Olympic equestrian dope-testing role for Cambridgeshire lab
When it comes to a fair and level playing field, it is not just Olympic athletes when the question of performance-enhancing substances is raised.
The competition's four-legged Olympians are also being monitored.
At a laboratory in the Cambridgeshire village of Fordham, samples from horses of all the competing nations are being tested for steroids, stimulants, masking agents, painkillers and other preparations.
HFL Sport Science was originally set up 50 years ago to carry out regulatory testing for the horse racing industry.
But the 60 chemists and biochemists at the sports drugs surveillance laboratory are tasked with checking blood and urine samples from every horse competing at the Greenwich Park arena during London 2012.'Propping up'
Dr Catherine Judkins, business development manager for HFL, said: "We're responsible for carrying out the anti-doping tests for the equestrian events, so that's dressage, show jumping and three-day eventing.
"It's been very busy over the last few weeks and especially the last few days.
"It's not just about the drugs," she added.
"It's a welfare issue as well. We need to know the horse is being treated well and isn't being propped up by any medications."
The company is also responsible for testing what the two-legged athletes are consuming.
End Quote Dr Catherine Judkins
Most of all it's about maintaining the integrity of sport”
"These are mainly food and performance supplements such as carbohydrate drinks or protein powders - the sorts of things an athlete might be using to aid hydration or recovery," Dr Judkins explained.
Likewise, the horses' feed is also tested for substances that might enhance or hinder performance.
"Samples come onto site in a concentrated form - whether it's a urine sample or a food supplement sample," she said.
"Then we have the challenge of extracting it, or getting it into a format that we can then analyse, in order to be able to detect the tiniest trace amounts of banned substances that we're looking for such as steroids, stimulants or diuretics.'Chain of custody'
"Each sample undergoes a series of clean-up and purification steps all aimed at stripping the sample of all the stuff that we're not really interested in," Dr Judkins said.
"In food supplements, for example, that would be flavourings and colourings so we can concentrate on the things we're really interested in, that may or may not be present."
Strict procedures need to be adhered to in terms of the "chain of custody" of each individual sample, as data gathered by the scientists can be used as the basis for legal cases.
"We need to track a sample from the moment it comes onto the site and right through the analysis stage," Dr Judkins said.
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"Every sample is handled as though it could be used in a legal case and that's why the procedures are so tightly regulated.
"For the athletes, equine athletes and the sports supplement companies it's all about having a lab they can trust," she added.
"But most of all it's about maintaining the integrity of sport."
The scientists involved in testing during London 2012 were, she said, "playing a small, but very important role in both the Olympics and the Paralympics".
HFL Sport Science became part of LGC Group, an organisation specialising in health sciences, forensics and genomics, in 2010.