I’ve worked with Scimcon as a Project Lead for around seven years now, but have worked alongside the team there for much longer throughout my career. My role involves a lot of problem solving for customers, bringing the ability to look at complex informatics projects in the early stages and plan where we want to be in the future. Working with Scimcon allows me to get the most out of my practical-minded approach to various informatics projects. There’s a diplomatic element to the role as well, making sure that customer expectations are met and providing business-to-technology translation for our customers. As someone who has worked on both the lab side, the vendor side and now in consultancy, I have experienced the entire project process from planning through to execution.
During my time with the company, I’ve learnt that it is vital to look at the wider picture when delivering informatics consultancy and project leadership for clients. It is not solely about the technology, but the process and the change that we are trying to implement. After working with a variety of laboratory software companies, I’ve learnt the value of change management and giving clear guidance to customers. Overall, I am very fulfilled with my role and feel that each day is varied which keeps things exciting.
I originally did a degree in biochemistry, which led me on to the start of my career working in a pathology lab in the West Midlands for around 5 years. In my mid-twenties, I moved on to a pathology software company and the realm of technology. Throughout my career, I have worked in a variety of IT and lab-oriented roles. For example, I spent 15 years at LabVantage initially as a business analyst, moving upwards to become a Project Manager and then in charge of professional services for the European region. This was what introduced me to Scimcon, as they delivered some consultancy work for a mutual customer at the time. I worked closely with Geoff Parker and David Sanders, on a variety of implementation projects.
One of our biggest projects when I worked for the vendor, and Scimcon was also involved (before I was working directly with them) with a top 5 pharma company, which took several years to complete. There was a huge workforce, with regular site visits taking place most weeks. Scimcon also had 3-4 employees working on the project, along with Co-Founder Trevor De Silva. As a Project Lead, Scimcon strategised with me (as the LIMS vendor) to create a solid project plan. They helped to bridge the gap. Next, we worked for a testing and inspection company in Belgium, and Scimcon contributed in a similar way as before. They acted as an intermediary between vendor and customer, to measure the scale and requirements of the project, which is exactly what I find myself doing now.
During my time working for a vendor prior to Scimcon, I found myself increasingly pulled to the HR side, and was eager to get back into the science and back at the coal face on scientific technology systems. While my work with Scimcon is still very people-focussed, it’s allowed me to balance both my communication skills with my love of science.
The variety of projects we get at Scimcon has kept things interesting. I’ve completed five projects in the last seven years, all of different lengths and requirements, and worked in a variety of new areas that were previously out of my comfort zone. For example, after many years working in life sciences, last year I worked alongside a materials company, in charge of manufacturing batteries and the recycling process. Although I had no experience in this area, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and picked up a lot of new knowledge. With the types of projects we lead, you cannot look at our work as technology: you must look at it as process change. If you take a software into a lab that people have not used before, it is disruptive to them. So the role of the Scimcon lead is not only to be familiar with the software but to manage the change successfully. I have worked with many suppliers of software – from LabVantage Solutions through to Thermo Fisher, Waters, Dotmatics etc – but what is more important is my ability to understand the lab and the people. The software itself is almost incidental.
Working with Scimcon has also shown me the importance of diplomacy when managing projects. I try to maintain a passive approach to problems that arise, working through them in a controlled, systematic way with both client and vendor. Having worked on both the vendor side of lab informatics project management, and seeing the customer standpoint, I have experienced first-hand the value of Scimcon’s consultancy services. For large and complex projects, we mediate between client and customer, drawing out a clear set of tactics and ways to communicate any issues or challenges along the way. I enjoy working collaboratively with each party to create a productive path forward, something which I have enjoyed in my current project with an international biotechnology company.
I’ve been working remotely for many years, long before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, so I was well and truly prepared for the switch. In a sense, the transition towards remote working on a global scale has normalised the way I worked previously, so it is something I am well adjusted to. Since the pandemic, travel has increased slightly but on a periodic basis. I travel on-site to the Netherlands around once per month to visit the customer I’m currently supporting.
Technology improvements in the last few years have also allowed me to better deliver my services from home. It means customers can connect with us a lot more easily, as things are becoming more localised. We can communicate with customers and companies across the world via Teams calls and other virtual conferencing platforms. I’ve found that the expectation with most projects is to travel to site every 3-4 weeks, which in turn saves on travel costs and is better for the environment.
I’m very much into sport, particularly football (a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan through and through). I’ve had a season ticket for the past 30 years, and have been attending the matches since I was a young child. I’m also fond of the NFL, as a supporter of the Miami Dolphins, I make the commute to London every October to watch the games. Across the board, I like most sports-watching and take part myself on occasion. I used to play 5-a-side on a weekly basis, until the pandemic got in the way, and more recently I have taken on badminton to try and stay active outside of work.
Travelling is also hobby of mine, and my wife and I bought a holiday home near Alicante, Spain during the pandemic. We viewed the villa virtually and saw it for the first time in-person when we arrived to collect the keys! The pandemic definitely marked a change in priorities for me – as the world became remote, we were saving on daily expenditures, so decided to invest in a holiday home instead of a swanky car at a time people generally weren’t really driving far. We travel there frequently, and I’ve invested in a keyboard and monitor to ensure I can work remotely from there with ease.
My wife and I love to travel, in the past we’ve visited America, Singapore, Cape Town and more. We went to Thailand at the beginning of the year which was a highlight, and we have a few trips on the horizon including an RV road trip around Canada next month. We’re also planning to go on a cruise around Alaska, so plenty of trips to keep us busy.
My favourite travel destination is Hawaii, as the scenery was beautiful. Japan was also another favourite, and we travelled around the country on the bullet trains which was a fascinating experience. We are very independent when it comes to travelling, maybe that’s the Project Manager in me. I enjoy planning everything down to the T.
I’ve always been really interested in technology, which inevitably led me to the career I’m in now. My passion for tech began as a teenager, when I invested in the early computer models such as the Commodore and Spectrum, and I bought a PC when owning a computer was quite unusual. This passion has grown over time, and I enjoy the seamless experience of modern technology. Devices were less user-friendly back when I was developing an interest in tech, so I would always be fiddling around with settings to get the most out of my system. I usually get frustrated when devices are badly interfaced, which is what sparked my original interest in LIMS – I was a frustrated lab user! Part of what I do is make the technology work for customers, and ensure they get the most out of it. Giving customers the same pleasure that I get out of successfully operating technology is very rewarding.
Naturally, my home is equipped with all kinds of technology and smart devices. For example, we have Sonos speaker systems surrounding our home, and five televisions in total. We also have Amazon Alexa speakers in various rooms throughout the house. Another tech addition is my virtual reality headset, used mainly for gameplay. Ironically, the internet in our Alicante holiday home is faster than the one at our home in Shropshire, which gives me another excuse to travel out there more often.
For more company news and updates, follow Scimcon on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/scimcon/Learn more about Scimcon and the extensive lab informatics services and consultancy we provide.?
By working with lab-based companies and organisations, we aim to make science more connected, which we achieve through over 20 years’ experience in the laboratory informatics. Our consultants come from scientific backgrounds, which means we understand the lab environment and day-to-day concerns. This also means we can help to deliver complex projects more smoothly, and ensure project success.
To better explain the role we play in lab informatics projects, we’ve created a short video to offer insight into the services we provide, and explain how we can support lab centred organisations with digital transformation, IS strategy, informatics projects, maintain compliance, and more.
Watch the full video here and share with your colleagues to help solve their lab informatics challenges:
Scimcon continues to meet the criteria for Carbon Neutral Britain for a second time in 2022. This has been attained through conducting the required measuring, calculating, and offsetting carbon emissions between the period of June 2021 and May 2022.
After first receiving the initial award in 2021, we are proud to have maintained this title throughout the following year, underpinning Scimcon’s global commitment to a sustainable future.
Co-founder of Scimcon Geoff Parker recognises the global nature of the company after first obtaining the award in 2021; “Our customer base consists of a diverse range of lab-centric organisations including large pharma and biopharma companies internationally. As Scimcon sees further expansion and more on-site projects in 2022, we are keen to drive our sustainability initiative through the global projects taking place all over the world. Carbon Neutral Britain pledged to offset our remaining carbon usage with accredited global projects that reduce the amount of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. After gauging the environmental impact of our operations, we knew this would be a priority of ours moving forward.”
We renewed our Carbon Neutral Britain certification by offsetting against four international projects set up by our awarding sponsor. The Burgos Wind Project is the largest wind farm in the Philippines. This project produces clean energy, omitting sources that contribute pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions to the environment. Also, the Rice Husk Power Project, the first renewable energy scheme to utilize rice husk as biomass fuel for electricity generation in Cambodia. Not forgetting the remaining two projects, the Andes Mountains Hydro Power in Chile, and the Huaneng Changyi Wind Farm Project. All equally as impactful, we recognise that offsetting our carbon usage against projects like these is vital for our own global strategy here at Scimcon.
As we continue to operate in the complex lab informatics field, Scimcon’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions must continue to benefit our customers. Scimcon will continue to responsibly balance the very real need for on-site client interaction with the use of innovative communications, thereby reducing the impact of unnecessary travel. If taking part in auditory assessments and remediations like this one offsets our necessary emissions and contributes to a more sustainable future, the Scimcon team is more than dedicated to its requirements.
For more information about how we originally achieved our certification, visit our blog. To learn how Scimcon can help support your business with its IS strategy, contact us.Introducing Ben Poynter: Associate consultant, and Scimcon’s newest recruit?
Our team at Scimcon is made up of a talented group of interesting individuals – and our newest recruit Ben Poynter certainly does not disappoint!
Ben joined our Scimcon team in July 2022 as an associate consultant, and has been working with the lab informatics specialists to get up to speed on all things Scimcon. We spoke to Ben about his experience so far, his interests, background, and what he hopes to achieve during his career as an informatics consultant.
So, I studied Biomedical Science at Sheffield Hallam University, which was a four-year course and allowed me to specialise in neuroscience. During my time at university, I created abstracts that were presented in neuroscience conferences in America, which was a great opportunity for me to present what I was working on. My final year dissertation was on bioinformatics in neuroscience, as I was always interested in the informatics side of biomedical science as well.
Once COVID hit, I moved into code work, and worked in specimen processing, and then as a supervisor for PerkinElmer who were undertaking some of the virus research. When things started to die down, I began working for a group called Test and Travel (not the infamous Track and Trace initiative, but a similar idea!). I started there as a lab manager, training new staff on lab protocols for COVID-19, and then a month into that I started working more on the LIMS side – which is where I ended up staying. I wrote the UAT scripts for 3 different companies, I performed validation on the systems, I would process change controls. I then moved to Acacium as LIMS lead there, so over the course of my career I’ve worked with a number of LIMS and bioinformatics systems, including LabWare 7, LIMS X, Labcentre, WinPath Enterprise, and Nautilus (ThermoFisher Scientific).
In the early stages, I would have to say it was when Jon and Dave led my first interview, and Jon asked me a question I hadn’t been asked in an interview setting before. He asked me ‘who is Ben Poynter?’. The first time I answered, I discussed my degree, my professional experience with LIMS and other informatics systems, and how that would apply within Scimcon’s specialism in lab informatics consultancy. Then he asked me again and I realised he was really asking what my hobbies were, and how I enjoyed spending my free time. Since starting at Scimcon, I’ve been introduced to the full team and everyone is happy to sit and talk about your life both inside and outside of work, which makes for a really pleasant environment to work in. Also, it seems as though everyone has been here for decades – some of the team have even been here since Scimcon’s inception back in 2000, which shows that people enjoy their time enough to stay here.
I’ve been given a really warm welcome by everyone on the team, and it’s really nice to see that everyone not only enjoys their time here, but actively engages with every project that’s brought in. It’s all hands on deck!
So, my main hobbies and interests outside of work are game design, as well as gaming in general. I run a YouTube account with friends, and we enjoy gaming together after work and then recording the gameplay and uploading to YouTube. We are also working on a tower defence game at the moment, with the aim to move into more open world games using some of the new engines that are available for game development.
In addition to gaming and development, I also enjoy 3D printing. I have a 3D printer which allows me to design my own pieces and print them. It’s a bit noisy, so I can’t always have it running depending on what meetings I have booked in!
Technology is a real interest of mine, and I’m really fortunate to have a role where my personal interests cross-over into my career. The language I use for game design is similar to what I work with at Scimcon, and the language skills I’ve developed give me a fresh perspective on some of the coding we use.
At the moment, I’m working on configuration for some of the LIMS systems I’ll be working with at customer sites, which I really enjoy as it gives me the chance to work with the code and see what I can bring to the table with it. Other projects include forms for Sample Manager (ThermoFisher Scientific), making it look more interesting, moving between systems, and improving overall user experience. It’s really interesting being able to get to grips with the systems and make suggestions as to where improvements can be made.
My first week mainly consisted of shadowing other Scimcon lab informatics consultants to get me up to speed on things. I have been working with the team on the UK-EACL project, which has been going really well, and it’s been great to get that 1-2-1 experience with different members of the team, and I feel like we have a real rapport with each other. I’ve been motoring through my training plan quite quickly, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the different roles and projects I’ll be working on.
I’d really like to get to grips with the project management side of things, and also love to get to grips with the configuration side as well. It’s important to me that I can be an all-round consultant, who’s capable at both managing projects and configuration. No two projects are the same at Scimcon, so having the capability to support clients with all their needs, to be placed with a client and save them time and money, is something I’m keen to work towards.
For more information about Scimcon and how our dedicated teams can support on your lab informatics or other IS projects, contact us today.Scimcon Sponsors Oxford Global’s SmartLabs UK?
SmartLabs UK is just days away from taking place in the capital of the country, and we’re proud to be sponsoring the 4th Annual SmartLabs Congress 2022 in London this year. Here, we explore what the two-day event will entail.
On the 8th and 9th September 2022, the Novotel London West will open its doors in welcoming leading experts of the lab informatics field to educate, inform and excite. From technical presentations to think-tank roundtable discussions, we had to join in.
Within a post-pandemic society, our reliance upon digital technology is greater than ever. In the field of life sciences, lab scientists are seeking better ways of consolidating and storing data. While paper-based labs are largely a thing of the past, many are filled with isolated information systems and nonstructured approaches, such as experimental workflows based at least partly in Excel.
Not only do such environments risk human error in transcription and duplication they restrict the organisations’ ability to search and mine data for critical insights.
Removing these disjointed workflows and dataflows are a key part of the wider digitalisation processes which are taking place throughout the lab space. It is no longer enough for laboratories to solely rely on LIMS, ELN, SDMS and instrument data systems.
It is important for the Scimcon team to stay ahead of the zeitgeist from customer-to-customer. Keeping up to date with current trends in lab informatics is at the heart of what we do.
What has this got to do with Oxford Global’s SmartLabs UK? The event will be split into two easy-to-follow streams, featuring all things lab informatics. If you’re unsure of what the latest innovations are, SmartLabs UK will provide the latest updates via over 50 cutting-edge presentations and a series of interactive discussions.
With virtual events becoming the norm in recent years, it is exciting for attendees to be given the opportunity of an in-person, collaborative experience. Day one of Oxford Global’s SmartLabs UK involves the exploration of monitoring and operational tools, and virtual reality tech demonstrations. Day two will delve into data standardisation and governance in lab informatics, and this is just the beginning. Some of the confirmed leading experts attending the event include the Genentech Director, Erik Bierwagen and Goldsmiths University professor, Larisa Soldatova.
If you think you’ve heard all of the latest informatics tools and technologies that are available, one of the benefits of attending SmartLabs UK will be the advice given on how to use these systems to leverage your data. After all, it is vital to understand how to put theory into practice. Taking advantage of the event’s opportunity for interaction, the 4th annual congress will provide an Event App. This will allow attendees to watch selected presentations on-demand, and contains extensive networking features. The benefits of using the app include; a dynamic agenda in which you will receive notifications of any changes to the day, a chance to the view the profiles of all speakers and organisations and a personalisation tool that allows you to organise and plan your schedule. There will also be an Event App prize draw for those participating in specified activities throughout the event.
As programme sponsor of Oxford Global’s SmartLabs UK, we are thrilled to assist in paving the way to laboratory digitalisation through automation, cutting-edge informatics tools and technologies. We believe that the digitisation of your laboratory projects should be done with the best advice and trusted expertise behind you. In turn, this is vital for the healthy reproduction of the life sciences industry.
Throughout the event, you can expect to receive this information in an engaging, illuminating way and through a variety of mediums. We will help to deliver think-tank discussions as well as trusted, face-to-face conversations with our team members who have direct lab experience. For those who prefer independent research and networking, we support the use of the Event App for all your lab informatics queries.
To organise a meeting with our team at the event, or to learn more about how Scimcon can support your digital lab transformation, contact us today. To learn more about lab informatics read more on our blogs via our website.5 things to consider when building a lab?
Scimcon is proud to support organisations around the world with their scientific endeavours, from facilitating a LIMS implementation to a full digital laboratory upgrade.
Scimcon has recently worked with Scott Stanley, Director of the University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Lab (UK-EACL), to support him with the launch of his new lab and remote LIMS validation.
Scott’s has impressive and extensive experience in building a lab from the ground up, and he has shared his tips for success in our handy infographic below:
We’ve recently worked with Scott Stanley, Director of the University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Lab (UK-EACL), to support him with the launch of his new lab.
Launching a LIMS implementation and validation can be a complex process at the best of times, but when the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the team at UK-EACL had to perform the validation remotely, Scimcon were on hand to guide the process and successfully finalise the implementation.
We recently spoke to Scott about his experience opening the lab and launching his new IS strategy, and you can catch up on some of our main conversations in our video here:
Over the past year we have seen a vast increase in demand for quality individuals to lead and resource laboratory digital transformation projects.
This increased demand coupled with a desire to develop the next generation of world class consultants has resulted in Scimcon creating its first Graduate Consultant Scheme, for scientific and technology graduates.
Scimcon is actively partnering with universities and attending graduate recruitment fairs to attract and recruit the right candidates to join the scheme. The candidates will be trained in the multiple disciplines that Scimcon typically work, Project Leadership, Business Analysis, Solutions Architecture and Computer Systems Validation. Additionally, they will also get exposure to a domain that combines both science and technology. From the chemistry of materials science to biologics drug discovery, our teams work in a diverse range of scientific fields.
Scimcon will introduce the successful candidates to a career as a laboratory information systems consultant. Training will be provided in a variety of project settings in multiple industries and with various software vendors. The individuals will shadow our experienced consultants to build knowledge and gain an effective understanding of what it takes to provide insightful, pragmatic and highly valued consultancy services to laboratory-based organizations. Our graduate consultants will work on exciting projects for globally recognized industry names giving them the perfect opportunity to kick start their career. As our customers are based around the globe, there is also an exciting opportunity for successful candidates to travel and work on-site with customers in Europe, the US, and beyond.
As customer-facing consultants, our team demonstrate a particular set of qualities. They are dynamic, enthusiastic, driven, conscientious with an eye for detail. They have excellent relationship building skills, but above all they demonstrate integrity consistently. We are looking for individuals that exhibit these same qualities.
If you are graduating in 2022 with a scientific or computer/technology related degree/masters/PhD and you are looking for an exciting career in informatics consultancy, please get in touch with Scimcon’s Head of Operation, David Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.orgScimcon sponsors SmartLab Exchange and identifies priority themes for 2022 lab informatics?
The SmartLab Exchange, from April 26-27, 2022 at the InterContinental At Doral Miami – Doral, FL is one of the global meetings for lab informatics leaders. Scimcon continues its proud sponsorship of this event, and attended in person to facilitate one-to-one meetings with a number of informatics customers from big pharma and lab-centric sectors. Scimcon sponsors the SmartLab Exchange because it provided a useful access to the community of senior R&D, Quality Assurance and Quality Control decision-makers from industry in North America.
Speakers at the 2022 SmartLab Exchange included the best of the best, with attendees from Proctor & Gamble, Biovia, Bayer, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Amgen, among others. SmartLab Exchange is attended by invite-only decision-makers. The unique invite-only format of the event means that both sponsors, speakers and delegates can access a closed community that meets their individual needs.
Attending from Scimcon were Geoff Parker and Dave Sanders, and during the event they took the opportunity to poll the customers and contacts from many of the attending organizations, to identify the current 2022 trends in the lab informatics industry. SmartLab Exchange represents the lab informatics community across industries including:
Geoff and Dave spoke with representatives from a multitude of organizations to take a pulse of the trends in the industry. Geoff explains:
“Scimcon works globally as a lab informatics consultant and implementation partner, with big pharma and biotech companies as well as vaccine manufacturers. We tend to see similar challenges from lab to lab, from organization to organization, and it is useful to take events like SmartLab Exchange as a means of checking in and ensuring that our customers’ needs are current.”
In the informal poll of attendees at SmartLab Exchange, Scimcon was able to identify key trends and themes that are important to the modern lab in 2022.
The subjects identified as highest interest to the delegates were:
Interest in product areas for the lab was high, especially for:
There was a general trend for interest and support in data integration and systems integration.
Geoff summarizes “As lab informatics consultants with a global customer base in pharma and biopharma labs, it is important to us to check in with influential decision-makers from the lab. SmartLab Exchange gave us a useful ability to poll the attendees and see trends that will impact the modern lab decision-maker, and will help us at Scimcon to hone the way we partner with our customers.”
Scimcon is proud to sponsor SmartLab Exchange, and support customers in life sciences with their lab informatics management and strategy. For more information about Scimcon’s services, contact us today.
“A really effective drug testing program is about deterrence”Scott Stanley, Lead at UK-EACL
Our Industry Leaders series introduces you to Scott Stanley, Director of the University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Lab (UK-EACL) who discusses the evolution of their new lab, and future plans for equine drug testing:
I am Scott David Stanley, I have worked in equine pharmacology and toxicology for my entire career. I am now the lead at the newly formed University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory (UK-EACL) which was formerly the drug testing laboratory for the United States Equestrian Federation, and has been commissioned as the new drug testing laboratory for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
In addition to my responsibilities at UK-EACL, I am Professor and have a research laboratory at the Gluck Research Center focusing on equine toxicology and pharmacology. I am also Director of the Small Molecule Mass Spectrometry Core facility for the University of Kentucky.
UK-EACL is gearing up to become a leader in the field of anti-doping control. We are ISO 17025 accredited, as well as fully accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) and is at the cutting-edge of technology. To date, an investment of about 2.5 million USD has been put into the laboratory. The new laboratory conducts ultra-modern anti-doping testing and applied research, and is committed to identify new emerging threats in horseracing.
Our new UK-EACL laboratory is a reference laboratory, covered under the new federal legislation (Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) as well as serving the local regulatory agency. I am also one of the members of the HISA subcommittee for Anti-Doping and Medication Control, as part of the new changes from state governance to federal governance.
We acquired the new laboratory from the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and conduct all their testing services. The UK-EACL is responsible for testing all US Equestrian drug and medication samples as well as those from the KHRC race dates. We also undertake emerging threats research and work in collaboration with the national and international bodies to ensure future needs are anticipated and met. Going forward, with the new federal regulations due, the UK-EACL is not only gearing up to provide the best testing support to our state, but also to be ready for the new regulations when they land.
A really effective equine drug testing program is about deterrence: We want to convince people that if they use a medication that’s inappropriate that we will detect it, and you know that will result in severe penalties or violations. The percent of violations for prohibited substances is actually rather low: about 0.1%. For therapeutic substance violations, it’s closer to 1%. So, we can see that people are being deterred from taking the risk.
This new highly invested UK-EACL service lab has been built to accommodate a change in equine testing, and we are due to move in during Spring 2022. The role of drug testing in racing and competition (covered in this podcast) means that the new lab needs a wide array of new technology. The new facility allows for expansion, and with the new technology, is more progressive. 11,000 samples are processed in the lab, and this will increase.
Because we have the luxury of building the facility from the ground-up, it has the requirements built-in to accommodate a modern 21st century lab. Our team is now focused on introducing new equipment, new technology, new approaches to answer our technical problems.
I was fortunate enough to have been involved in construction of a new laboratory in California, the UC Davis Laboratory. This allowed me to take a lot of the things that I learned during that project, and apply them here at UK-EACL too. These learnings ranged from electricity and bench space, through validating the LIMS, and ordering instrumentation. Whenever you start a new laboratory, you often have an influx of start-up funds. I was fortunate enough to convince the university to loan me money to buy equipment, and I was also able to get our partners at Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Equine Drug Research Council to provide us some funds to buy new equipment as well.
I was able to start with a clean slate and set up the new laboratory with power, electricity, plumbing benches, ventilation, and data transfer, to be the most efficient it needs to be. There have of course been some challenges that have emerged – for example, when shifting techniques, the new instruments create huge data files. To overcome this, we used a much faster connectivity so that we wouldn’t be backlogged with moving data in the laboratory workflow. As we begin to focus our efforts more into proteomics, looking at proteins and peptides, and move into out-of-competition testing, we will slow down our productivity if we run into bottlenecks related to moving and processing data.
Conventional equine drug testing techniques have changed because drug potency has changed, leading to demand for higher sensitivity. Where the conventional testing used to be thin layer chromatography and immunoassay-based, it is now almost exclusively gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). These analytical techniques allow us to see our target drugs at low parts per billion, in many cases even parts per trillion.
We were substantially affected by COVID, as it hit during our start-up year. Financially, it was very challenging to get things done. Like many organisations, we were shut down for a number of months, during which time we had reduced workload, reduced income, and implemented hiring freezes.
Further to this, we were mid-LIMS validation when COVID closed us down. We had just commenced the validation process on the LIMS when we had to send everybody home. Nothing in our project management plan allowed for this! So, we needed to change our approaches completely. This involved how we trained our teams, how we implemented new systems, and how we got our technology up and running to accommodate those shutdowns.
For a period of time, we ran half-staff because of social distancing requirements, as social distancing requirements meant we did not have the space to accommodate everyone on site at the same time. So, we ended up having to do the validation remotely with people off-site.
We were lucky to have already selected and invested in state-of-the-art equipment, which was definitely beneficial to us. Of course, data is at the heart of what we do, because we work in such a data-rich environment. This also leads to challenges such as where to store the data, how to process it, interpret it, and then make decisions based on.
Our LIMS implementation and validation was supported by Scimcon, our colleagues for 25 years or thereabouts. As the team is uniquely made up of individuals with laboratory backgrounds, it is easier to communicate our needs than it would be with someone that comes from a strict IT background. For example, If I talk about test-tubes, labels and barcodes, samples and aliquoting samples: they know what that means. It is not new to them as they understand the challenges of operating within a laboratory, and how critical it is that we are able to remain productive.
I’ve learned that working with outside consultants like Scimcon is incredibly valuable for us to get the end result. Realistically, if you think you can do everything yourself, you’re fooling yourself. There are certain things you just have to outsource. I need our suppliers to help us configure and implement our LIMS, whereas my internal resources need to be able to maintain the system, and keep it current and tested. These two skillsets are different, and I need both, at different times. I do not need to keep implementation skills on our team, but I do need to keep maintenance and upkeep skills as permanent fixtures.
Scimcon are problem-solvers, and that is all you can ask for, offering good support and consulting help. They can give us technical people when we need them, and management people when we need them. They can help us select and pick a LIMS product that is right for the now and the future. There are not many entities that bring that diversity and depth of industry experience.
I don’t know that many people would have even attempted to try and validate a LIMS computer system remotely. It was daunting and a lot of work on both sides – for us at UK-EACL and Scimcon – to make that happen. But we had some strict deadlines that we were working towards, and their ability and desire to help us meet those deadlines made that happen.
Looking forward, one of the plans on the horizon for UK-EACL is to supervise the introduction of the equine biological passport. The EBP project (Equine Biological Passport project) has been written into federal legislation, and sees the equine biological passport as a reflection on a human athlete’s biological passport which is used by the World Anti-Doping Agency in order to address medication and doping problems. The plan is to introduce a similar passport for horses within the horse racing world. The EBP is a biological test panel and not a physical booklet like a travel document.
The EBP program has been developing over the past several years as part of the racing industry’s effort to renew public awareness of equine safety, integrity and transparency. The project and aims to identify specific biomarkers that can detect drug use, and monitors those biomarkers over time. This allows us to detect drug abuse that occurs anytime in the horse’s development or during their performance career.
The program goals are aligned with both industry initiatives and stakeholder expectations, enabling distinctive separation for future drug violation versus inadvertent medication exposures. This program also aims to differentiate contaminations from human and non-human contacts, which don’t affect performance, and as a tool, it will enable us to rapidly identify new drugs and measure/monitor the physiological effect on the equine athlete. These data will be critical in differentiating between intentional doping and accidental contaminants, which can smear the industry reputation and damage the persona of the horse, the trainer, and the owner.
The focus of the (initial) equine biological passport project in 2019 was the investigation of the concept of protein biomarkers as an indicator of prohibited substance abuse. One benefit of this research program being moved to central Kentucky is the access to samples. In 2019, a large cohort of “baseline” samples, 196 specifically, were collected. Serum samples were collected from 67 yearlings from a thoroughbred farm in central Kentucky, and known to be untreated with any prohibited substances. In addition to these samples, another 480 samples were collected in 2020 and 2021 with the same parameters. A large cohort sampling has been pivotal, allowing us to establish a normal population distribution range, and providing data that will be used to generate the baseline for the Equine Biological Passport project.
The EBP is one of the reasons we are doing so much work in the laboratory, and specifically the LIMS. We pull together our list of ‘should do’s’, and one of these is remote login.
The ideal situation for us is to be able to track the sample from cradle to grave completely, so we’d like that incorporated into our computer databases and LIMS system. Being able to provide a complete chain-of-custody is critical for us to be able to effectively prosecute any findings. This would track the sample from the moment it’s collected, combining remote, paper, and electronic logins once the sample arrives at the laboratory. It will enable us to expand the number of sites and locations that testing can occur at, not just at-competition testing.
So, the new lab at UK-EACL is at the heart of current equine testing, and mapping out the future of equine anti-doping analysis, as it evolves.
Scimcon is proud to support industry leaders like Scott Stanley in building a new lab and succeeding in implementation projects. Stay tuned for more content from our discussion with Scott, and contact us for more information about our services.