A new detection method for doping differentiates natural steroid hormones from anabolic steroids. It will be especially useful at the next Olympic Games.
Chemists are reporting a new approach using ion mobility mass spectrometry to help regulators detect existing dopants and future potential doping compounds. Researchers will present their results at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Every year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) publishes a list of substances, including steroids, that athletes are prohibited from using in preparation for competition. However, it can be difficult to distinguish an athlete’s natural (or endogenous) steroid hormones from synthetic (exogenous) hormones administered to increase endurance.
In addition, regulators face a different challenge.
“As we develop methods to find drugs that improve athletic performance, clandestine laboratories are creating new substances that give athletes a competitive advantage,” explains Christopher Chouinard, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator. New drugs cannot be found if laboratories do not know how to determine their chemical structure.
Chouinard’s team at Florida Institute of Technology is trying to outsmart scammers with a new method of analysis. It not only distinguishes between endogenous and exogenous steroids, but also anticipates the structure of new compounds that may be found in athletes’ urine samples.
Testing laboratories analyze samples using tandem mass spectrometry (MS) and gas or liquid chromatography. These approaches break up the molecules in the sample and separate the fragments, giving spectra. They reveal the identity of the original, intact connections. However, it is very difficult to differentiate molecules with small structural differences – including isomers that distinguish endogenous from exogenous steroids. A well-known example of exogenous steroids is synthetic anabolic steroids that athletes use to build muscle.
To highlight these differences, the scientists have paired MS with ion mobility spectrometry (IM). It makes the differences between the isomers more obvious.
Chemists have successfully used the IM-MS method to improve isomer separation, identification and quantification of certain steroids in sample solutions. Scientists have already tested this method to identify nearly half of the banned steroids on the WADA list. He successfully characterizes and identifies these compounds, as well as prohibited glucocorticoids such as cortisone. These substances improve athletic performance by suppressing inflammation caused by injury. The detection limits were found to be below one nanogram per milliliter.