Detection of EPO doping and blood doping: the haematological module of the Athlete Biological Passport

Drug Test Anal. 2012 Nov;4(11):846-53. doi: 10.1002/dta.406. Epub 2012 Feb 28.


The increase of the body's capacity to transport oxygen is a prime target for doping athletes in all endurance sports. For this pupose, blood transfusions or erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESA), such as erythropoietin, NESP, and CERA are used. As direct detection of such manipulations is difficult, biomarkers that are connected to the haematopoietic system (haemoglobin concentration, reticulocytes) are monitored over time (Athlete Biological Passport (ABP)) and analyzed using mathematical models to identify patterns suspicious of doping. With this information, athletes can either be sanctioned directly based on their profile or targeted with conventional doping tests. Key issues for the appropriate use of the ABP are correct targeting and use of all available information (e.g. whereabouts, cross sectional population data) in a forensic manner. Future developments of the passport include the correction of all concentration-based variables for shifts in plasma volume, which might considerably increase sensitivity. New passport markers from the genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic level might add further information, but need to be validated before integration into the passport procedure. A first assessment of blood data of federations that have implemented the passport show encouraging signs of a decreased blood-doping prevalence in their athletes, which adds scientific credibility to this innovative concept in the fight against ESA- and blood doping.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Transfusion
  • Doping in Sports*
  • Erythropoietin / blood*
  • Hematinics / blood*
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Humans
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Hematinics
  • Erythropoietin