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Mario López Oliva

lunes, 4 de agosto de 2008

Like athletes, this lab aims to be better and faster

Vancouver Sun - British Columbia, Canada

Like athletes, this lab aims to be better and faster
Hong Kong Jockey Club facility takes on the complex job of testing for horse doping is the work of this Hong Kong lab
Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, August 02, 2008

Terry Wan wants to set a new Olympic record this summer. It's not for running, jumping, swimming or cycling.

The goal of the chief racing chemist and director of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's lab is to process equine doping tests faster and more accurately than ever before.

He hopes that his staff can return negative results within five days and positive results within 10 days. And while that seems like a long time compared with human samples, testing horses is considerably more complicated.
The Racing Laboratory at The Hong Kong Jockey Club.View Larger Image View Larger

The Hong Kong Jockey Club's lab is one of the premier drug-testing facilities in the world. It has the capacity to handle every Olympic drug sample -- horse and human. But it's not accredited for human samples by the World Anti-Doping Agency. So samples from the riders will be sent from Hong Kong to the WADA lab in Beijing.

The $8-million facility has 25 state-of-the-art mass spectrometers that generate "chemical fingerprints" for drug identification. Every year, nearly 18,000 blood and urine samples are tested there because every horse that goes to the start line must be tested. That's 150 samples each day of the horse-racing season.

For the Olympics, there will be only 50 or 60 in total for the 250 horses competing.

The lab's staff are highly qualified. Thirty of the 43 have university degrees -- seven have doctorates and seven have master's degrees.

Now, talking about horse pee might seem dull, until you talk to Wan. He's positively passionate and it's hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for the intricacies of horse doping and how cheaters are discovered.

And with all of Wan's enthusiasm, you might think that he loves horses.

"Sorry, I don't. I was thrown off a horse in university."

Wan never rode again. But he did keep on going to school. His doctorate is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did post-doctoral work at Oxford and is honorary professor of chemistry at the University of Hong Kong.

You might also think that he's a mad keen gambler. He's not. "I'm a scientist. Most scientists don't gamble." However, even if he were keen to bet on horse races, the Jockey Club prohibits staff from betting.

The simple fact is that Wan loves to work in labs, any labs doing any kind of chemistry. After Oxford and before returning to Hong Kong, Wan worked in Switzerland for a pharmaceutical company. He did a short stint in the Jockey Club's lab, but left for the Hong Kong police department's forensic lab -- "It's nothing like CSI [the TV show]. That's really exaggerated."

But for the past decade, he's been at the Jockey Club doing research to try to make the sport of horse-racing safer and better for the horses; safer and cleaner for the gamblers.

Testing horses for drugs is much more complicated than human testing. It starts with collecting samples.

For human athletes, it's a matter of handing them a bottle and waiting. Horses? Rarely more than a third ever provide a sample.

The few urine samples that are collected are literally dirtier than human samples, filled with sediment that makes it look more like coffee -- Wan e-mailed a photo to prove it. Before any testing starts, the sediment has to be filtered.
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