The objective of blood doping is to boost oxygen transport to tissues by artificially increasing the number of red blood cells with the help of EPO injections or autologous or homologous blood transfusions. Blood doping in well-trained athletes can lead to significant performance enhancement.
Certain international sports federations have adopted the policy of an arbitrary threshold to disqualify athletes that have obviously tampered with erythropoiesis. The most famous example is the 50% hematocrit and/or 17.0 g/dl hemoglobin threshold. Such an approach is not only effective in the fight against blood doping, it also aims at protecting athletes against health hazards, such as blood hyperviscosity.
The Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses (LAD) has been conducting specific blood tests to fight against blood doping ever since 1995. LAD benefits from ISO 17025 accreditation and is one of the few laboratories authorized by WADA to conduct testing both in the laboratory and in the field (on the competition sites).
Classical blood doping tests include the hematocrit, hemoglobin concentration, proportion of reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) and stimulation index. The latter parameter, also called the OFF-score, helps identify athletes with a very recent history of EPO administration or blood transfusion.
Recently, LAD has integrated all of blood parameter determinations into a single individual hematological profile used for the establishment of the athlete biological passport.
Erythropoiesis is the global process by which erythrocytes (red blood cells) are produced from totipotent hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow, under the influence of erythropoietin.
Reticulocytes are immediate precursor cells of erythrocytes in the process of erythropoiesis. Reticulocytes are young red blood cells that still possess ribosomes and mitochondria. They are therefore metabolically very active and continue to synthesize new hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the protein which main function is to transport dioxygen (O2) in the blood of humans and other vertebrates. Hemoglobin is found predominantly inside red blood cells and it is the protein which confers red color to blood.
Hematocrit is the relative proportion of blood volume occupied by circulating blood cells relative to total blood volume. In practice, it represents the relative percentage of the volume occupied by circulating blood cells after centrifuging a sample of venous blood.