Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Winnowing: Wolfram Meier-Augenstein

Wolfram Meier-Augenstein testified for Landis at the AAA hearing. He is an expert in isotope ratio spectrometry, invented a number of the techniques, and is widely published. He sent us some short, direct responses to the topics we suggested, and a longer piece which we'll publish separately.

On the Merits of the Landis case

The data produced by LNDD are scientifically flawed (ambiguous peak "identification"; no matrix matched positive quality control, no matrix matched negative quality control; only one parameter being used as qualifier to declare a failed test) as well as biologically / biochemically (results make no sense from a biochemical point of view regarding testosterone metabolism).


Conduct of the Landis case?

It was a witch hunt; the accused is presumed guilty; WADA lab employees are under WADA orders not to testify against another WADA lab; the panel of 3 is comprised of 2 WADA appointees and 1 independent. At present WADA is judge, jury and executioner, which is unacceptable in any civilised society.

Wisdom, merit and effectiveness of anti-doping as currently practiced?

Anti-doping control is sadly a reality and will remain so to ensure fair competition as best as this can be achieved. However, turning the screws by lowering thresholds and tolerances below researched and published conservative thresholds and tolerances based on population statistics and the natural variability, even intra-individual variability of the human body increases the number of false positives. More innocent athletes are labelled as drug cheats for the sake of catching "all" real drug cheats. One almost suspects another motive for doing this is so WADA can continue to justify its existence (and the money spent by and on them).

What could be done in anti-doping that might work better?

Anti-doping should be more open to scrutiny; anti-doping labs should be monitored and quality controlled by organisations independent of WADA. Like any forensic service provider anti-doping labs must be open to peer assessment and participate in proficiency tests (international laboratory exercises). If 13C isotope analysis is to be used this ought to be carried out only by qualified staff on GC-IRMS/MS hybrid systems (available commercially "only" since 1995!!!), i.e. instruments that can measure 13C isotopic composition of a peak AND identify the compound causing the peak AS WELL AS probing for peak overlap with minor components under IDENTICAL analytical conditions during the SAME analysis.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Aldous Huxley, "Proper Studies", 1927

Dr W Meier-Augenstein, CChem, FRSC
Senior Lecturer - Stable Isotope Forensics
Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification
University of Dundee

Principal Scientist - Stable Isotopes
Stable Isotope Laboratory
Dundee, DD2 5DA
United Kingdom


whareagle said...

THANK GOD. Science trumps Dictum, once again.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but Dr. Meier-Augenstein has never clarified what he means by matrix matched controls. Would a positive matrix matched control entail spiking urine pool blanks or actually giving volunteers testosterone and collecting their urine? Either choice would likely be voiced as problematic by defense experts in the way Landis' experts testified against the LNDD protocols.

Also, WADA labs are independently audited for compliance with the international standard, ISO 17025, and the proficiency testing programs have independent checks built in.

Dr. Meier-Augustein comes from a biased viewpoint, just like everyone involved in this case. Dr. MA admitted in his testimony before the AAA panel that he is not an expert in testosterone metabolism yet he offered his thoughts there (as he does in passing here) on the subject. I'm not trying to pick a fight with Dr. Augustein on this subject, justing making a point. I could give examples of bias by any expert in this case. This bias can be conscious, a product of experience or a little bit of both.

My have a background as an analytical chemist experienced in ISO 17025 certifications leads me to conclude that the data provided to Landis falls well within acceptable parameters for such accreditation. I have no problem siding with the other such chemists in this case, who believed the evidence showed very clearly that Landis used testosterone.

Unknown said...


If the test results and documentation had been for your sample, would you have accepted the results and given up on your career?

You would have been ok with the original T/E test being thrown out in the initial arbitration because the test was run incorrectly and the 2nd test only finding one metabolite positive when other labs require a MINIMUM of two?


Wolfman said...


You are right, I am biased. I am biased in favour of good science, of scientifically sound analytical chemistry methods & procedures and their appropriate and proper application in context. I am an Analytical Chemist myself with an extensive background in chromatography (GC and HPLC). Underlying "rules" and principals of chromatography do apply no matter if we analyze fatty acids, flavour components or steroids.
While ISO17025 rules give analytical labs some lattitude as long as procedures are fit-for-purpose I very much doubt this degree of lattitude extends to "validating" results obtained with a GC method based on a polar column by comparing them with results obtained with a GC method based on an apolar column.
Similarly, I very much doubt choosing an internal standard that co-elutes with matrix peaks (of similar abundance) on a system that detects peaks but does not identify them would pass muster as being fit-for-purpose as a meaningful retention time lock.
I trust you have noticed that at no point in this sad saga did I make any statements as to FL's innocence or guilt. Why did I not make any statement in this regard? Because I am biased? No! Because I do not know, plain and simple.
The quality of the data presented by LNDD in the context of the applied analytical procedures as documented by LNDD do not support unambiguous conclusion of either guilt or innocence; the data are inconclusive at best.
Incidentally, assuming for argument's sake LNDD's results for the 13C analysis were correct, the same finding would not have been declared an adverse result by other WADA accredited labs.
With regards to the nature of matrix matched quality controls, please refer to the paper by Aguilera, Hatton & Catlin published in Clinical Chemistry, vol 48, pp 629-636 (2002); methods and results reported in this paper were presented during the Pepperdine hearing.