New steroid test uses oil exploration technique

Mar 05, 2008

It’s a technique that has previously been used for oil exploration — now researchers at The University of Nottingham have developed a new, highly sensitive, anti-doping steroid test using hydropyrolysis.

The process — which uses high pressure environments to investigate the chemical structure and make-up of a sample — has been refined and developed at the University to develop highly accurate tests for detecting levels of illicit steroids in urine. The test procedure is already in the process of being commercialised and is expected to be ready for use in the 2012 Olympics.

Funding from the Natural Environment Research Council’s Ocean Margins LINK programme saw researchers take the hydropyrolysis technique and apply it to geochemical studies. This allowed the team to reconstruct the history of ocean basins to help assess whether it was worth drilling for oil. By taking core samples over geological time, the technique can detect the first ’charge’, or presence, of oil.

But the same process can be used to detect the presence of illicit steroids in the urine of athletes — and racehorses. High pressure hydrogen is used to bombard the sample at pressures of 150 atmospheres and temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius. This leaves sample molecules in a cleaner, less degraded state than other extraction techniques, allowing more accurate readings to be taken. Carbon isotopes are then measured, with the results showing the ratios of carbon 12 and carbon 13 in the sample — whether geochemical or biological.

Colin Snape, Professor of Chemical Technology and Chemical Engineering at the University, said: “Steroids are produced naturally in the body, but they have a different carbon 13/carbon 12 ratios to those that have been introduced illicitly. By refining the measurements of these two isotopes we can produce a very accurate test for the presence of illegal steroids in athletes.

“We are currently working with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to develop the technique for trial and have entered into partnership with Strata Technology, a London-based company with expertise in high pressure equipment, to commercialise the technique.”

The technique is also being used to refine current radio carbon dating processes, which use the carbon 14 isotope to measure the age of an archaeological sample.

“Most of these samples use charcoal,” Professor Snape added. “But the stuff you are trying to accurately date is often mixed in with much later debris from the same site. Hydropyrolysis can remove this very rapidly and efficiently. We are hoping that this will become the accepted model for cleaning up radio carbon dating samples in the future — the fundamental research for this is taking place at the moment.”

Professor Snape is an expert on hydropyrolysis — he’s been working on the technique, both in industry and academia, for the past 25 years. Over the coming year he hopes to refine the testing process, exploring optimum sample sizes and checking the sensitivity of the technique, working with WADA and experts in steroid testing from Imperial College London.

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: Chemist discovers new information about elemental boron

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers study nanogold's potential in biomedicine

Jan 13, 2015

Peng Zhang is excited about gold, and you should be too. In particular, he's excited about nanogold, structures of a handful of atoms measuring only a few nanometers in diameter. Zhang, a researcher at Dalhousie ...

How sea spray particles evolve in the atmosphere

Jan 05, 2015

When ocean waves make bursting whitecaps or crash against the shores, tiny particles of sea spray enter the atmosphere. Once airborne, the particles are quickly coated by carbon-rich or organic chemicals. ...

Laser technology aids CO2 storage capabilities

Dec 23, 2014

DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory is attracting private industry attention and winning innovation awards for harnessing the power of lasers to monitor the safe and permanent underground storage ...

Recommended for you

What does Spiderman eat for breakfast?

52 minutes ago

While stuck in a hotel room I got sucked into watching the 2002 Spiderman movie. And it struck me that Peter Parker must have an enormously high-protein diet to generate all that spider silk he goes through. ...

Team advances fuel cell car technology

3 hours ago

Dr. Yossef Elabd, professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, has developed two fuel cell vehicle platforms for both present day enhancements and future innovation.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.