Tom Martin talked with Lorie Bishop about her work as Laboratory Manager at LGC Science Inc. in Lexington. Lorie has been with LGC since the lab opened in 2010. She has a degree in forensic chemistry, has worked at a private forensic toxicology laboratory, a city police crime lab, and at the official testing lab for the Ohio State Racing Commission. Lorie has over 13 years of experience in equine drug testing and is a professional member of the Association of Official Racing Chemists.
Q: LGC is an international life sciences measurement and testing company and one of the world’s leading independent drug surveillance laboratories. The company is headquartered in London and has quite a history. Can you give us a brief background?
A: LGC is getting ready to celebrate our 175th year next year. And, when they first opened in the UK they were a government facility that did testing for tobacco, beer and things like that. Of course, they’ve grown substantially over the years, not only in their footprint, we’re now in 22 countries, employ over 2,500 people across the world, but also in the type of testing that we do. Today there are five divisions of LGC. Science and Innovation does that government testing and also internal research and development for the company. There’s a Forensics division that offers services to UK police forces. There’s a division that does genomics instruments and products. There’s a Standards division that offers reference materials and proficiency tests. And then there’s Laboratory Management Services which is where we come in, and that’s sport anti-doping testing.
Q: How many are employed at the laboratory here in Lexington, and what do they do?
A: We have 27 employees; 22 are scientific technical personnel. We do two types of testing. The first is equine drug testing. We’re the official laboratory for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. We also test for the states of Maine and Virginia, and we do testing for Trinidad and Tobago. This is testing at the tracks either before or after a race. Depending on what kind of testing they’re doing, they’ll collect urine and/or blood. Those samples come to our facility and we do a battery of tests to look for prohibited substances.
In horse racing, there are compounds that are absolutely forbidden and there are some permitted medications like therapeutic medications that are permitted, but only at certain levels. And so, we look for the whole variety of things in those samples that come in. The second group is the nutritional supplements group. They test nutritional supplement products like the protein bars, whey powder, weight gain, hydration products and things that you would see in the stores. We test those for banned substances. And, through that we offer a quality assurance program for an athlete who’s going to look for products that they can consume. If they see that we have done the testing on those, they know that product has gone through the rigorous screening that we offer.
Q: The Lexington facility has expanded recently? What prompted the expansion?
A: We expanded largely out of the growth of the past few years, particularly in the supplements business. When the facility opened in 2010, we were focused solely on equine drug testing, but we were always going to move forward into the supplements work, in addition to the equine work. When we started doing the supplements testing, which was probably in 2011, we were testing maybe tens of samples on a monthly basis and now, we’re testing hundreds of samples on a monthly basis, so that growth really necessitated the expansion.
Q: On the equine side, are new ways of doping always being developed and do you have to figure out how to stay ahead of that?
A: I think it’s fair to say that people are always willing to push the envelope and to find something new. So, it’s really critical that we stay on the cutting-edge of technology; that we have our ears to the ground with intelligence gathering so that we can try to stay one step ahead.
Q: What is it like to keep up with that on the testing end?
A: It’s challenging, but it’s also what makes the work so exciting and interesting. Things are always changing. There’s always something new coming up year-to-year. New compounds come to the forefront and other things that used to be commonly used are fading to the background. So, it makes the work very interesting.
Q: Have you tested for the Derby or for the Breeders’ Cup?
A: Yes. We have been testing for the Kentucky Derby since 2011. The Oaks and the Derby weekend we do all of that work, and we work over the weekend to make sure the turnaround times are super fast. When the Breeders’ Cup was at Churchill at Churchill Downs in 2011, we did that work. And then, last year at Keeneland, we did that work also. And we’re looking forward to 2018 when it’s coming back to Churchill.
Q: And, what goes on in the office culture when you have a Derby weekend coming up? Is it “all hands on deck, don’t plan any vacations?”
A: Absolutely, yes. As a matter of fact, when we do job interviews we tell people you will not be going away that weekend in May. So, yes, it’s all hands on deck and it’s kind of exciting. Nobody likes to work on the weekends, but for something like that, it’s something we’re all really dedicated to completing.
Q: In addition to equine and animal anti-doping, as you mentioned earlier LGC also provides screening for sport supplements. How do these two programs, Informed Choice and Informed Sport, work for human athletes?
A: They are certification programs and they are prohibited substance testing and risk management programs. If a company wants to be a part of the program, then regardless of which program they want to be certified on, they go through a pre-certification process. We’ll do a manufacturing audit looking at things like the ingredient list, we’ll make sure that the equipment that they’re using is getting cleaned well so they don’t have inadvertent contamination. And then, we of course test the products before we put them on the program. If they want to go the Informed Choice route, that is a retail monitoring program. So, on a routine basis we go out and purchase those products on the open market and we test them. And the companies get a certificate ensuring the test is clean. The Informed Sport program is a pre-release program. We get the products directly from the manufacturers. Every lot that’s produced is sent to us for testing and the products aren’t released to the market until the testing is complete. So, for an athlete seeing that logo on the products, they can tell at which level the testing has been completed: the spot testing that is the Informed Choice program or the Informed Sport screening of every lot before it’s been released for sale.
Q: As you’re looking for substances that should not be there, what happens if you find something that raises a red flag?
A: It’s different on each side. On the equine side, if there’s something that shouldn’t be there, we call it suspicious, and do additional testing. And if it’s ultimately confirmed to be present, then a positive report goes to the client. If it’s Kentucky, it goes to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and they take it from there for whatever penalties are involved, depending on what the compound is and how much was there. On the human supplement side, additional testing is performed to verify results. Supplements samples that fail are not placed on the website. We do a followup investigation and the product could ultimately be pulled from the program.
Q: And the client would be the supplement manufacturer?
A: Yes, we test for companies like AdvaCare or GNC and MusclePharm.
Q: What sorts of educational credentials are critical in order to land a job at the Lexington lab?
A: We’re looking for people who have a strong scientific background whether that’s chemistry or we certainly have people who have degrees in biology and similar biological science degrees. We’re interested in people with degrees in forensics because the work that we do, especially on the equine side, really is forensic work. It’s chain-of-custody, it’s making sure samples aren’t tampered with. So, we’re looking for strong scientific background. On the equine side, if you have a forensic background, that’s a bonus.
Tom Martin’s Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader’s Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.