The history of the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses
1990: LAD is born
The decision to build a laboratory that could analyze doping substances in the urine of athletes was taken by the Vaud State Council back in 1989. It was a sound decision. Indeed, at that time, the only anti-doping laboratory in Switzerland, which belonged to the Federal School of Gymnastics and was located in Macolin, had been shut down. The Institute of Legal Medicine of the Vaud Cantonal Hospices was asked to take over its mission. This was a natural choice since the Institute hosted a renowned laboratory of toxicology that already conducted different analyses of toxic substances in forensic cases using the same techniques as those used in the anti-doping field. This decision was also supported by the fact that Lausanne hosted several international sports authorities, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and many international sports federations.
On January 1, 1990, the laboratory officially came into existence and hired the personnel ( 2 chemists, 1 biochemist, 2 lab assistants and 1 secretary) needed to implement the analytical techniques used in the fight against doping and to create the physical infrastructures for the laboratory's activities.
The laboratory was initially named the Anti-Doping Unit (UAD). It was an integral part of University Institute of Legal Medicine and was located in the Champ de l'Air buiding (old Cantonal Hospital), rue du Bugnon 21, Lausanne.
1992: IOC accreditation and first analyses
The laboratory was officially accredited by the IOC at the end of 1991. In March 1992, the real work began when the first samples were received from the Swiss Sports Association (ASS), the central sports organization, which was subsequently renamed the Swiss Olympic Association and later simply Swiss Olympic.
In the first year, some 1'500 samples were analyzed by the laboratory. In most cases, they were collected during Swiss sports events or international competitions organized in Switzerland.
The contacts established with the international federations based in Lausanne, in particular those with the International Cycling Union (UCI) were essential in helping the laboratory launch its analytical and research activities.
In 1996, endurance sports become strongly affected by erythropoietin doping. As a response, UAD launched its first experimental blood tests during the Tour de Suisse in collaboration with the UCI and the Association of Professional Cycling Teams. Prior to this landmark event, the fight against doping was limited to urine testing.
1997: First blood tests
In 1997, UAD became entitled to use the denomination "Swiss" and received a brand new name: the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses (LAD). UCI mandated LAD to organize all blood testing to be carried out during the major cycling races. These tests, also called health tests, were designed to counter if not to prevent entirely the use of EPO as a doping agent. This was a crucial development since no direct method for detecting recombinant EPO existed at the time.
These new activities brought about new developments and the involvement of new people. Indeed, the first blood tests carried out at the time served as the basis of what became to be known as the Athlete’s biological passport. At the same time, they laid the foundation for a long-term collaboration with the world of cycling. Ever since, LAD experts have been contributing their know-how to the biggest cycling competition events in the world (several world championships, the Olympic Games, all the Tour de France competitions since 1997, etc.)
1998: Nandrolone and soccer
During the 1998 Soccer World Cup in France, LAD was asked by the FIFA to carry out an epidemiological study on the prevalence of nandrolone in the urines of the players. Thanks to this study, all concerned parties were assured that doping would not cause any problems during this major event. It also marked the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration with the FIFA’s medical research unit (F_MARC), headed by Professor Jiri Dvorak.
The LAD received its ISO 17025 quality accrediation at the end of year 2000. In 2001, the laboratory started implementing a method for detecting EPO in the urine. Thus, the first EPO-doping cases were uncovered in Lausanne. This EPO detection method, developed by the Châtenay-Malabry laboratory (an accredited laboratory near Paris, France), constituted a landmark in the fight against EPO abuse. LAD was a key player in realizing this significant achievement
The laboratory’s expert know-how is benefiting major competition events
In 2002, FIFA mandated a LAD expert to set-up the first blood tests and EPO analyses during the World Cup in Japan and Korea.
In 2003, IAAF also chose LAD experts to organize and run blood tests for international athletics during different World Championships. The first round of tests were carried out during the 2003 World Cross Country Championship in Lausanne-La Broye in and during the 2003 Track World Championship in Paris. Since. Ever since these landmark events, LAD has been assisting organizers of numerous major competitions (EURO 2004 in Portugal; Athens Olympic Games in 2004; IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 2005 and in Osaka in 2007; Turin Olympic Games in 2006 with a method for detecting homologous blood transfusions developed by LAD; most of cycling World Championships in different disciplines since 1997).
LAD today and tomorrow
In the spring of 2006, the laboratory moved to a more spacious location in Epalinges, in a building that hosts several biotech start-ups and other research units (see directions). The building infrastructures are maintained by the University of Lausanne Hospital Center (CHUV) and are designed to satisfy all the needs of its occupants. In 2008, LAD was designated as the official testing laboratory for EURO 2008 organized jointly by Switzerland and Austria. To ensure excellence in LAD services during this event, the General Directorate of the Department of Health of the Canton of Vaud has committed significant additional resources to further improve the laboratory’s infrastructures.
The upcoming years will be crucial in shaping the future of the laboratory. The current and future stakes have never been so high and one’s ability to react rapidly and effectively in the fight against doping shall be determining. Genetic doping is an area of particular concern. It is only by developing appropriate tools, such as proteomics or metabolomics, that LAD can remain one of the world’s best laboratories in the anti-doping field.