Doping samples at the laboratory

It is the task of the laboratory to find out whether the sample contained doping agents or whether signs of the use of substances or methods prohibited in sports were detected in the sample. Doping samples are always analysed by a laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA.

Delivering a doping sample to the laboratory

At the end of a doping test, the doping control officer (DCO) places the sealed sample containers in their original shipping box for transport. NB: The enclosure is only used for protecting the sample containers during transport. It is not part of the sealing of the samples. The DCO takes care of the appropriate and reliable storage of the sample containers.

The sealed samples and laboratory copies of the test forms, which do not include information indicating the identity of the athlete, are sealed in a transport container. The DCO in charge fills in the supervision record for the transport.

The samples are delivered to a laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA for analysis (in Finland, United Medix Laboratories Ltd) either by the DCO, courier or post.

The laboratory acknowledges the receipt of the samples and ensures that the transport bag is sealed and that its content is appropriate. The laboratory also registers the samples.

Doping control laboratories

Doping samples are always analysed by a laboratory accredited by WADA. Accreditation requires that the laboratory's personnel, know-how, working procedures and equipment, for example, meet the relevant quality requirements. WADA continuously monitors the level of quality by way of quality assurance samples, among other measures. Accreditation is granted for one year at a time.

The laboratory must also hold valid international EN ISO/IEC 17025 standard accreditation. All accredited laboratories comply with the uniform work procedures and analysis methods described by the International Standard for Laboratories (ISL). Therefore, results from different laboratories are comparable.

Analysis of a doping sample at the laboratory

The laboratory work phases include:

  • sample reception
  • inspection of sample integrity
  • logging of information
  • sample storage
  • analytical processes
  • result interpretation and recording
  • summary of conclusions and reporting
  • archiving of the results and
  • storage and/or disposal of the samples.

Every year, WADA publishes a list of prohibited substances in sports; these are the substances that a laboratory analyses in samples. For instance, the use of anabolic steroids is always prohibited, whereas the use of some substances is prohibited only in competitions. An example of the latter group is stimulants, such as pseudoephedrine, which can be used for therapeutic purposes during the training season and the potential performance-boosting ability of which is often very short-term.

The analysis of doping samples begins with an initial testing procedure (screening) of the athlete's A-sample. This is to detect abnormal samples for more detailed analysis. Screening tests are analytical processes that monitor simultaneously several substances of similar properties.

Each positive screening result is confirmed prior to final reporting. The athlete's A-sample is also used for confirmation analysis. The confirmation analysis is performed using mass spectrometric methods almost without exception. They provide detailed information on the structure of the analyte and enable its reliable identification. Measurement data from the athlete's sample is compared to corresponding data from a positive control sample: if it is suspected that the sample contains ephedrine, for example, ephedrine is chosen as the reference compound. The sample is positive only when the measurement data from the sample fulfils the criteria in comparison to the reference material.

If the confirmation analysis of the sample also turns out to be positive, the laboratory will inform the testing authority (TA) of the positive result. The TA will connect the result with the tested athlete on the basis of the sample code.

The analysis of samples typically takes approximately two weeks. In connection with major events, samples are often analysed already by the next day of the competition.