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Top scientists fly in to eliminate doping from Glasgow Commonwealth Games

ATEAM of 50 medical experts will be drafted in from across Europe to work behind the scenes at Glasgow's Commonwealth Games to catch drug-cheat athletes.

The task of testing samples for any signs of banned substances will be undertaken by the Drug Control Centre at King's College London, the only accredited anti-doping laboratory in the UK.

The centre also ran the anti-doping facility for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, where experts from across the world worked round-the-clock to test more than 400 samples a day - compared to the laboratory's usual daily figure of around 25.

For Glasgow 2014, experts will carry out analysis work from 6am to midnight, with samples transported from Glasgow to a base in London's Waterloo.

Details of exactly how many samples are expected to be tested are being kept under wraps.

Professor David Cowan, the centre's director, said the overall laboratory concept would be the same as that used for the London Olympics.

"It is a very specialist area and you want to hit the ground running, so what we do is get colleagues from other laboratories, particularly from Europe," he said. "For the Olympics we did have people from the US, Australia and India.

"This time, because it is smaller, it is easier to have people who are more 'local'. We will end up with a team of about 50."

Details of the testing programme were revealed by Cowan as he addressed a scientific conference on A Summer Of Sport in Glasgow, organised jointly by the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine and The Royal College of Pathologists.

Cowan said one of the biggest challenges was trying to obtain reliable results within the required timescale of just 24 hours - while athletes' lawyers have as long as they like to challenge any decision.

"What really catches the cheats is not just spotting you have got a suspect sample, but taking it through to evidential standard rapidly," he said.

"It is easy for me to point the finger and be suspicious, and in a normal clinical situation you would have the chance of testing follow-up samples.

"But in the sports context, you have only got that one sample and have to come out with a decision, which can be challenged right to the High Court."

Among recent developments aimed at helping anti-doping authorities stay one step ahead of drugs cheats is a link-up with pharmaceutical companies, Cowan said. This means laboratories are alerted at an early stage for any new drugs that are in development, which could potentially be misused by athletes.

"We are getting access to new drugs coming onto the market," Cowan explained. "This means we can develop tests even before the athletes have thought of misusing it.

"It started off from the London Olympics and as new drugs come on stream it becomes more relevant."

Trying to gather intelligence to target athletes who are suspected of cheating - rather than relying on random testing - is also being more widely used.

And the development of new "catch-all" tests - which don't have to be targeted at identifying one particular drug - are also being hailed as an exciting breakthrough to counter the continual manufacture of new substances.

There are some indications the deterrent approach is working.

Cowan said the London Olympics and Paralympics were "amazingly clean". Among those who failed drugs tests was Colombian 400m runner Diego Palomeque, who was excluded from the event after a urine sample tested positive for testosterone.

Cowan said Palomeque's team claimed it was because he was "very masculine", despite the fact laboratory tests could show it was not his own testosterone.

Three athletes were given two-year bans after testing positive for drugs during the London Paralympics - Russian powerlifters Nikolay Marfin and Vadim Rakitin, who both tested positive for human growth hormone, and Georgian powerlifter Shota Omarashvili, who tested positive for steroids.

Cowan said he believes it is possible to have a drug-free Olympic or Commonwealth Games - but it was impossible to predict if that would happen at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

He added: "I think the warning and the deterrent effect is out there. It is bad when you have positives at any Games - it is not what the Games are about. It is a shame when doping overtakes the good publicity about the Games."

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