Sunday, February 21, 2010

We've Got This One in the Bag!

A recent article at SwimNews, Taking The Doping War Into The Shadows, describes what could be a promising new weapon for the war on doping [Ed: Not to be confused with the War on Terror.]. While some individuals in the cycling community are quick to dismiss the idea of a clean future for the sport – stating there will never be a fool-proof method for the detection of autologous blood doping – recent advances in doping control methodologies may compel them to revisit their pessimistic outlook.

Currently, the standard testing procedure for detecting autologous blood doping is the UCI's biological passport – an electronic record for each rider tracking the results of all doping tests over a period of time, and collating them. The passport (click for a brochure) creates a hematological profile for the rider consisting of the combined results of all previous haematological parameters analyzed in a series. Limitations to this system are clearly evident in the indirect method of testing threshold values, but testing for blood doping may become more direct in the near future, the reason being – plasticizers.

What are plasticizers? 

When athlete stores their blood for future use, they refrigerate it in plastic bags – just like the ones we saw in Dr. Fuentes' clinic. However, these plastic storage bags, just like any other plastic product, contain tiny trace elements – additives to increase the flexibility and low temperature properties of the product. These additives are plasticizers, and they are found in any of the plastic intravenous products used for blood transfusions. But how reliable could a test for plasticizers be?

A previous study by Maxwell et al. investigated the cause of remarkably high levels (200mg/100ml) of plasticizers found in blood for overdose cases. In determining whether test results were real or artefactual, the scientists tested 25 healthy individuals by methods involving only glass and metal. In no case did any of the samples taken show traces of plasticizers, suggesting that the presence of plasticizers in normal healthy individuals should be cautioned. Another study by Gayathri et al. reports that DEHP, or di (2-ethyl hexyl) phthalate, the plasticizer commonly used in PVC blood storage bags, leaks out to approximately 10mg/100ml after 21 days of storage – a significant amount suggesting the feasibility of reliable testing measures. Moreover, reading from a study by Ljunggren reports that DEHP makes up 40% of the weight of plasticized PVC used for manufacturing blood bags and transfusion tubing.

How's that for detectable?

While this method of testing is still in the early stages of development, its effects may be premature to WADA officially adding it to their official list of doping detection methods. While there is currently no approved and legally binding test in place, the threat of a future test applied retrospectively may be enough to deter some athletes from venturing down the dark road of blood doping.

[Editor's Note: The article above was authored by Pappillon contributor, PhDuane.]


  1. Touriste-Routier21 February, 2010 16:41

    Before plastic, wasn't blood for transfusions stored in glass? If WADA adopts this test, athletes, team staff, and doping doctors would know about it. What would stop them from having the blood stored in glass?

  2. Valid point. I'm sure there would be ways around the plasticizers, but I think if this test were used retrospectively it would be a huge threat.

  3. A huge threat? To riders who have already doped.

    ...which is reactive, it isn't a proactive step to stop doping from currently happening.

  4. How isn't it pro-active? From now and until a new storage and transfusion materials solution can be found, testing for plasticizers could deter blood doping - while also catching riders whose samples have been stored and may contain evidence of autologous transfusions. Isn't all testing by nature going to be reactive? Aranesp was probably the only true proactive test in that work was done w/ the manufacturer to develop the control before the product found widespread acceptance in the peloton.

    If you introduce a test for plasticizers now, it could bring to a halt blood doping/transfusions, until such time as non-plastic storage and delivery methods were developed. No?

  5. Thanks for the comments tho, n1line...

  6. I wouldn't mind hearing what others have to say, especially given today's news that the first HGH positive test result has been recorded. Is a test for plasticizers of immediate value, or is it something that should only be feared by those who've already doped?

  7. Well, I guess I read it as posing a primary threat of exposing doping that's already happened, and any behavior/action it prevents or deters is sort of secondary. The deterrence is there, but secondary - especially since people could presumably use glass instead.

    Malcolm Gladwell - the tipping point guy - wrote an interesting bit on criminal profiling. His point was, profiles don't work if criminals can just change the behavior that's being profiled. That it's only effective if there's a static (instead of dynamic) relationship between the behavior and the profile. Similarly, while testing for plasticizers might be useful now, its usefulness is limited. People could just stop using plastic containers without stopping blood doping.


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