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Hong Kong Jockey Clubˇ¦s Racing Laboratory pioneering new methods of doping control via biomarkers


The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s world-class Racing Laboratory has made significant strides in the development of new doping control techniques.

“The efficacy of conventional drug testing is diminishing over time, and the Club is making significant progress towards a new way of equine doping control through our biomarkers project,” said Dr. Terence Wan, the Club’s Head of Racing Laboratory.

Club scientists will present the Racing Laboratory’s latest research findings in June at the 64th American Society for Mass Spectrometry Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Early findings from Club-led research using biomarkers profiling to detect the misuse of steroidal aromatase inhibitors (steroids that inhibit aromatase activities) was first published in the industry-leading journal, Analytical Chemistry, in December 2015.

“It’s very clear that the Club is one of the racing industry’s worldwide leaders in doping control,” said Mr. Andrew Harding, Executive Director, Racing Authority. “Racing integrity is a key element to the success of racing in Hong Kong and the Club’s relentless effort in maintaining a high standard of racing control has been endorsed by international racing jurisdictions and is undoubtedly trusted by customers. The Racing Laboratory’s ground-breaking work is a keystone in maintaining that trust.”

“Biomarkers monitoring is a revolutionary detection approach and has the potential to fill the gap where conventional drug testing either fails, or encounters significant challenges,” said Dr. Wan. “We firmly believe this is an important alternative approach for the future.”

A biomarker (or biological marker) is an indicator of a physiological state resulting from biological or pathological processes, some of which are in response to an external pharmacological (drug) or non-chemical intervention. In order to cope with rapid drug development which is challenging the conventional “chemical testing” approach to doping control, biomarkers monitoring focuses on the biological effects of drugs instead of testing for the residual presence of specific substances.

“Despite advances in analytical sciences, doping with proteins, peptides and other emerging products of biotechnology, including individualized medicines tailor-made from one’s genetic information, is most difficult to identify by conventional drug testing,” Dr. Wan added. “This new approach has excellent potential to:

  • Identify indirectly, and collectively, the misuse of numerous undetectable or difficult-to-detect substances;
  • Improve the detection windows for fast-eliminating but long-acting substances;
  • Perform longitudinal monitoring of biomarkers profiles of racehorses to identify any changes due to the effects of drugs or other forms of doping, the so-called biological passports;
  • Identify the administration of naturally-occurring (endogenous) prohibited substances;
  • Differentiate between the surreptitious treatment with a banned substance by a certain route of exposure and the inadvertent exposure to the same substance by another route.”

The Club’s research published in Analytical Chemistry showed that researchers could identify horses administered with steroidal aromatase inhibitors relative to the control group by monitoring the biomarkers in the urine samples, all without testing for the inhibitors themselves or their unique metabolites.*

“More work is needed to validate this biomarkers method and to develop similar ones to test for other groups of banned substances, but this has been an incredibly positive step towards changing the dynamics of equine doping control,” said Dr. Wan.


*Reference: G.H.M. Chan, E.N.M. Ho, D.K.K. Leung, K.S. Wong and T.S.M. Wan, “Targeted Metabolomics Approach to Detect the Misuse of Steroidal Aromatase Inhibitors in Equine Sports by Biomarker Profiling,” Anal. Chem., 2016, 88(1), 764-772 (DOI 10.1021/acs.analchem.5b03165).

Dr. Terence Wan, the Hong Kong Jockey Clubˇ¦s Head of Racing Laboratory.
Photo 1:
Dr. Terence Wan, the Hong Kong Jockey Clubˇ¦s Head of Racing Laboratory.



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