Olympic doping site to become medical research centre

The anti-doping site which will be converted into a medical centre after the Games. Photo: ITV News

Here's a bit of Olympic legacy that's worth more than a passing comment.

After the Olympics, the unique anti-doping lab is going to be turned into a world-class research lab, pioneering new techniques that could change the way medicine works. It's a big claim, but it might just do that.

The anti-doping lab is unique because it's a joint venture between Kings College London (led by the indomitable and veteran dope tester Professor David Cowans) and one of the giants of the pharmaceutical world - GSK (GlaxoSmithKline). They provide the lab, in Harlow, and Kings provides the scientists. It's also unique because it can test for 60 different drugs all at once and turn round results in 24 hours.

The lab is a joint venture between GlaxoSmithKline and Kings College London. Credit: ITV News

This kind of analysis has come a long way since I fooled about with the test tubes in my junior chemistry set (suitable for 8 - 11 years). The analysis is automated and computers scan the output graphs looking for patterns that betray banned substances. The London lab has the latest kit and that's why it can look for lots of drugs at once.

When that's finished, this high-tech kit will be turned to a new task - taking a "snapshot" of all the chemicals in your body. Well, not all - but as many as possible.

It's a new kind of science called Phenomics. The Phenome is the sum total of all the chemistry that's going on in your body - just like the genome is the sum total of all your genes.

If you could take a snapshot, it would show every chemical in your blood or urine - and theoretically you could pick out oddities that show, for example, that you might have a cancer, or that you're responding to a drug treatment in the wrong way - producing the wrong break-down chemicals. That snapshot could be your individual roadmap to the best treatment for you.

That's the theory, but this science is brand spanking new and the new centre really will be at the forefront.

It'll be directed by Professor Jeremy Nicholson from Imperial College, who pioneered the whole approach. And he'll have £10 million (from the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council) to prove that it can make a difference.

David Cameron said of the centre:

When the Games close, all this incredible equipment and expertise will be used to establish a new Phenome Centre for research into biological markers of health and disease.

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.

It’s an impressive example of collaboration between top-class research, the NHS and industry. It will produce new forms of drugs - and it will lead the world in the development of precision medicine.

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