California researchers are working toward what they call athlete biological passports for horses which have the potential to revolutionize anti-doping measures in racing and other horse sport.
Drug testing of horses involves the collection of samples, mostly blood and urine, and running them through sophisticated equipment to detect unauthorized substances.
But there is potentially another way. The fundamental principle of the biological passport is to monitor selected biological variables over time that indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than trying to detect the doping substance or method itself.
In other words, the lab creates a biological record – the biological passport – of an individual athlete and then looks for changes outside of normal values. The changes can involve a number of biological processes, including changes in proteins, genes, and small molecules. Monitoring of these biomarkers could signal that a doping agent had been given to the athlete.
The research is being undertaken at the Ken Maddy Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, which undertakes drug testing for horses racing across the state on behalf of the regulator, the California Horse Racing Board.
The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System and the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine recently appointed a second faculty chemist at the laboratory to lead its development of methods to combat emerging threats in horse racing, such as anabolic steroids and gene doping.
Dr Benjamin Moeller, an expert in biomarkers with a doctorate focused on equine anabolic steroids, will develop the infrastructure to maintain an equine program for athlete biological passports. This program was recently boosted with news that the US Jockey Club would provide annual grants of $US50,000 a year for at least two years.
California Horse Racing Board executive director Rick Baedeker said his organization’s aim around drug testing was to remain vigilant and state-of-the-art.
“So, we have doubled the number of out-of-competition tests at Del Mar [racetrack] this season and we are working with UC Davis to pursue the latest technologies for testing.”