The new face of doping

The World Anti-Doping Agency' s mission is to combat doping and move towards clean sport. But while the use of these substances has indeed declined in recent years, doping has not ceased, as Michel Audran, a specialist in the subject at the Max Mousseron Institute of Biomolecules, explains.1.

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Erythropoietin - if the name of this hormone which stimulates the production of red blood cells seems unpronounceable, its acronym is more familiar: EPO. And with good reason: the name was on everyone's lips during the 1998 Tour de France, which was marked by several doping scandals. A practice that had long been freewheeling, and which was dealt with head-on at the end of this "Tour de France" . tour of shame ".

"The scandal highlighted the need for an independent international agency to set standards in the fight against doping and coordinate the efforts of sports organizations and public authorities," recalls Michel Audran, a researcher at the Max Mousseron Institute of Biomolecules and a specialist in blood doping. Barely a year later, the World Anti-Doping Agency was founded.

Race for molecules

One of its objectives is to slow down the veritable "race for molecules" that athletes and anti-doping laboratories have been fighting over for years, with the former looking for new doping substances that the latter are not yet able to detect. "To put an end to this, the World Anti-Doping Agency has negotiated with the pharmaceutical laboratories, which now provide it with new molecules that could be used as doping products as soon as they enter clinical trials. So by the time the molecule arrives on the market, we've had time to develop effective detection techniques", explains the biophysicist.

Another weapon in the World Anti-Doping Agency's arsenal is the athlete's biological passport, introduced in 2010. "This is an individual electronic file that enables the tracking over time of biological variables that indirectly reveal the effects of doping," explains Michel Audran, who headed the Châtenay-Malabry anti-doping laboratory for 3 years (read Michel Audran, un spécialiste du dopage sanguin pour relancer le labo in Libération 13/06/2017).

Biological passport

Throughout the year, athletes covered by the passport can be tested for the use of banned substances at any time. " Its introduction, combined with improvements in the sensitivity of screening methods, has considerably reduced the use of certain doping products by these athletes. Today, less than 2% of tests are positive in France," emphasizes Michel Audran.

While the specialist believes that this figure underestimates a reality that is probably closer to 5%, recourse to doping does indeed appear to be on the wane, as can also be seen in sporting performances. " For example, since the detection of anabolic agents, shot put, javelin and discus records have changed little", notes the specialist.

Has sport become clean ? In reality, doping hasn't stopped, but its face has changed: to avoid detection, athletes now take micro-doses of doping substances. Their performance is less improved, but the risk of being caught is lower. People are still doping, but less so; this is a direct effect of the introduction of the biological passport, which is bearing fruit", analyses Michel Audran, who nonetheless stresses that much remains to be done. " In particular, it is essential to develop education and prevention programs to prevent the spread of doping in sport", concludes the researcher.

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