge financial rewards for winners, which have led to the banning of substances and methods which artificially enhance athletic performance.

I am conducting research for an employment based Masters, kindly funded by the Irish Research Council and the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB), which focuses on developing methods for the detection of drugs used in sport, specifically with regard to the Irish greyhound industry. Detection methods need to be robust, sensitive, reliable and fast.

In greyhound racing the term 'doping' is associated with the ‘illicit medication of greyhounds, where it is an offense to race an animal that has administered to it any substance capable of affecting its speed, stamina, courage or conduct’. [1]

Drugs may be given for legitimate reasons, such as for the treatment of a specific medical condition, however trainers and owners must allow sufficient time for the elimination of the drug from the animals’ body, before taking part in competitions.

As well as the financial rewards from winning a race, there are additional financial benefits from the breeding of dogs, with winning dogs being used as stud animals after retirement from racing. Additionally, animals may be administered substances which would adversely affect their performance, known as ‘stoppers’. This could be for the purposes of cheating in betting, with a ‘favourite’ to win in a race, being given a drug to prevent it racing as well as it could.

The overall objective of my research is to develop a series of screening and confirmatory procedures for a sports drug testing lab. There are many strands to the research at present. Methods are currently being developed for the detection of specific acid/neutral and basic drugs including so called “smart drugs” and drugs developed in Russia, also currently a very topical issue. Analysis involves the use of instrumentation using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS).

Another challenging feature of this fascinating research is to develop methods for detection of substances which are naturally present in the animal, like testosterone, by determining what constitutes natural and elevated levels.

All methods which will be developed, must then be validated within the parameters of the ISO 17025 standards, as required by a laboratory’s INAB accreditation.

I am thrilled to be involved in this research, which is fascinating both from an analytical point of view and from an ethical perspective to preserve the long-term integrity of sport.

[1] Ref: Clifford RJ (1988) Professional treatment of the racing greyhound. Vet Rec 122(12):286


Photo: Greyhound Racing, image taken from http://www.vetbook.org/wiki/dog/index.php/Greyhound_drug_testing [Racing.jpg(321 × 224 pixels, file size: 25 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)]