Test for drug cheats in sport developed by Australian researchers

31 August 2016

Australian scientists have developed a new system for catching drug cheats in sport which they say could be available in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra have worked with a commonly occurring bacterial enzyme that detects a range of drugs not regularly tested for.

Researchers said it could detect drugs in an athlete's system well after the point at which other methods could not pick them up.

The research was initially funded by the Australian Government, but further testing is now being supported by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Lead researcher Malcolm McLeod said the technique could even pick up drugs that anti-doping authorities did not yet know exist.

"It can make them easier to detect, and in some cases it can even allow you to detect new substances," he said.

The enzyme primarily targets steroidal agents, as they remain the most common form of performing-enhancing drug detected at competitions like the Olympics.

Associate Professor McLeod said in practice, the enzyme would be simple for anti-doping authorities to use.

"They will just take a urine sample, add the enzyme, and that will then allow them to analyse the sample and test for the drugs," he said.

Hope test can be in use for Tokyo 2020

The researchers have now passed the enzyme to a biotechnology company in Chile, who are putting it to the test in numerous analytical laboratories worldwide.

Associate Professor McLeod said if it proved effective, it could be in use in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"I think that'd be a great thing, I think it'd certainly give everyone greater confidence - even the athletes, that the games are an even playing field," he said.

"There's a few steps to go of course, and a lot of those steps aren't really in our hands now.

"We've developed the tool, and it's up to others to really put it into practice in those testing labs."