In the UAE camel racing is big business, with thoroughbreds fetching huge sums at auction. A new project underway at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) hopes to give camel breeders, racers and enthusiasts a clearer insight into the health of the humped mammal by using an innovative new hair test.
The project, designed in collaboration with the Camel Research Centre in Al Ain, saw lead researcher, Dr. Iltaf Shah, an assistant professor of biochemistry at UAEU, and his team of students Fatima Saif Alhemeiri, Hiba Awad Ibrahim, Maryam Abdullah Sheikh and Sumaya Salem Alduwaila, develop a new hair test for the analysis ofcorticosteroids. Corticosteroids are more broadly classified as steroids and these are performance enhancing substances commonly abused to gain an edge over others. The recent study was focusing on analysis of corticosteroids in camel hair to better understand their health implications and to control in and out of competition doping.
“The aim of this project was to develop and validate a new hair test from a variety of camel breeds in sports and racing applications,” says Dr. Shah of the test, which has been validated according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines in camel hair. “It is the first time that we are reporting this innovative hair test for corticosteroids analysis in camel hair. The new test will be useful in the doping analysis, toxicological studies as well as in pharmaceutical analysis and other clinical applications in camel health and disease. These findings could also be of importance when evaluating racing camel-related injuries and disease control after hard exercise.”
The research team collected camel hair samples from 30 dromedary camels along with three racing camels in Al Ain and then prepared the hairs for analysis – a process that required the hairs to be pulverized, decontaminated, sonicated and extracted prior to analysis. The team then used a very sensitive liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry technique to determine different levels of corticosteroids in camel hair samples.
“The four drugs most commonly found in camel blood samples are cortisol, dexamethasone, flumethasone and methylprednisolone, all of which were chosen for this investigation and were quantified in the camel hair samples,” adds Dr. Shah. “Some research has been done to study the role of corticosteroids in doping but camel saliva, blood or urine samples are usually used as matrix for determination of endogenous and synthetic corticosteroids to evaluate their levels in camels for injuries, disease and doping evaluations. However, to date, there are no simultaneous detection methods available in hair for determination of corticosteroids metabolites in camels.”
This hair test can be used together with blood tests and urine tests to show a long-term profile of these drugs in camels. This innovative test will also enable veterinary doctors, researchers, the racing community and camel racing sport governing bodies to determine the long-term use of these corticosteroids in camels and to take the right decisions in their health implications and in doping control regulations.
After this pilot study the team is now planning to carry out a large-scale cohort study in camels, as well as compare immunoassay methods with liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods for hair analysis. “The team is hoping that, due to the immense importance of this new hair test in camel health and doping control, veterinary health practitioners and doping control authorities will adopt this test across UAE and abroad,” adds Dr. Shah. “The team really appreciates the funds and support provided to them by the UAEU administration.”
A manuscript for this new research has been submitted to Forensic Science International Journal for publication.