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USADA to introduce pilot program for new, ‘friendlier’ blood testing of UFC athletes

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In addition to regular testing, UFC fighters will be administered this TAP device, which takes a dried blood spot sample.
USADA

UFC fighters will be part of a pilot program USADA is introducing that the agency hopes will streamline the blood-testing process and make things better for the athletes.

On Thursday, USADA announced what it calls a “friendlier” blood-collection process for athletes that also enables more blood collections and increases the sample’s longevity, per a press release. The pilot program is being first used on UFC fighters.

The name of the device used for the new collection is called TAP, which is referred to as “the world’s first push-button blood collection device.” The device is being used is part of a partnership with USADA and Seventh Sense Biosystems (7SBio). The goal is to create less discomfort for athletes, take a small blood sample and store it inside the TAP device.

“We all know that blood collections can be unnerving,” Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, USADA’s Senior Managing Director of Science and Research, said in the release. “This new device offers far more flexibility than existing blood draw methods, while advancing a painless collection method. Currently, around 10 percent of total samples collected from participating athletes worldwide are blood, due in large part to the complexities and expense surrounding existing blood collection procedures. If this pilot program proves successful, we believe this innovation will drive advancement in global anti-doping practices, making it easier for athletes to give, and anti-doping agencies to collect, ship and analyze, blood samples around the world.”

USADA

The FDA cleared TAP last year to test for diabetes. Per the release, it also supports USADA’s goals of developing different testing methods, “including the use of dried blood spot testing.”

USADA has a step-by-step guide on how it all works on its website. The site FAQ says that dried blood spot testing collects 20 times less blood than normal testing and is “virtually pain-free.” It will not take the place of the usual intravenous collection method and some athletes will experience both in the same collection.

A major key, per the FAQ, is that the new process will allow for “more frequent” blood testing of athletes.

“DBS provides USADA with greater ability to detect and deter doping by allowing for more frequent blood collections and improved sample transportation,” the FAQ reads. “More samples can also be stored for future analyses.”

UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky said recently on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast that fighters were already being tested using the TAP system, beginning late last year.

“The introduction of the TAP device in USADA’s anti-doping efforts will result in a simple, convenient, and virtually painless experience for all athletes who are subject to testing,” Stuart Blitz, chief business officer for Seventh Sense Biosystems, said in the release. “We believe the TAP device will help advance clean competition on a global scale for generations to come, as the new standard in blood collection. Seventh Sense Biosystems is also developing TAP devices that will enable self-collection at home, in addition to quicker and easier blood collections across the medical and healthcare industry.”

USADA has led the UFC’s anti-doping program since 2015.