Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington believe they have found a simple, yet incredibly effective way to improve the standard "mass spectrometry" testing commonly used to drug test athletes.
The research, first reported at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, allows for urine tests to be made several magnitudes more sensitive to the presence of PED metabolites by improving on mass spectrometry testing.
In the simplest terms, mass spectrometry testing works by separating the different constituent parts of urine by mass. By comparing the mass of the separated parts to the known 'weight' of PED metabolites, a lab can accurately discover the use of illicit performance enhancers.
For this method to work, a certain amount of metabolites have to be present, however. In addition, because MS testing ‘weighs' the samples by charging atoms using a beam of electrons, which is then ‘weighed' by a magnetic field, it can have problems detecting metabolites with a negative charge, as well as those which have very few metabolites present.
The new method, called paired ion electrospray ionization, or PIESE, works to combine the metabolites together, making their signature larger and more easily detected. The technique has been demonstrated to be sensitive enough to detect one part per billion of PED metabolites in urine, which is up to 1,000 times more sensitive than existing methods.
According to quotes obtained by the BBC, the method could potentially even detect parts per trillion. As it relates to steroids, it is roughly 100 times more sensitive than existing methods. Even so, this will significantly increase the detection window for catching steroid users.
Apparently this new method only requires adding a single inexpensive, commercially available ingredient to existing MS testing setups, which should render it a very cost-effective method of improving PED testing. This is especially important in MMA as most commissions do not have the funds for regular blood testing, let alone a new testing protocol. This discovery should significantly increase the window in which PED use can be detected.
If this new method is able to increase the detection time for the most abused steroids from weeks until months, which the research seems to suggest could be possible, the concept of cycling during a camp before a fight could become significantly more difficult to get away with.
Before we get too excited, it's worth noting that the WADA, the USADA and the IOC have not yet been in touch with the researchers, and we're likely a long way away from this method being tested, certified and adopted.