Anti-doping: the University of Bologna confirms its commitment to cutting-edge lab tests

Thanks to a new funding from the World Anti-Doping Agency, the PTA Lab of the University of Bologna sets new braver aims: increasingly reliable and cross-checking proof results, more privacy and safety for athletes and their integrity.

The future of anti-doping is getting closer: miniaturized, safe and quick testing. The research group of the Toxicological Analysis Laboratory (PTA Lab) at the Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology of the University of Bologna obtained a fund from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for carrying out advanced researches on anti-doping testing systems which employ innovative miniaturized samples.

Current anti-doping tests present some issues, especially for logistic reasons. Indeed, traditional urine samples have to travel from the sampling place to the laboratory. This journey can be long and may therefore compromise the biological material to be tested, which in turn may lead to false negatives.

"The aim of this international project in collaboration with WADA is to minimize the occurrence of false negatives and to enhance the reliability of the analysis protocol”, explains Professor Laura Mercolini, coordinator of the research group. “We are confident that the new strategies we are testing and working on will represent a major turning point for the scientific community dealing with anti-doping testing".

Funded by the International Olympic Committee, since 1999 WADA has promoted and coordinated actions preventing as well as against doping all over the world, thus safeguarding athletes and sports integrity. WADA, among its activities, funds research projects on innovative approaches to anti-doping tests, with the aim to make them quicker, safer and more reliable.

Back in 2018, WADA already awarded the PTA Lab a grant, consequently, the present one comes as a confirmation for the research group, who can now keep up the good work. The research group intends to obtain miniaturized contamination-, alteration- and degradation-safe samples. "We'd like to cast a new light on biological samples, one that provides increasingly reliable and cross-checking proof results, but still preserving the athletes' privacy and integrity" says Michele Protti, project co-applicant and post-doc fellow at the PTA Lab.

Compared to the existing system, this revolution seems promising. "Miniaturized sampling means easy-to-obtain and more reliable samples. This would not only benefit athletes, but would also be convenient from a logistic point of view", states Roberto Madrioli, project co-applicant and teaching staff member at the Department for Life Quality Studies of the University of Bologna. "Miniaturized sampling also makes anti-doping testing available to a wider audience of athletes, reaching areas that are spatially remote".

A group of experts in the field of physics at Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) led by Dr. Paolo Sberna will support the PTA Lab research group. Moreover, sports doctors and anti-doping experts from the Carabinieri's NAS (the Italian Anti-Adulteration Unit and Health), intelligence experts and international stakeholders in the field of micro-sampling and micro-fluidics technology will also participate in this project.

"Working together on this project is very stimulating and encouraging. We're all inspired to make the most out of our time and resources in order to develop, test and validate new approaches to serve as new weapons in the fight against doping" concludes Laura Mercolini. "At PTA Lab, we are very proud to be the leader research group of the project; this ambitious goal is the perfect challenge for exploiting our well-established know-how and extensive experience on the field".

Published on: 27 January 2020