July 2014

Track testing kits can perfect athlete training programmes

LGC scientists are carrying out experiments to develop a new trackside testing kit that could help elite athletes perfect their training regimes.
In the highly competitive field of elite sport, athletes and their coaches regularly turn to science to help them assess physiological status and wellbeing, in an attempt to optimise any competitive advantage.
Stress biomarkers, such as cortisol, are often used to monitor the effectiveness of an athlete’s training regime. Raised levels of cortisol is known to have a catabolic (muscle breakdown) effect on tissue with associated decrease in anabolic (muscle growth) hormones and suppressed immune function.  However levels of cortisol change quickly following exercise and so need to be monitored trackside to see if an athlete needs to be rested or whether they can train further and harder. A coach will be keen not to over train an athlete, as chronic elevated cortisol level causes the body to enter a state of constant muscle breakdown, with increasing risk of injury and susceptibility to viruses.
The team has developed new assays for detecting both free and total (free and serum-protein bound) cortisol within human serum using a transportable platform technology, (the Aushon Cirascan instrument).
The test will provide real time data for cortisol levels, produced during exercise and, depending on these levels, may indicate whether the athlete has been overworked and needs to be rested, or can be pushed further. As the tests are required to be used to tailor an athlete’s regime, it is necessary that this is a field-based assay, to negate the transit of samples to laboratories.
Existing assays for total cortisol within serum are all laboratory-based, and the detection of the biologically active “free“ cortisol (that is not bound to other serum proteins) require extensive and laborious sample processing prior to performing the total cortisol assay with the fractionated sample. However, through this project, the team have not only devised a novel method to measure free pool of this steroidal hormone, but also devised a more rapid total cortisol assay that uses only a drop of whole blood via a pin prick to the finger.
Susan Pang, Science Leader from the Molecular and Cell Biology measurement research team at LGC, said: “More recently, there has been criticism regarding the validity of tests using saliva, in terms of the results and the sample processing required. In addition, some salivary cortisol is metabolised which may distort results.”
The team have devised robust assays for cortisol, using certified reference materials and a transportable platform technology that offers direct detection of the target analytes. There is viability for this to be expanded to include other inflammatory markers such as cytokines as well as other steroidal hormones.
Susan said: “The types of athletes that we are working with are at the top of their field and want to push themselves to their limit.  We are looking forward to demonstrating the value of these improved tests through improved performance.”
The project is funded by the National Measurement System Innovation, Research and Development Programme and has involved collaborations with a number of sporting bodies including the English Institute of Sport, British Olympic Association and Rugby Football Union.
Susan added: “This research is being driven by the needs of our sport collaborators and working closely with the end-user has enabled faster and tailored development of a fit-for-purpose test that will help improve athletes’ wellbeing and performance.”