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Winning the race to deter drug abuse in sport


For any world-class sporting event, a world-class anti-doping programme is essential. Nowhere is this more so than at the Olympic Games, where scrutiny is at its highest and integrity is key to the Olympic spirit.

In collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline, King’s state-of-the-art Drug Control Centre delivered the anti-doping analysis at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Chosen to lead the operation because of its cutting-edge bio-analytical research in drug control, King’s work at the Games was characterised by unprecedented scale, speed and accuracy. The round-the-clock operation, undertaken in the university’s World Anti-Doping Agency accredited laboratories, succeeded in protecting the health of athletes and the integrity of the London Games, contributing greatly to its success.

Although a number of athletes were disqualified in the pre-Games testing, the deterrent effect of the work at King’s was evidenced by the few doping cases during the Games itself. Using a new biomarker test developed at the King’s Drug Control Centre in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Southampton, the team identified for the first time the administration of recombinant human growth hormone in two athletes.

Putting knowledge and experience gained in London to use internationally, King’s Drug Control Centre worked closely last year with partner Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and its Laboratório Brasileiro de Controle de Dopagem (LBCD) to develop similar testing facilities for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Professor Francisco Radler de Aquino Neto, Head of the LBCD, said the lab provided an academic space for professional excellence, and had led to close collaboration and sharing between the two universities. Since the Games finished, that collaboration has continued, not only on anti-doping issues, but on other research and development opportunities.


Led by Professor David Cowan and supported by a team of experts, the Drug Control Centre at King’s is at the forefront of research into the detection of drug abuse in sport, taking the lead in changing the way in which anti-doping analysis is carried out both in the UK and internationally.

‘Because samples are stored now for up to 10 years, we can go back retrospectively and look at those samples using the new methodologies. If you’re taking a drug today we may not catch you today but in 10 years’ time - we may catch you then,’ said Professor Cowan.

‘I think scrutiny is excellent. It’s bad when sport appears to be tainted by drugs –and that’s what we are fighting against. Our goal is to deter drug misuse.’

The findings of the 2012 King’s-led operation have also opened up the science of drug testing to schools through the Scientists in Sport initiative. The outreach programme, launched in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline, comprised a series of free events during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, offering local school children the opportunity to experience a day at university and through a series of sports-based lectures and interactive workshops aimed to encourage 11-14 year olds to take their science studies further and consider a career in science.

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