Pennsy Lab Develops Definitive Blood-Doping Test

Edited press release

A Pennsylvania laboratory is the first to employ a definitive test for erythropoietin--the blood-doping agent commonly known as EPO--and the test resulted in the suspension and fining of a trainer of Standardbreds in Ontario, Canada.

The Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory in West Chester, Pa., is the first lab in the world to confirm the presence of EPO or Darbepoetin-alfa in a horse, according to a release from the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission. The lab confirmed readings from an ELISA test conducted in Toronto on three racehorses.

The Ontario Racing Commission in a release said that as a result of the test results, trainer Todd Gray was suspended for 10 years and fined $100,000 for positives in the horses Lasena, Rair Earth, and My Wicked Willie.

In Ontario, owners and trainers who don't allow random blood samples to be drawn from their horses at Thoroughbred and Standardbred racetracks in the Canadian province as part of a new out-of-competition testing program are penalized under a new program.

Thus far, only tests for EPO antibodies have been used in racing.

"We first were able to extract the protein-based drug (EPO) from plasma, through the work of a team led by Dr. Eric Birks," Dr. Lawrence Soma, the racing commission's equine research director at the New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a release. (Equine research conducted by Soma and lab director Dr. Cornelius Uboh is supported by racing commissions and contributions from horsemen.)

"Then Dr. Fuyu Guan, who works closely with Dr. Uboh, was able to develop a brand-new method of breaking apart the protein of the human EPO molecules into smaller fractions (peptides), thus allowing the positive identification of the EPO itself using a very sensitive LC/MS/MS technology.

"Dr. Guan has been working on EPO and Darbepoetin-alfa and conducting experiments with research horses that have been administered EPO, and thus, he was able to use that information as a model. We have optimized the method, and today we are able to make the positive EPO/Darbepoetin-alfa identification, and not just on the presence of antibodies that may be produced in the horse by the administration of human EPO to horses."