Just as athletes commit to becoming faster and stronger than ever, so too do the authorities testing these competitors for banned substances. For just that reason, the World Anti-Doping Agency has supported the work of chemist Janusz Pawliszyn of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who has shown how to make the organization’s testing regime more efficient than ever before.

For almost 25 years, Pawliszyn has been developing and refining a technique called Solid Phase Microextraction (SPME), which employs thin films of reagents used in high throughput liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The format allows for a direct interaction, regardless of the physical properties of the material being assessed. “We can have samples that are quite complex — suspensions and so on — and they will not plug up the system,” Pawliszyn says, referring to the kinds of bodily fluids taken from athletes, such as urine, blood or saliva.

Using a standard 96-sample tray, such specimens will take just a few hours to be tested against hundreds of doping compounds and their metabolites, including narcotics, steroids, diuretics, hormones, stimulants and cannabinoids. The details of this innovation were described by Pawliszyn and his colleagues in an article for Analytica chimica acta earlier this year. Pawliszyn notes that this is just the latest application to be found for SPME over the past two decades.