Science - January 19, 2006

New test spots designer steroids

The Wageningen test designed to trace unknown anabolic steroids is ready for use. Researchers at Rikilt have published it in Analytical Chemistry. ‘This is the first step,’ says first author Dr Michel Nielen. ‘Now we are going to develop it further to come up with a fast and cheap way of screening food, supplements and animal feed for unknown anabolics.’

Current anabolics tests only look for a limited number of chemical compounds that are known to arise from forbidden substances in the body. Recent doping scandals have made it clear however that these tests cannot detect designer steroids, tweaked anabolic steroids, most of which have been discovered, described, researched and then forgotten about. They are untraceable, and Chinese chemicals companies can supply the compounds for peanuts. They are being added increasingly to sports supplements.

‘Our test uses a yeast cell that we developed ourselves, which can uncover all anabolic substances,’ says Nielen. ‘It doesn’t matter whether we know the substance or not. If the yeast cells sounds the alarm we can determine the structure of the substance. If it’s one we don’t know, then we have found a designer steroid.’

The researchers think their test may be useful for American high schools, which have started testing students for forbidden androgens. This was after media reports of widespread anabolics use among American schoolchildren. One problem is that current tests are expensive. The Rikilt test is not.
The test was developed with money from the Dutch ministry of agriculture, which subsidises Rikilt to devise new research methods. / WK

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