Athletes considering performance-enhancing drugs, beware: a team from University of Texas at Arlington developed a technology that is 10-1000 times as sensitive as current tests for dopants. “Our goal is to develop ultra-sensitive methods that will extend the window of detection,” said Dr. Daniel Armstrong at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Dallas. “We have maybe the most sensitive method in the world.”
The technology is based around paired ion electrospray ionization (PIESI), a variation of mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry is already used by the International Olympic Committee and the US Anti-Doping Agency. PIESI can detect small amounts of drugs, which allows detection of drug use for a longer time period leading up to testing. “The more sensitive your method is, the greater that time window is,” said Dr. Armstrong. “How much of a drug someone took or how long ago they took it are beyond the analyst’s control. The only thing you can control is how sensitive your method is.”
Hongyue Guo, a graduate student in Dr. Armstrong’s laboratory, has used PIESI to detect different steroids, stimulants, and alcohols. Using PIESI, Guo can detect as little as one part per billion of performance enhancing drug metabolites in urine, which is 1000 times better than the detection of mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry ionizes compounds into fragments with distinct mass and charge ratios; the fragments can then be analytically pieced together to infer the starting compound. To be detected, the fragments must have a strong enough signal, and most metabolites are broken down by the body so quickly that they are poorly detected during mass spectrometry. PIESI is able to gather together fragments to increase their detectability.
Since PIESI is a variation of the current techniques used for doping detection, laboratories do not need to purchase new equipment–only a chemical that is commercially available and inexpensive, according to Guo. PIESI is already in use to detect phospholipids, pesticides, and herbicides, but this is the first time anyone has reported its use in testing for banned dopants. “PIESI is going to be useful in so many different areas,” said Dr. Armstrong.