The Drug Control Centre at King's College London has an international reputation for its work in anti-doping control. Staff at the centre analyse samples collected from athletes competing in major sporting events and training worldwide, and also carry out research into the metabolism and detection of substances in the human body.
There are just 35 accredited anti-doping laboratories in the world; the King's laboratory is the only one in the UK and carried out more than 8,000 tests across 70 sports last year. The Drug Control Centre ran the anti-doping facility for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, operating a satellite laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in conjunction with GSK.
The Centre was the first human sports drug-testing laboratory established outside of an Olympic Games when it was set up in 1978 with the support of the Sports Council (and now the UK Anti-Doping Agency). The Drug Control Centre is part of the Department of Forensic Science and Drug Monitoring, and the Analytical and Environmental Sciences Division in the School of Biomedical Sciences.
Data from an investigation completed recently was specifically referred to in a Food and Drug Administration White Paper on 'Health Effects of Androstenedione', which was passed by the US Congress. The investigation was important because it demonstrated in women that a single oral dose of androstenedione (100 mg) can be converted to testosterone in supraphysiological amounts. The implication is serious, being that if this steroid is used chronically as a prohormone for anabolic purposes, there would be a strong risk of developing hirsutism and virilisation (masculinising effects). Given the good reasons for the restricted sale of testosterone, the findings from this investigation supported the restrictions now implemented on the sale of androstenedione.
His research outside of analytical toxicology includes steroid analysis (epitestosterone) in male contraception studies, and fruitful collaborations involving the mass spectrometry of human chorionic gonadotropin and related molecules, which may have relevance to cancer and Down's syndrome. He currently has the pleasure of supervising a post-doctoral researcher and six PhD students.
Professor David Cowan BPharm, PhD, FRPharmS, co-founded the Drug Control Centre in 1978, and became its Director in 1990. He coordinates the major laboratories of the Drug Control Centre. He has published extensively in the field of pharmaceutical analysis especially as it relates to detecting drug administration in sport The group has continued to develop analytical approaches and to apply advanced analytical techniques to investigate drug administration both licit and illicit. Cowan is particular interested in the use of mass spectrometry as the key technique.
The Centre is regularly approached for advice and analytical services to the British Transport Authority, the Armed Services and the Home Office. Cowan’s experience and his methodology were features of the successful London 2012 Olympics bid and the Drug Control Centre will play a major role in the drug monitoring programme for the event.
He has served on a number of national and international committees including the Council of Europe Working Party investigating Drug Abuse in Sport that led to the first World Anti-Doping Convention; the Laboratory Representative on the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission, and the World Anti-doping Agency’s Laboratory Accreditation sub-committee. He is a Member of the Crippen Club for Distinguished Toxicologists.
He was a Visiting Laboratory Director at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, where the first NESP positive was discovered. He was also a member of the IOC Medical Commission for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and the Turin Winter Olympic Games in 2006.
The Drug Control Centre undertook the sample analysis during the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and Professor Cowan was Co-Director of the laboratory for the Malaysian Games in 1998 and in 2006 directed the testing for the Olympic Council for Asia’s 15th Asian Games held in Qatar.