The Irish Equine Centre and researchers from Queens University Belfast are to lead a European Union research project that could revolutionise drug testing for animals involved in sport as well as those destined for the food chain.
Funding of €1.2m was awarded last week to the team based jointly at Johnstown in Co Kildare and Belfast. The project will run over two years and will deliver a database against which changes in metabolism can be used to highlight the presence of illegal drugs.
This will enable targeting of those samples where metabolomic change has occurred and allow a broader range of specific tests to be then run against those samples.
Greater testing efficiency will lead to higher and faster detection and give the upper hand in the battle between testers and dopers back to those upholding the law.
"The project presents the real opportunity of testers being able to identify the presence of performance or presentation enhancing drugs as soon as their desired objective becomes apparent," according to Mark Sherry of the Irish Equine Centre.
"It gives us the potential to dramatically shorten the gap that exists between development of new drugs and the means for their detection."
Testing within the food industry for the use of prohibited growth accelerators is a multi billion-dollar industry on its own, and the battle against doping in sport carries an enormous high profile, both in human and animal terms.
Three separate incidences in equine sport alone over the past nine months, involving the Godolphin racing operation and endurance racing programmes run under the name of the ruling family of Dubai have prompted significant increase in awareness of the damage drug abuse can do to a sport.
Being ahead of the game is important in sport and in science. The award of such an important research contract to Irish experts is an indicator of the esteem with which the country and its testers are held.
The science of metabolomics was first highlighted in the 1940s but the creation of database profiling has become a higher priority in the past five years.
This research project places Ireland at the centre of a global industry in a way that will bring multiple benefits to the science and agribusiness sectors.
The project will involve experts from Switzerland, France and Britain but will be led by the Irish Equine Centre, which plays a key role in equine and bovine testing. The original submission for the funding was made by the IEC. The project is funded by EU.