4 January 2018

UFC to introduce dried blood spot testing

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is to introduce dried blood spot testing, after the idea was suggested to it by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). “USADA came to us earlier in the year and said: we’ve got some new technology, what do you guys thin about getting your programme to be the first to roll it out?”, Jeff Novitzky, UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance told the Joe Rogan Show (video below). “If USADA science tells me that this works, then we want to be the first, especially if it’s more convenient and more efficient for our programme”.

In the show, Novitzky produces what he calls a “leeching device” with 30 micro-needles, which will be used on UFC athletes. “You put it up on your arm, you hit this button, and painlessly, the micro-needles reach in to just the capillaries – so just the blood at the top of the skin – and just draws out a small amount of blood”, he explains. “This light turns red when the blood is drawn out”.

Novitzky explains that the blood is then deposited onto a dried blood spot testing index card, involving a drop or two of blood on the four corners of the card. The card is then sealed up, which makes it tamper proof, and it can then be posted to a Laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for analysis. He argues that UFC athletes prefer the device to a needle in the arm.

“Blood taken out of a vein in your arm requires a phlebotomist, so in cases where USADA’s doing a drug test, they usually take a blood collection officer and a phlebotomist to take out the blood”, he said. “I think that it presents incredible efficiency and conveniency for our athletes and for our programme”.

At present, blood tests are prohibitively expensive for many anti-doping authorities. This is because it costs money to send a trained blood collection officer and a phlebotomist to process a blood sample, and because a vial of blood needs to be cold shipped to WADA Laboratories within three days without being frozen, and its temperature logged at all times.

‘DBS sampling is characterized by cost-effectiveness, straightforwardness, robustness and facilitated storage and shipment conditions’, reads research published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It also found that using dried blood spot testing, samples remain stable at room temperature for ‘at least 28 days’.

Whether dried blood spot testing will be more effective at catching dopers than current blood tests remains to be seen. WADA’s 2016 Anti-Doping Testing Figures Report revealed that the total number of adverse analytical findings (AAF) reported from in-competition blood tests amongst Summer and Winter Olympic sports was 17 from 3,200 tests performed (0.5%). Out of competition, just 11 AAFs resulted from 12,443 tests performed (0.09%).

By way of comparison, in competition urine tests produced 1,352 AAFs amongst Summer and Winter Olympic Sports, 1.33% of the 101,413 samples analysed. Out of competition urine tests returned 547 AAFs from the 76,289 samples analysed (0.72%).

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