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Irish scientists develop rapid animal-doping test

Test will detect the effects of the drugs, not the drugs themselves.

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast and the Irish Equine Centre say they are developing a new way to test for illegal drugs used in animals. The tests could be used for banned growth promoters, hormones and antibiotics used on animals destined for the food chain as well as those involved in sport.

In a release, the scientists say it will be the first animal-doping test to work by detecting and monitoring the known biological effects of a banned substance, rather than the presence of the substance itself. It also has the potential to revolutionize animal drug testing by enabling the screening of large numbers of animals more quickly and efficiently than is currently possible.

“Current testing methods focus on detecting the presence of illegal substances in animals. These tests are expensive, time consuming and have failed to keep pace with black market developments in producing, distributing and administering banned substances,” said Dr. Mark Mooney of the university’s Institute for Global Food Security.

“By identifying the unique biochemical fingerprints that banned substances leave behind in an illicitly treated animal’s blood or urine, we will be able to quickly identify horses or cattle that have been treated with an illegal drug,” he said.

“Despite being banned for over 20 years, the use of illegal growth promoters, hormones and antibiotics is believed to still occur across parts of Europe and further afield,” said Professor Chris Elliott, the institute’s director. “The criminal gangs that operate the global trade in illegal animal drugs have developed the means of avoiding detection by conventional testing methods and new ways to detect this illicit trade are urgently required.”

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