The Racing Laboratory at the Hong Kong Jockey Club is widely regarded as one of the world’s best, and next month at the 64th American Society for Mass Spectrometry Conference in San Antonio, Texas, club scientists will present the Racing Laboratory’s latest findings as it relates to the use of so-called ‘biomarker’ profiling to detect the misuse of steroidal aromatase inhibitors.

“The efficacy of conventional drug testing is diminishing over time, and the Club is making significant progress towards a new way of equine doping control through our biomarkers project,” said Dr. Terence Wan, the Club’s Head of Racing Laboratory.

Biomarkers (i.e. biological markers) are “indicator(s) of a physiological state resulting from biological or pathological processes, some of which are in response to an external pharmacological (drug) or non-chemical intervention.” In contrast to conventional testing, the monitoring of biomarkers “focuses on the biological effects of drugs instead of testing for the residual presence of specific substances.”

According to Dr. Wan, “Biomarkers monitoring is a revolutionary detection approach and has the potential to fill the gap where conventional drug testing either fails, or encounters significant challenges. We firmly believe this is an important alternative approach for the future.”

He continued, “Despite advances in analytical sciences, doping with proteins, peptides and other emerging products of biotechnology, including individualized medicines tailor-made from one’s genetic information, is most difficult to identify by conventional drug testing. This new approach has excellent potential to:

•Identify indirectly, and collectively, the misuse of numerous undetectable or difficult-to-detect substances;
•Improve the detection windows for fast-eliminating but long-acting substances;
•Perform longitudinal monitoring of biomarkers profiles of racehorses to identify any changes due to the effects of drugs or other forms of doping, the so-called biological passports;
•Identify the administration of naturally-occurring (endogenous) prohibited substances;
•Differentiate between the surreptitious treatment with a banned substance by a certain route of exposure and the inadvertent exposure to the same substance by another route.”

In research first published in the industry-leading journal Analytical Chemistry in December 2015, HKJC researchers demonstrated that horses that had been administered steroidal aromatase inhibitors could be identified relative to a control group by monitoring the biomarkers contained in a urine sample “without testing for the inhibitors themselves or their unique metabolites.”

Concluded Dr. Wan, “More work is needed to validate this biomarkers method and to develop similar ones to test for other groups of banned substances, but this has been an incredibly positive step towards changing the dynamics of equine doping control.”