Manchester is set to become the worldwide centre for excellence in hair testing for alcohol and drug abuse with the launch of a new laboratory at the Hexagon Tower science park in Blackley.
The state-of-the-art facility, being opened this week by London-based Trimega Laboratories, will test hair samples from around the world to provide accurate historical records of someone’s intake of drink or drugs up to 12 months prior. The technique is already widely used throughout the UK to help Local Authorities and family lawyers diagnose any form of dependency among adults involved in child care orders. The number of these applications has leapt 46%* nationwide in the wake of the Baby P case with hair test requests in the North West and Wales, for example, increasing from an average of 40 to 70 a month in the past year (out of around 800 a month nationwide).
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “This cutting-edge lab reinforces Manchester’s reputation as a city at the forefront of the scientific and research industries. It shows Manchester is an attractive place to invest and is, of course, great news for the local area. I’m pleased to welcome Trimega to Manchester.”
So advanced is Trimega’s new Manchester lab that it will also be the first in the world to test the hair samples of HIV and TB sufferers to see if they have been taking anti-retroviral drugs prescribed to them. Tragically, in countries such as South Africa, these drugs are frequently sold on to the black market by patients or even smoked to obtain a ‘high’ instead of being swallowed.
The new lab, which has been established with assistance from MIDAS, Manchester’s Investment and Development Agency, is also using new techniques that will enable samples to be returned in as little as 36 hours, smashing the existing turnaround time of a week or more.
Other reasons why hair samples are sent from all over the world to Trimega Laboratories for testing include:
• Employee screening for safety-critical jobs such as commercial aviation
• ‘Fit to practice’ employment tribunals (eg Nursing & Midwifery Council)
• Professional sports organisations to identify steroids and recreational drugs
• To determine whether sedatives have been used in cases of child abuse
• To support child custody decisions being made in divorce proceedings
• Pre-requisite for convicted drink-drivers re-applying for their licences
• Surgeons assessing a patient’s suitability for an organ transplant
• To confirm cases of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among newborn babies
Avi Lasarow, managing director of Trimega Laboratories, commented: “There are very few labs in the world that have the equipment and expertise to produce hair tests to a standard sufficient to be accepted in a Court of Law. Our innovations, such as the first ever commercialised hair alcohol test, have helped in setting these standards. Now, with the investment we’ve made in the new lab, we can firmly establish Manchester as the recognised technical hub for all hair testing worldwide. What this means to the local area – and in particular to law firms in the North West – is that the most accurate and immediate analysis of substance abuse is at their fingertips.”
Colin Sinclair, Chief Executive at MIDAS, Manchester’s Investment and Development Agency added: “Manchester has a long-established reputation as a pioneer in the field of Life Science and Biomedical research. Trimega’s decision to establish their state-of-the-art facility in the city region bears testament to this. We’re delighted to welcome Trimega to Manchester and Sarah Iles and the team at MIDAS look forward to working with them as they continue to grow their ground-breaking operation.”
How Hair Testing Works: Since hair growth is fed by the bloodstream, the ingestion of drugs or excess alcohol in the blood is revealed by analysing chemical markers absorbed by the hair. As the hair grows, it absorbs these markers into its structure and the more markers there are, the more has been consumed. A tuft of hair about the diameter of a pencil is required and the industry standard is to test a length of 1.5 inches, which provides a 90 day history. If no head hair is available, body hair can be used instead. Not only can hair trace back consumption for months but, from a practical point of view, is much easier to handle in the ‘chain of custody’ than urine or blood samples which need to be stored under special conditions. Taking hair samples also avoids the embarrassment of ‘observing’ urine collection.
Case Study: Merseyside law firm, Burd Ward Solicitors, has used hair alcohol tests in a successful bid to reunite children with their parents. In early January, hair samples were collected from both parents who had admitted excessive use of alcohol. Both adults reported abstinence in the few days period prior to hair samples being collected, but it was too short a timeframe for the hair alcohol test to yield a negative result. Further testing one month later did however give a negative result, showing that the donors had significantly reduced their alcohol intake. A third and final hair alcohol test carried out one month after that yielded a negative result of less than 4ng/mg, which is typical of teetotalers.