Blood passports and doping detection

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Eight different blood markers, including hemoglobin, are examined, said Robin Parisotto, a researcher from Australia. He is one of the nine scientists on an independent panel that reviews the abnormal blood profiles for the International Cycling Union, which is known as the U.C.I.

The markers are put into formulas and models that determine the statistical probabilities that an athlete is doping. Mr. Parisotto said the goal was to reach a 99.9 percent probability.

"The beauty with the blood passport is that you don't need to know each and every drug that is out there because you see the indication that something is being used," said Mr. Parisotto, who was the principal researcher in the creation of the first test for EPO used at the Olympic Games.

Now read this and ask yourself how well these tests were validated. The WADA writeup isn't very informative. Here's an overview of the research and here's a poster.

In this work, we estimated and integrated into a Bayesian network different components of variance of blood doping markers (hemoglobin, OFF-score, ABPS, tHb-mass) and steroid doping makers (T/E). The created network also included models of heterogeneous factors such as the influence of altitude on blood markers on the basis of a model proposed by the WHO. The Bayesian network has been validated and applied to more than 20,000 blood or steroid profiles. A software application, available upon demand, is capable of storing and interpreting an Athlete's Biological Passport.

These documents are pretty incomplete and it's a bit hard to figure out exactly how thorough the testing is. Intuitively, it seems like you'd need a pretty large baseline of samples to get a sufficiently high level of confidence. I wonder if 20,000 is the number of samples, athletes, or what? If it's 50 samples from 400 athletes, that's pretty different from 50 samples from 20,000 athletes.

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