Drug Free Sport Resource Center

CIR Foils Cheaters

Carbon Isotope ratio test foils cheaters

Did you know that a new steroid test has:

• closed a drug-testing loophole;

• cut costs for the NCAA and other sports organizations; and

• spared student-athletes and schools much time and trouble?

It’s called the carbon isotope ratio test, or CIR test, for short.

Before the CIR test, steroid testing could not tell pharmaceutical testosterone from testosterone naturally made by the body — unless a large enough amount was taken recently. Cases in the gray zone had to be resolved by conducting follow-up tests. At least two more urine samples had to be collected from the athlete in question, all within a couple of months.

A drug-free athlete with a naturally elevated testosterone level was expected to give stable lab readings. An athlete who quit using testosterone would gradually return to normal, therefore the lab readings would keep shifting. Drug-free athletes with naturally high testosterone levels had to cope with the unwanted attention. Worse, athletes determined to cheat might have found ways of fooling the test — that is, until the CIR test was introduced.

It can tell if someone has taken testosterone or any other prohormone supplement. Not only that, but the test can be done on just one urine sample, the first one that gave unusual lab results. That means no more follow-up short-notice tests, no more associated costs, and best of all, no more cheating with testosterone without getting caught.

How does the CIR test do the trick? It measures the carbon isotope ratio of testosterone and other hormones in the urine. The carbon isotope ratio is the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12, which are two variants of carbon. The measurement for pharmaceutical testosterone, which is made from plant steroids, is different from natural testosterone because the molecular carbon framework is put together differently by plants and humans.

Such advances in drug testing are possible only if there is ongoing, long-term, dedicated research at sports drug-testing labs. After a researcher at the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory first got the idea for this particular test, it took more than a decade to make it work!

Even today, the CIR test is offered by only a few of the sports drug-testing labs around the globe that are accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), including the lab in Athens that tested the 2004 Summer Olympics and the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, which serves Drug Free Sport, the NCAA, NFL, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and Minor League Baseball.

Caroline Hatton, Ph.D., is the Director of Special Projects at the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, the only WADA- certified lab in the United States.


First Quarter, 2005

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