Cause versus effect: researchers look for biological response rather than drug itself

Written by Alice O'Hare, Future Science Group

Scientists are investigating new ways to test for illegal drug use in animals in a bid to keep pace with the constant influx of new doping agents.

In a collaboration between the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast (Belfast, UK) and the Irish Equine Centre (Kildare, Ireland), a group of researchers are working on a new animal doping test that measures the biological effect of a drug rather than the drug itself. The team envisages that the test will be faster and more efficient than current options.

The main advantage of this novel approach is that rather than specifically testing for known doping agents, the process will detect the presence of a performance- or presentation-enhancing drug; irrespective of the specific agent. This will therefore provide analysts with the upper hand in preventing new black market doping agents.

Mark Mooney, who leads Queen University’s involvement in the DeTECH21 project, explained, “By identifying the unique biochemical fingerprints that banned substances leave behind in an illicitly treated animal’s blood or urine, we will be able to quickly identify horses or cattle that have been treated with an illegal drug.”

He went on to explain that once a biological response of a banned substance is detected in an animal they will then be “singled-out for further tests to identify exactly which illicit substances are present.”

The 2-year project is funded by the EU’s ‘Seventh Framework Program for Research’. Mooney highlighted the true importance of developing such a test, “Current testing methods focus on detecting the presence of illegal substances in animals. These tests are expensive, time-consuming and have failed to keep pace with black market developments in producing, distributing and administering banned substances. The danger is that these substances go undetected and find their way into the food chain. The new test will help mitigate that risk.”

Source: Queen’s University in €1.6M bid to develop new animal doping test.