Forensic detection of the illicit use of drugs in performance and food-producing animals is experiencing a growing threat in the form of new compounds emerging from human drug development and clinical applications. One such class of compounds are known as Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) which are therapeutic agents with anabolic activity. From a therapeutic perspective SARM-like compounds hold advantages over existing steroids used for the treatment of human conditions as they demonstrate full anabolic activity in target tissues such as bone and muscle but reduced androgenic activity on other organs such as liver, prostate and cardiovascular tissue, thereby eliminating undesirable effects typically associated with conventional anabolic androgenic compounds.

The oral bioavailability of SARMs facilitates ease of administration to animals whilst a short half-life and rapid metabolism and elimination from the body makes detection analysis extremely challenging. Ease of availability, simplicity of use, advantageous biological effects and short detection windows are key features increasing the potential for SARM misuse, and consequently they are widely recognised as drugs of abuse in both human and animal (e.g. equine and canine) sports, and as emerging candidates for illicit use in food-producing species. Although many SARM compounds are currently undergoing evaluation in various studies, as yet none are approved for pharmaceutical use, there is widespread SARM availability via black- and grey-market sources. SARMs have gained particular popularity in professional sports and are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering (IABRW) and Fédération Equestre Internationale (International Equestrian Federation, FEI), with many reports of positive findings from routine testing.

Metabolomic analysis for the forensic detection of drugs of abuse in performance and food producing animals

The potential for SARMs to be further adopted for use in food-producing animals (e.g. in cattle livestock) to increase muscle growth and reduce fat mass also remains a distinct threat. Advanced and reliable screening and confirmatory analytical assays are therefore required to better detect SARM use for doping practices in sport and monitor for potential misuse in stock farming. The MET-A-FOR project has focused on the development and practical advancement of forensic testing for drugs of abuse based on drug and metabolite profiling through the completion of interconnecting research projects focused on better understanding the metabolism of SARMs, their physiological impact in vivo, and development of sensitive multi-analyte mass spectrometry based analysis.