Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Anti-Doping Research: A Conversation with the Partnership for Clean Competition.

At Drug Free Sport, we believe that a balanced approach to sports drug testing and anti-doping involves testing and education. However, there are several elements that factor into the development of such testing and education, like proper research. With scientific advancements happening both for doping and anti-doping efforts, it’s important to be on top of developments to protect the integrity of sport. 

We recently exchanged with Jenna Celmer at the Partnership for Clean Competition about their work toward improving the detection of performance-enhancing drugs. Our organizations share the spirit of fair and safe sport. It was a great conversation that we’re proud to share with you. 

How did the Partnership for Clean Competition (PCC) come to be? 

Back in 2008, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the United States Olympic Committee, and the United States Anti-Doping Agency came together to discuss how to better deter and detect performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and encourage a culture of clean sport.
These organizations understood that what the anti-doping movement needed was the collaboration and commitment of leading sport organizations willing to fund scientific breakthroughs which advance anti-doping policy. The initial (and subsequent) financial contributions of these four founding PCC members catalyzed the anti-doping research collaborative known as the Partnership for Clean Competition.

The decision was a vocal stand for sporting integrity, and an investment in clean sport and in the health of athletes worldwide.

Tell us more about your focus on “the science of doping.”

While a robust approach to anti-doping policy involves several aspects (such as the education that Drug Free Sport provides), the PCC focuses on advancing the science and technology surrounding anti-doping sample collection, detection, and analysis. Our science varies based on emerging priorities, but could involve the creation of new testing methods that are less invasive and expensive, reference materials for WADA-accredited labs, or innovative tests for new substances. With new doping agents and methods being created every day to try and evade current testing capabilities, it’s paramount that the PCC continues to fund the research that produces sound responses to imminent anti-doping challenges.

What is something that you’d like the public to know about the PCC? 

The PCC funds PhD scientists all over the world (we currently have projects ongoing in 14 different countries), and we are always looking for additional investigators to contribute their unique acumen and scientific perspective to anti-doping challenges. A common misconception is that only dedicated ‘anti-doping scientists’ advance technology in this domain. The truth is, while there are certainly some incredible researchers who have devoted their careers to clean sport, many of the investigators we fund are taking the important work they develop or study in their scientific discipline and applying it to an anti-doping context. We have chemists, biologists, endocrinologists, pathologists, physiologists, food scientists, toxicologists, exercise scientists, and many others currently working on new and exciting developments. There are truly few areas of science that do not play a role, and we’re happy to talk through projects with scientists who aren’t certain if their work is a good fit.

What are some of the research-related findings that the PCC has contributed toward recently?

The PCC has granted over $18 million in research to 100+ investigators around the world; many recent advancements in PED detection and analysis are due to PCC funding. To understand how important this is, newly-found positives during reanalysis of samples from past Olympic games are possible, thanks to the more precise scientific methods developed by scientists.

While this type of research will always be a priority, the PCC has recently invested significant amounts of funding in alternative matrices – or new ways to collect and analyze samples. Currently, most drug testing is done on blood or urine, but two emerging technologies are on our radar:

      1. Breath testing. The PCC has invested in SensaBues breath tests as a quick, easy, and low-cost alternative to current in-competition testing. Athletes simply breathe into the device, which has been proven to detect not only drugs of abuse, but many classes of anti-doping substances, with lab analysis using existing WADA approved methods. PCC investment in the tests is ongoing, and we hope to do a pilot study in 2018.
      2. Dried Plasma Spot Card Testing. While current blood tests involves the use of phlebotomists to  draw blood (a process which may be perceived as invasive by athletes), the PCC has developed cards that require only a finger prick of blood to perform several different analyses. Not only is sample collection quick and easy, but the cards are easy to store, analyze, and transport, potentially providing a significant cost savings over blood testing.

We believe that developing lower-cost, less invasive sample collection methods may increase overall testing, thus enhancing overall deterrenceThe PCC is investing in the scientific validation that would be required to protect clean athletes at the same level as blood and urine matrices currently used.

As an organization that funds research, you have a grant cycle deadline coming up. Care to talk about your grant processes and programs?

Absolutely! To begin a PCC grant, investigators must first fill out our 1 – 2 page “Pre-Application”, designed to gather high-level information about the intended project to ensure it fits the PCC mission and priorities. We do this so that investigators presenting research outside of our scope don’t spend time filling out our (lengthy) full application. For instance, the PCC does not currently fund social science research, even on the topic of anti-doping. We always encourage interested researchers to review our research priorities before submitting a pre-application. 
Pre-applications are due March 1st, July 1st, and November 1st of each year.

As soon as pre-applications are approved (and most are), investigators are invited to submit the full PCC application, now available to them via their project site on our website. This application ranges in length from around 10 pages, to upwards of 75 pages, depending on the level of detail the investigators provide, the complexity of their research, and the amount of supplemental information they provide (for instance preliminary studies and data). Hint: the more experimental detail provided in an application, the more likely it is to be approved.
Full applications are due April 1st, August 1st, and December 1st of each year (one month after the pre-application of that cycle).

Once full applications are received, they are reviewed by two members of our 10-member Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), which consists of scientific experts representing a diverse array of disciplines (from endocrinology to exercise physiology). The SAB meets every cycle to then collectively discuss the applications, and the feedback provided by each reviewer. As a unit, the SAB then makes funding recommendations for each application submitted during the cycle to our Board of Governors (consisting of a representative from each of our Founding Members) for final approval before successful investigators are notified.

At this point, the PCC will negotiate terms and conditions with the researcher’s host institution. Unsuccessful investigators will receive feedback on their application, and may be invited to re-submit their project with changes (often more detail is required). The entire process from pre-application to funding and/or feedback takes 3-5 months.

What has research shown that may be next, in terms of doping to gain an athletic advantage?

This is a difficult question to answer and one that is constantly changing. The PCC does get applications from scientists and lab directors who have concerns about specific substances and propose research on those substances. We also incorporate input from our sponsors, who are often on the front lines with regards to new perforamnce-enhancing substances. If researchers from labs, academia, or the private sector believe they have identified a need in the anti-doping community, we would encourage them to apply for a grant or micro-grant.