Doping scandals seemingly become more commonplace as medical advances make their strides. One of the most prominent examples can be found in the recent headlines concerning the decision to ban the Russian track and field team from the 2016 Summer Olympics “because of a far-reaching doping conspiracy,” according to the New York Times. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the organization responsible for overseeing the testing of Olympic athletes, when testing for human growth hormone (hGH), one of the most frequently-used performance enhancing drugs, the methods of choice for serum analysis are immunoassays.

Surface plasmon resonance-based immunoassays can be used to monitor human serum for artificially heightened levels of hGH. Such immunoassays are quick, with each sample taking only 15 minutes to analyze, and they are also convenient, since the serum sample requires no special preparation before loading into the sensor. Additionally, each sensor can be reused up to 50 times before it becomes necessary to replace the device. Readings from this SPR-based immunoassay have been shown to have a high level of agreement with those of ELISA, an industry standard, and the results from both instruments have an R2 value of 0.985.

However, this technology is not without its shortcomings. Multiple researchers claim that SPR-based assays do not possess the sensitivity to reach the lowest detection thresholds necessary for hGH detection. While this is indeed true, these techniques are still in development, and they may one day become the industry standard. SPR-based assay data is still useful in the realm of doping detection when used in conjunction with other tests.

Analysis using SPR is not limited to just the detection of hGH. Researchers have also successfully used SPR to monitor serum levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), human thyroid stimulating hormone (hTSH), human follicle stimulating hormone (hFSH), and human luteinizing hormone (hLH).

But, with overwhelming advances in medical technology come new methods of doping. Gene doping is a technique wherein an athlete alters their genetic information to “naturally” produce higher levels of hormone, or any number of other effects. SPR-based assays can be employed to help combat these doping methods, as well. Each genetic alteration leaves traces of the shuttle vector that imported the new genetic code. SPR-based assays can be used to identify the presence of these shuttle vectors and identify if an athlete has altered their DNA to gain an unfair advantage.

SPR is not only capable of performing anti-doping testing quickly, conveniently, and accurately, but it can also be used to indicate the presence of multiple performance enhancing drugs as well as modified genetic code. If used in a high-throughput screening, SPR detection techniques can serve as a powerful tool in anti-doping procedures.