Mass Spectrometry and Illicit Drug Testing: Analytical Challenges of the Anti-doping Laboratories

Francesco Botrè


Expert Rev Proteomics. 2008;5(4):535-539. 

In This Article


Anti-doping analysis is a very peculiar area of forensic toxicology, aimed at detecting the abuse of prohibited substances and methods by the athletes. The organization of the analytical work requires detailed planning of all the experimental, logistic and administrative activities in order at set up a "laboratory system" capable of detecting the illicit recourse to prohibited substances and methods, with response times that can be as short as 24 h from the reception of the samples in the case of major international sport events (reviewed in [1]). These analyses are carried out at an international level by 33 anti-doping laboratories accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA),[101] managing an overall workload of more than 220,000 samples per year.[102] These laboratories, whose scientists also cooperate through the network of the World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists, screen daily for the presence of hundreds of drugs, metabolites and markers of prohibited substances in biological fluids (urine and, for the detection of specific doping substances and methods, blood).

A great portion of the analytical methods set up and followed in the anti-doping laboratories rely on mass spectrometric techniques, and especially on the combination between chromatography (both gas and liquid chromatography) and mass spectrometry (MS). An evolution of the application of MS-based techniques in this peculiar area of forensic analytical toxicology is briefly outlined.


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