In the fight against doping in sports, which in Spain is regulated by Organic Law 11/2021, of December 28, on the fight against doping in sports, proper transportation of biological samples plays a crucial role. This importance stems from the fact that the analysis of samples such as urine or blood is essential for detecting the consumption of substances or the use of prohibited methods by athletes and elite sportspeople. Therefore, to ensure the integrity of anti-doping controls one of the most relevant aspects is the reliability of the custody and transportation of the samples, a key factor in ensuring that the biological samples have not been tampered with at any stage of the logistical process. For this reason, today’s content will focus on the importance of transportation and custody of biological samples in the fight against doping.
What do anti-doping laws say about the transportation of biological samples?
The current regulation establishes the following principles regarding the materials and methodologies used in anti-doping controls:
- The safety and integrity of urine and blood samples must be guaranteed, with a sealing system whose inviolability can be manually verified.
- The material for the final packaging of the samples must include a system of unique, non-reproducible, and indelible codes on the athlete’s samples.
- Anonymity of the athlete must be guaranteed during transportation and before the laboratory conducting the sample analysis.
- In the case of blood samples, they must be sterilized and sealed before use.
Why is the transportation of biological samples so important in anti-doping control?
- Preservation of the chain of custody: The traceability of extracted samples is an essential requirement to guarantee the chain of custody and avoid situations such as manipulation or loss of evidence.
- Guaranteeing the integrity of the samples and the reliability of the analyses: Biological samples are highly sensitive and can deteriorate if not handled and transported properly. Compliance with anti-doping law involves the use of specific containers and packaging with controlled temperatures and hermetic sealing systems. This ensures that the extracted substances remain stable and can be accurately analyzed in laboratories.
- Data security throughout the process to maintain the confidentiality of athletes.
- Collaboration between the involved parties: The transportation of biological samples requires close collaboration between anti-doping organizations, accredited laboratories, and transportation companies. These parties must work together to ensure compliance with the standards and regulations established by anti-doping authorities. Effective communication and coordination are essential to ensure that the samples are delivered on time, avoiding delays and potential risks to the integrity of the controls.
- Effective enforcement of sanctions: Proper transportation of biological samples is essential to ensure the effective enforcement of sanctions in cases of proven doping. If the samples are not transported appropriately, the results can be challenged and athletes may evade the consequences of their conduct.
Nuuk is the smart cooler for combating doping in sports
Groenlandia Tech, a healthtech specialized in innovation applied to the logistics and transportation of biological samples and sensitive content, has developed Nuuk, the first smart cooler capable of preserving and controlling the integrity of the chain of custody during sample shipments with real time traceability.
The solution brings great value to the fight against doping in sports. Nuuk, among with Groenlandia Tech’s online platform, offers the following innovations:
- A real-time traceability system with GPS that guarantees full control over the entire sample transportation process. This allows tracking and registry from the point of extraction to the analysis center.
- The smart cooler has access control to its contents. This system uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology and allows identification and assignment of users who can access the biological samples inside the cooler. This solution prevents manipulation of the extracted samples by employing an alert system that notifies unauthorized openings. Specifically, Nuuk operates with an electromechanical lock that reinforces security and control of the chain of custody.
- Nuuk’s technology places special emphasis on maintaining and controlling the temperature at which the biological samples should be kept. It is a passive cold fridge that enables temperature adaptation, monitoring, and tracking throughout the loading, transportation, and unloading process. Additionally, the alert system can identify if the sample has been outside the established temperature range at any point.
- Groenlandia Tech’s technology is backed by all the certifications related to the transportation of biological samples. Specifically, it complies with RGPD & LO 3/2018 (control, visibility, and secure access to the device throughout the transportation process) and UN3373 (designed and manufactured under international regulations).
Athletes who have been sanctioned for manipulation of doping samples
In recent sports history, there have been several cases of manipulation of doping samples that highlight the importance of custody of evidence in such processes. Some examples include:
Lance Armstrong, known as one of the most successful cyclists in history, was accused of doping throughout his career. Although he consistently denied using prohibited substances to enhance his performance, he was accused of using a technique called “microdosing,” which involved extracting blood and treating it with substances that increase red blood cell production. The treated blood was then re-injected to improve oxygen transport. Additionally, Armstrong was accused of manipulating urine samples to avoid detection of prohibited substances by mixing the extracted sample with other chemicals.
Kenyan athlete Eglay Nafuna Nalyanya, a finalist in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, represents the doping trend prevalent in Kenya, where sports careers offer significant employment and economic opportunities for its citizens. In April of a recent year, Nalyanya was sentenced to an 8-year suspension for using prohibited substances (androsterone and nandrolone) and manipulating test results. In this case, the athlete presented forged medical documents that implicated professionals in the healthcare sector. This case adds to the recent sanction imposed by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) on another Kenyan athlete, Betty Wilson Lempus, for the same reasons.
Lupita González, a Mexican athlete specializing in race walking who won silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and gold at the 2015 XVII Pan American Games, was suspended in 2019 by the AIU for testing positive for trembolone, a steroid that aids muscle growth. In an attempt to appeal the decision, the athlete violated anti-doping rules by attempting to manipulate the test results. This manipulation resulted in the athlete’s ineligibility until November 2022, as determined by the Disciplinary Tribunal.
Alexander Shustov, the European champion in high jump at Barcelona 2010, was sanctioned at the 2013 World Athletics Championships for manipulation of test results. Specifically, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) sanctioned the athlete, excluding him from all types of competitions until June 2024. According to the CAS ruling, the jumper was punished for “the use or attempted use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method” due to marks found inside the vial .