It currently takes about half an hour to check an athlete's blood or urine sample for performance-enhancing drugs. Thanks to technology developed at Canada's University of Waterloo, however, that figure may drop to just 55 seconds per sample – or perhaps even less.

Known as coated blade-spray mass spectrometry, the tech is based on solid-phase microextraction (SPME), a process that was developed by Waterloo's Prof. Janusz Pawliszyn in the 1990s. SPME involves using a sample probe that's covered with a solid coating, to selectively extract target chemicals from substances such as blood, urine, saliva and plasma. In a relatively simple step, that probe gets washed, and then analyzed by a mass spectrometer.

Coated blade-spray mass spectrometry combines SPME with more recent advances in analytical instrumentation, and is capable of detecting over 100 drugs using a single drop of blood or a few microliters of urine on a coated sample strip. It works at the parts per billion level, which the university points out is like detecting a sugar cube that's been dissolved in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The plan is for the system to be interfaced with a simplified mass spectrometer that's about the size of a desktop PC. That means the whole thing could be set up on location, at sporting venues.

It is hoped that once the technology is fully developed, it will be able to analyze samples within just 10 seconds, at a cost of a few dollars per sample.

Source: University of Waterloo