Last updated on: 1/5/2009 | Author:

Drug Tests Used in Sports

Drug Tests in Use (as of Dec. 22, 2008)
Test Type Test For
1.Liquid Chromatography Hair Multiple illegal substances
2.Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry Urine Multiple illegal substances
3.Testosterone/Epitestosterone Ratio Urine Testosterone
4.Carbon Isotope Ratio Urine Testosterone
5.Human Growth Hormone (HGH/rHGH) Blood HGH/rHgH
6.Isoelectric Erythropoietin (EPO) Focusing Urine Erythropoietin (EPO)
7.Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA) Blood CERA EPO


Drug Tests in Development
(as of Dec. 22, 2008)
Test Type Test For
8. Hydropyrolysis Urine Steroids
9. Nanotrap Urine HGH/rHgH
10. Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) Blood Testosterone masking agent
11. Myostatin Inhibitor Blood Gene manipulation
12. Gene Doping Blood/Tissue/Urine Gener manipulation


Background: Caroline K. Hatton, PhD, former Associate Director of the Olympic Analytical Laboratory of the University of California at Los Angeles, in a Aug. 2007 Pediatric Clinics of North America article titled “Beyond Sports-Doping Headlines: The Science of Laboratory Tests for Performance-Enhancing Drugs,” offered the following: 

“The fight against drug abuse in sports has grown and improved ever since doping control began in the 1960s… The first step in a doping-control urine test is getting an authentic urine sample from the correct person and getting it sealed and documented for shipment to the laboratory… Next, the urine is poured into a pair of bottles, A and B, labeled only with numbers (eg, 963852A and 963852B) and the bottles are sealed… Blood is rarely collected in the major United States sports drug testing programs. At the Olympics, blood is collected, but not as often as urine. For example, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the laboratory received 2926 urine samples and 691 blood samples.

Testing urine is better than testing blood for most prohibited substances (small molecules, molecular weight less than ~800 atomic mass units). Urine collection is noninvasive and yields a large volume of sample, with higher drug concentrations than in blood and with far fewer cells and proteins to complicate extraction…”

Aug. 2007 – Caroline K. Hatton, PhD

1. Ashling O’Connor, Olympics Correspondent for The Times, in a May 29, 2008 The Times article titled “Athletes Facing Tests on Their Hair to Catch Out Drug Cheats,” wrote the following:

“A hair-sampling technique used to catch rapists and identify unfit parents in custody battles is to be used to track down drug cheats in sport… Unlike urine testing, which only detects illegal substances between two and five days after they have been ingested, hair samples offer a ‘telltale history’ of a person’s consumption patterns for up to a year, depending on the length of their hair… Human hair grows on average by 1cm a month, so even cheats with a ‘number one’ crop (3mm) could not evade detection unless they stopped taking drugs ten days before providing a sample. The test can also be carried out on body hair, so athletes with bald or wet-shaved heads would also expect to be caught out…

The process, known as liquid chromatography, is often used in biochemistry… Yet it is not fully recognised by the World AntiDoping Agency (Wada)… Under existing regulations, no results taken from samples of hair, nails, oral fluid or other biological material can override the findings from urine or blood… Hair testing was first used in sport during the Tour de France in 1998… One reason why it may be shunned by sports governing bodies is cost. Hair sampling, at £490 [$965 USD] per test, is nearly five times as expensive as blood or urine testing… A lock of hair (60-80 strands) is cut from the head and measured to set a timeframe. It is washed to avoid contamination. The hairs are then cut into small pieces of less than 1mm and soaked overnight in salt water at 40C (104F). Any drug or alcohol residue is extracted from the solution, which is purified and analysed.”

May 29, 2008 – Ashling O’Connor

2. Brian Alexander, radio host for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in a July 2005 Outside Magazine article titled “The Awful Truth About Drugs in Sports,” wrote the following:

As the [urine] sample moves through various stations, the urine is processed, or ‘derivatized,’ so it can be put through a gas-chromatography/mass-spectrometry machine, known as a GC/MS. The steps include several refining and filtering procedures that reduce the sample’s volume to a tiny amount of liquid at the bottom of a bullet-shaped vial.

This vial is loaded onto the carousel of a GC/MS… The machine heats the sample to between 284 and 356 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into a gas. The gas is driven through a column, a coiled silica tube a quarter of a millimeter in diameter. As the gas moves through the coil, the various ingredients in urine physically separate like school kids marching single file.

Next, the urine’s components enter the mass-spectrometer portion of the machine. This device measures the atomic weight, or mass, as well as the prevalence of various atoms or molecules, and it scans the components one at a time. Since every molecule has a signature molecular weight, the machine can create a personal snapshot of each, depicted as peaks on a computer readout. Years of experimentation have yielded a collection of telltale peaks for drugs of interest and their by-products.”

July 2005 – Brian Alexander

3 – 4. David Kohn, medicine and health reporter for the Baltimore Sun, in a July 28, 2006 Baltimore Sun article titled “Testosterone Test Measures Ratio: UCI Lowered Acceptable Level Last Year,” wrote the following:

“The [testosterone/epitestosterone ratio or T/E ratio] test was devised more than two decades ago and is widely used by athletic regulatory agencies. It measures the ratio of the steroid hormone testosterone, which helps build muscle, to a related substance, epitestosterone, a byproduct of testosterone that has no known physical function. In most people, the ratio of the chemicals is about 1-to-1. But because a small percentage of people have more testosterone than epitestosterone, most athletic oversight agencies allow for a higher ratio. For many years, the maximum was 6-to-1. Last year several ruling bodies, including the International Olympic Committee, the NFL and UCI, the international governing body of cycling that oversees the Tour de France, lowered the permissible ratio to 4-to-1…

After a positive T/E ratio test, doping agencies typically require another test. Invented in the mid-1990s, the Carbon Isotope Ratio [CIR] test discerns differences between carbon atoms in synthetically manufactured steroid hormones and naturally produced human testosterone… Both CIR and T/E ratio are urine-based tests… Until an analysis of the second specimen is completed, the T/E result will remain in doubt. Experts say that the second urine sample often undergoes both the T/E and CIR tests.”

July 28, 2006 – David Kohn

5. Gary A. Green, MD, Clinical Professor at the Sports Medicine Division of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, in an Aug. 21, 2006 American Journal of Sports Medicine article titled “Doping Control for the Team Physician: A Review of Drug Testing Procedures in Sport,” wrote the following:

“[T]he synthesis of a recombinant form of human growth hormone (rhGH) [somatropin] in the late 1980s freed athletes and patients alike from dependence on small supplies of cadaveric hGH and its attendant infectious risks… [A]dministration of rhGH peaks in 1 to 3 hours and is imperceptible at 24 hours…  

Although no definitive test yet exists for the detection of rhGH, there has been some progress of late. One method measures the amount of the 20-kD isomer in the serum, which is present at a level of 10% in normal samples but is suppressed when rhGH is given. This method has shown promise of detecting rhGH within 24 hours of the last dose; however, it requires a blood test and cannot detect cadaveric hGH. Another method relies on pharmacodynamics and measures evidence of supraphysiologic doses of hGH. Recent study has revealed that of the many markers of hGH use, IGF-1 and procollagen type III can consistently discriminate rhGH users from nonusers. It remains to be seen whether this approach to drug testing will survive forensic challenges to a system that has traditionally relied on a ‘fingerprint’ identification of the banned substance. Although some testing for rhGH was performed at the 2004 Summer Olympics, the lack of an easily performed test that can withstand a forensic challenge is likely to make hGH an ongoing challenge to doping-control efforts.”

Aug. 21, 2006 – Gary A. Green, MD

6. Anti-Doping Research stated the following in their fact sheet “EPO Test,” available at (accessed Dec. 24, 2008):

“The IEF test for EPO takes two and a half days…

IEF stands for isoelectric focusing. The drop of urine concentrate containing EPO is put on a gel. Electricity is run through it. This spreads out the EPO forms, which all have essentially the same protein backbone but differ from one another by the sugars attached. The forms spread out on the gel like the rungs of a ladder…

[C]hemicals that stick to EPO (antibodies) are put in contact with [a blotting] membrane. Antibodies stick only to EPO because they fit each other perfectly like lock and key. Antibodies stick to EPO, natural or artificial, wherever it is – in the ladder rung pattern.

At this point, blotting is done again: this time the membrane is blotted with a second piece of membrane of the same kind. This second blotting moves only the EPO antibodies to the second membrane, in the ladder rung pattern, but it is still invisible…

The second membrane is exposed to chemicals which react with the EPO antibodies to produce light. This phenomenon is called chemiluminescence and this step is also called chemiluminescent detection. The reaction happens only where the EPO antibodies are located, therefore light is emitted in the ladder rung pattern, and the pattern becomes visibile. A special camera is used to capture the image or electropherogram.”

Dec. 24, 2008 – Anti-Doping Research

7. Cycling Weekly magazine, in its Oct. 1, 2008 article titled “Tour de France CERA Blood Test Results Could Emerge on Friday,” offered the following:

“[E]xtra testing has become possible after a new blood test for CERA [Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator] the third generation form of EPO, was created and approved. Like the urine test… the test can detect tiny traces of the drug because the CERA molecule is very different to that of naturally produced EPO. Because CERA is also a slow release blood-boosting drug, it also has a longer half-life than EPO, meaning it can be detected in testing for much longer after assumption.”

Oct. 1, 2008 – Cycling Weekly

8. The University of Nottingham, in an Apr. 1, 2008 press release on the “Communications” section of its website, in an article titled “New Sensitive Steroid Test For Athletes Uses Oil Exploration Technique,” offered the following:

“[R]esearchers at The University of Nottingham have developed a new, highly sensitive, anti-doping steroid test using hydropyrolysis… It’s a technique that has previously been used for oil exploration… The test procedure is already in the process of being commercialised and is expected to be ready for use in the 2012 Olympics… High pressure hydrogen is used to bombard the [urine]sample at pressures of 150 atmospheres and temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius. This leaves sample molecules in a cleaner, less degraded state than other extraction techniques, allowing more accurate readings to be taken. Carbon isotopes are then measured, with the results showing the ratios of carbon 12 and carbon 13 in the sample — whether geochemical or biological.”

Apr. 1, 2008 – University of Nottingham

9. A.J. Perez, reporter at USA Today, in a July 23, 2008 USA Today article titled “Scientists Say Breakthrough Urine Test for HGH Developed,” wrote the following:

“A team of scientists from the USA and Italy say they have developed a urine test that detects human growth hormone… The researchers developed a particle about one-tenth the size of a red blood cell that attracts, traps and protects HGH molecules… The particles surround nearly 100% of the HGH molecules and act as an amplifier, so available testing equipment can detect the synthetic hormone… the test can detect HGH two weeks after an athlete has last used it. Current blood screening for HGH, set to be used again at the Beijing Olympics, can identify HGH 24-48 hours after an athlete’s last use. Ceres has licensed three patents from George Mason in what it calls ‘Nanotrap‘ technology. The next step is getting the WADA and pro leagues to approve the test’s use…”

July 23, 2008 – A.J. Perez

10 – 11. Emily Singer, Biotechnology and Life Science Editor for Technology Review at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in an Oct. 26, 2007 Technology Review article titled “Next-Generation Sports Doping,” wrote the following:

“Two new classes of experimental drugs shown to have powerful muscle-building capabilities —selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) and myostatin inhibitors— have been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances for 2008. Neither class of drugs is yet on the market. But the agency… is gearing up for future abuse by limiting use among athletes and by developing new detection methods… SARMs work similarly to testosterone but in a more targeted way… Myostatin inhibitors work through a fundamentally different mechanism. They block myostatin, a naturally occurring protein in the body that stops growth of skeletal muscle…

WADA is developing detection methods for both SARMs and myostatin inhibitors, although the agency declined to say how far along those tests are… Other groups are more public about their progress. Acceleron, a company based in Cambridge, MA, that is developing a myostatin inhibitor, says that it has already developed a test for research purposes that is capable of detecting the drug in blood. And scientists at the Center for Preventive Doping Research, German Sport University Cologne, are working on a test for SARMs. Fortunately, scientists say that detecting abuse of these two new classes of drugs is likely to be easier than detecting two doping agents that have plagued the sports world in recent years… Erythropoietin [EPO]… and human growth hormone [HGH].”

Oct. 26, 2007 – Emily Singer

12. Jamie Reno, correspondent for Newsweek magazine, in an Aug. 11, 2008 Newsweek article titled “Juice for Today’s Athlete Is ‘Gene Doping’ the Next Olympic Threat?,” wrote the following:

“The arrival of gene doping can be traced directly to the cracking of the human genome and the emergence of gene therapy, which is used to treat a variety of diseases including cancer… WADA has established a research program that plans to design new tests for gene doping, based on technologies developed around the Human Genome Project.;

Historically, to discover genetic changes it was necessary to test the muscle or bone that had undergone the change. But after taking a close look at this in the lab, Dr. Ted Friedmann [Director of the Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of California, San Diego] believes there are effective ways of testing tissue, blood or urine to see if the body has been genetically altered. Just how soon this research will translate into a marketplace-ready test for gene doping is anyone’s guess. There is no timeline because there are so many different genes involved.”

Aug. 11, 2008 – Jamie Reno