This week, in continued celebration of the Olympic games, we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Daniel Eichner – president of the WADA-accredited Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in the USA.
Here, he shares not only his experiences, stories and tips, but also what role himself and his team will play in the Rio 2016 Olympic games.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
A recovering athlete, turned anti-doping scientist.
Describe your current work and research.
I am the president of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory (SMRTL), 1 of 2 World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratories in the United States. We do testing for Olympic and professional sports to ensure clean competition. Although we specialize in performance-enhancing drugs in sports, we also conduct testing for law enforcement and medical examiners.
In order to try and stay ahead of the cheaters, we are very proactive in trying to predict what the next drug or prohibited method may be abused is. A lot of our research is focused on new classes of drugs, some going through clinical trials, many, still in experimental phases. Not only looking for the drug or metabolite, we are now focusing on biological markers that are indicative of doping. This new approach allows for significantly longer windows of detection and thus, offers a greater deterrence.
What inspired you to join this field?
I spent many years as an athlete travelling the world and when I retired I wanted to do something in the science field. Anti-doping turned out to be a great fit. I feel as though I understand the mentality of athletes and I am able to use that knowledge in deterring athletes from make poor choices with doping. Anti-doping is a very dynamic research area where the scientists cannot afford to only be reactive but proactive. Always knowing that there is something new out there is great motivation.
Describe your education and career trajectory to this point.
I completed my studies in Australia. I graduated with a B.Sc. with first class honours from the Australian National University (ANU). I finished my Ph.D. in medical science at the John Curtin School of Medicine, ANU and went straight into a postdoctoral position. Although I loved the research I knew that the academic world was not mine for the long-term. When a position became available to work in anti-doping I jumped at the chance. I have worked for the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the US Anti-Doping Agency and now at SMRTL. Recognizing opportunities and jumping in the deep end has served me well.
Tell us a story of something interesting you’ve worked on.
I have been very fortunate enough to work on some very interesting and high profile cases. Uncovering sophisticated doping programs in both Olympic and professional sports. Working on murder and manslaughter cases where steroids have played a significant role. In addition, working with medical examiners to help determine the cause of death, sometimes due to excessive steroid use.
What tips can you provide for people wishing to pursue a career in your field?
Definitely a strong background in science. Toxicology and pharmacy degrees are preferable but not necessary. Many of the anti-doping scientists world-wide stay in the field for most, if not, all of their careers. Having a passion for clean sport is also important. Being amenable to working in a small, but growing, research community.
What role (if any) will you or your organisation play during Rio 2016?
The Olympic Games will have a laboratory on-site. However, most of the testing will happen prior to the games. SMRTL completes a huge volume of pre-Olympic testing. As many of the drugs used to enhance performance are often used during heaving training periods, out-of-competition testing is really the gold standard in anti-doping.
What is a little known fact about your field or profession that people may find intriguing?
That there is no one single assay that can test for all known prohibited performance-enhancing drugs. We run a mix of Liquid/Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry, immunoassays, clinical analysers etc. In addition, urine (not blood) is in most cases the best matrix for testing. There are no flashlights involved.
Have you ever worked directly with athletes or teams? What was this experience like?
It is important that we remain independent in the whole process. We cannot work directly for athletes of teams. Usually by the time an athlete reaches us, they have made a poor choice and doped.
Your turn: Do you have any questions for Daniel or our team? Leave them here.