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Current strategies of blood doping detection


During the last 30 years, the artificial increase of red blood cell volume (“blood doping”) has changed the level of performance in all endurance sports. Many doping scandals have shown the extent of the problem. The detection of blood doping relies on two different approaches: the direct detection of exogenous manipulating substances (erythropoietic stimulants) or red cells (homologous transfusion) and the indirect detection, where not the doping substance or technique itself, but its effect on certain biomarkers is measured. Whereas direct detection using standard laboratory procedures such as isoelectric focusing can identify erythropoietic stimulants, homologous blood transfusion is identified through mismatches in minor blood group antigens by flow cytometry. Indirect methods such as the athlete biological passport are the only means to detect autologous transfusion and may also be used for the detection of erythropoietic stimulants or homologous transfusion. New techniques to unmask blood doping include the use of high-throughput ‘omics’ technologies (proteomics/metabolomics) and the combination of different biomarkers with the help of mathematical approaches. Future strategies should aim at improving the use of the available data and resources by applying pattern recognition algorithms to recognize suspicious athletes and, on the basis of these findings, use the appropriate testing method. Different types of information should be combined in the quest for a forensic approach to anti-doping.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest relevant to the manuscript submitted. T.P. received a WADA grant for 2012 (11B16TP). Y.O.S. acted as an independent expert for different anti-doping stakeholders in several doping cases.

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Correspondence to Torben Pottgiesser.

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Published in the topical collection Anti-doping Analysis with guest editor Christopher Harrison.

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Pottgiesser, T., Schumacher, Y.O. Current strategies of blood doping detection. Anal Bioanal Chem 405, 9625–9639 (2013).

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  • Blood doping
  • Erythropoietin
  • Blood transfusion
  • Athlete biological passport
  • Doping detection