Anti-doping lab to become research centre

LONDON Wed Aug 1, 2012 12:53pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - The anti-doping laboratory being used to test athletes at the London Olympics is to be developed after the Games into what officials say will be a world-class research facility that could help revolutionize healthcare.

The lab was provided and equipped by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline to carry out more than 6,000 drug tests during the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It is to become a so-called Phenome Centre for scientists seeking to develop better and more targeted medical treatments.

A phenome is a person's entire chemistry - all the molecules in the blood, urine or tissues that are the result of the combination of genetics and lifestyle.

With input from universities and other research institutions and funding from the government's Medical Research Council (MRC), scientists will investigate the phenome patterns of patients and volunteers using very rapid analysis of samples, usually of blood or urine.

The facility "has taken one of the major challenges associated with this type of research - achieving high-throughput alongside forensic quality control - to a new level, unprecedented anywhere in the world," said John Savill, chief executive of the MRC.

"Rather than losing this investment once the Games are over, the collaboration... will provide a unique resource that will ultimately result in benefits for patients."

The liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry testing equipment being used at the anti-doping lab can screen up to 400 samples a day for more than 240 banned substances in less than 24 hours.

Britain is keen to maintain a position at the forefront of scientific research and drug development, and its economy has been particularly reliant on pharmaceutical firms for success in manufacturing. But the industry has been under pressure in recent years and forced to make cuts.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced the plans for the center on Wednesday, described it as "an impressive example of collaboration between top-class research, the National Health Service and industry".

"When the games close, all this incredible equipment and expertise will be used..for research into biological markers of health and disease," he said.

"This will take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities that lie in combining genetic data with the results of medical tests on tissues and blood. It will allow us to understand the characteristics of disease and how these link into genes and our environment."

Savill said the center would be the first of its kind.

The phenome changes all the time and is influenced by factors such as diet, environment and even stress levels. It is also linked to how a person responds to disease or to medication.

The researchers will focus on finding new so-called biomarkers which can explain why one person or population may be more susceptible to a disease than another.

The center, in Harlow to the east of London, will be funded over five years by an investment of five million pounds ($7.83 million) each from the MRC and the Department of Health's National Institute for Health Research.

(Editing by Ken Ferris and Jason Neely)

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