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Doping Detection Stays a Neck Ahead

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Whilst the eyes of the world may currently be focused on the Olympics, human sport is not the only area where drug testing is routinely carried out. Horse racing is a massive world-wide industry, and regular testing is essential to maintain its integrity. As with human sport, the authorities constantly need to develop methodologies to detect new compounds that drug cheats are using or may start to use. One such compound is peginesatide.

Peginesatide is the first representative of a new class of compounds that mimic the effects of erythropoietin; these include an increase in the number of red blood cells and of haemoglobin levels in the blood. Both of these increase endurance and so-called erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) are banned in human and equine sports. The approval of the use of peginesatide by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat anaemia in patients on dialysis increases its availability and the chance of its use in illegal performance enhancement.

A new mass spectrometry method for detecting peginesatide in humans has already been developed, and now the extension of this for the detection of peginesatide in horse serum is described in an article published* in EJMS—European Journal of Mass Spectrometry (doi: 10.1255/ejms.1189) written by Ines Möller, Andreas Thomas, Anke Wingender, Marc Machnik, Wilhelm Schänzer and Mario Thevis from the German Sport University Cologne, Germany. This is timely since the German Equestrian Federation has recently added peginesatide to its prohibited substance list.

The new method uses electrospray ionisation (ESI) liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Samples are prepared using the serine endopeptidase subtilisin to break down the compounds in the sample prior to LC-MS/MS analysis.

According to lead author Mario Thevis, “The method is precise, specific and linear over a wide concentration range. Further, being simple, fast, cost effective, easily transferable to other laboratories and in accordance with the criteria for ‘identification by chromatography and mass spectrometry’ outlined by the Association of Official Racing Chemists (AORC), the method is suitable for routine use in the horse sports drug testing arena.”

*The research is published as Ines Möller, Andreas Thomas, Anke Wingender, Marc Machnik, Wilhelm Schänzer and Mario Thevis, “Detection of peginesatide in equine serum using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry for doping control purposes”, Eur. J. Mass Spectrom. 18(4), in press (2012), doi: 10.1255/ejms.1189

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