Monday, July 23, 2012
It is always great to see an athlete succeed. Whether it is breaking a world record or winning for the tenth time in a row, we all cheer for their success. However, performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) have tarnished some of these successes and the athletes themselves. To prevent this issue, athletes are directly tested for PEDs (i.e. anabolic steroids) in their bodies, through either blood or urine. However, advances in pharmacology have made it much easier to produce new PEDs every year and more difficult to detect in tests, so a new method has been introduced-The Athletic Biological Passport.
The Athletic Biological Passport is a new way to detect use of PEDs through multiple and reoccurring measurements of certain “biomarkers” in an athlete, rather than the substances directly. These biomarkers are physiological levels in an athlete (i.e. number of red-blood cells or hemoglobin) that are affected by PEDs even long after the drugs have left the body. Using this method makes sense because these levels are relatively constant among athletes, rather than the increasing variety of PEDs that they could potentially be taking.
Here are two examples of what an actual biological passport would look like in two different athletes:
These are four different measurements of various biomarkers, which I boxed in red. The red lines represent the parameters for which the test is set and the blue line is the actual value the athlete produced throughout the nine different testing occurrences (the x-axis). The colored bar is just the measured probability that these test results are physiologically abnormal. Because these values of this particular athlete are within the parameters, it can be concluded that they are not taking any PEDs.
However, this biological passport shows many abnormalities in the different test, which can be inferred that this athlete did not achieve these values under normal physiological conditions.
What began primarily in the cycling community, biological passports are quickly gaining acceptance in many other areas. This year will mark the first time biological passports will be used in the Olympic games and has actually caused a few athletes to be disqualified from them already. For more information, please check out the papers below.
Sottas PE, Robinson N, Rabin O, Saugy M. The athlete biological passport. Clin Chem. 2011 Jul;57(7):969-76. Epub 2011 May 19.