News Article | March 22, 2016
People suffering from concussions may find that virtual reality can help diagnose their condition. Today, SyncThink, a Boston-based neuro-technology company, announced that the FDA had cleared its medical device, known as Eye-Sync, which features a head-mounted eye-tracking system. The device is meant to record, view, and analyze patients' eye movement quickly and accurately, thanks to integrated virtual reality software. The Eye-Sync can determine in less than a minute if someone has abnormal eye movement, a common problem suffered by those with concussions, the company said. There are quite a number of medical applications for virtual reality, from helping treat PTSD patients to assisting with surgical training. SyncThink believes the Eye-Sync is ideal for sports, given how quickly the device can alert medical staff to a player's out-of-sync brain activity after a collision. "In my opinion, the Eye-Sync device has significant implications for sideline evaluation, and I can see in the future how this can be the diagnostic gold standard for sports-related concussions with every pro, college, and high school team having one on the field," said Scott Anderson, director of athletic training for Stanford University Sports Medicine in a release about the device. "Stanford Sports Medicine currently uses Eye-Sync technology as an investigational device to screen athletes for concussion and make decisions on return to play."
Every square inch of my body is sweating. I’ve been working out for only 15 minutes, and I’m not sure my legs can take any more. They are shaking uncontrollably. Later, I sit down to dinner, and my arms are so exhausted I can’t seem to pick up my spoon. I had just suffered my way through a session of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. The regimen can be over and done in 25 minutes, warmup and cooldown included: Quick bursts of extreme physical exertion — 10 seconds to four minutes — are followed by rest periods two to five times the length of the intense parts. Studies show that HIIT increases cardiovascular fitness and can promote healthy blood glucose levels. The short workouts also increase endurance, and a recent study shows why HIIT has more endurance benefits for couch potatoes than it does for pre-trained athletes. But while HIIT may hit health in the right direction, it does little for our waistlines. And some psychologists question whether a workout that’s so uncomfortable should be promoted in public health campaigns. Will people work through the pain? Or will promotion of such difficult workouts just make people give up in frustration? In the end, whether you pick up a workout plan and stick with it may have less to do with how much time you have, and more to do with where you priorities — and your willingness to deal with pain for gain — really lie. What constitutes a HIIT workout can be a little difficult to define. Go through one bout of extreme work, and one bout of rest. Then repeat, usually three to six times in a given workout. A series of 20-second sprints and 40-second rests for 10 minutes is a HIIT workout. The seven-minute workout qualifies as high-intensity interval training, too, if interspersed with rest periods. Some types of CrossFit qualify, as well as some treadmill workouts and cycling bouts. Workout intensity varies as well. “It’s about relative intensity to the individual, not absolute intensity,” explains Kathryn Weston, an exercise scientist at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, England. “For an older person, going up a hill would be HIIT, but for an athlete, they might need to go to sprint training.” The most important thing, says Charlotte Jelleyman, an exercise physiologist at the University of Leicester in England, is “it should feel hard. For people who are more used to it, it can be all out.” And when Jelleyman says all out, she means it. “Your legs hurt, your lungs hurt, you absolutely cannot go on anymore once you’re finished,” she explains. She’s not kidding. Every time I go through a session of HIIT, I feel like I never want to do it again. The pain might be over and done with relatively quickly, but the muscle exhaustion feels eternal. The soreness can last for a week. All that pain is worth it for the health gains, studies have shown. In young to middle-aged healthy adults, HIIT produced better improvements than endurance training in the maximum amount of oxygen that a person could consume — a commonly used measure of cardiovascular health, Zoran Milaović and colleagues at the University of Nis in Serbia reported in a meta-analysis August 5 in Sports Medicine. In theory, these gains in maximal oxygen, called VO max, should mean better health. Weston says her group is especially interested in how that translates to everyday life. “It’s great VO max is improving,” Weston says. “But does it mean they are able to carry out daily tasks better? Does it translate over to real life, or is it just in the lab?” HIIT may also reduce the risk of type II diabetes. “What … HIIT does very well is basically prevent the accumulation or worsening of insulin resistance, and therefore is a very good way of preventing type II diabetes,” says Jelleyman. “It helps keep the blood glucose within a healthy range.” In a meta-analysis of 50 studies, Jelleyman and her colleagues showed that blood glucose is lower following HIIT than it is following normal continuous exercise or no exercise at all. The meta-analysis was published October 20 in Obesity Reviews. One of the most dramatic effects of HIIT is how quickly it increases muscle endurance. “HIIT is much more time-efficient than normal endurance exercise,” notes Håkan Westerblad, a muscle and exercise physiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “For some groups you get better faster with HIIT than with normal endurance exercise.” It’s a short workout that produces results quickly. “Some studies have shown effects in as little as two weeks,” Jelleyman notes, if the person is working out at their highest intensity. “But usually you expect at least two months for long-term changes.” And the gains even seem to affect those who aren’t gym rats by nature. “It almost favors less fit people,” Weston says. “Our data has shown it’s the people who don’t exercise, they’re the ones that might get the most benefit from it.” To look at how these big gains take place in such a short time, Westerblad and his colleagues examined 18 recreationally active men and male endurance athletes who did six rounds of 30-second bursts of high-intensity cycling followed by four minutes of rest. After the workout, the scientists took biopsies of the working muscles in the participants’ legs. When a muscle cell receives a signal to contract, tiny pumps called ryanodine receptors open, and calcium pours out of holding spaces within the cell into the cellular fluid. The high concentrations of calcium signal the muscle cell to contract. Scale this up across all muscle cells, and the whole muscle flexes. After a single HIIT workout, un-athletic guys showed fragmentation of the ryanodine receptor. Breakdown of the ryanodine receptor means calcium can leak out into the cell in a continuous drip. With only a little bit of calcium getting released, the muscle cells don’t contract. Instead, the calcium causes a little bit of stress to the cell. Cells react to this stress by increasing their endurance, making them better able to withstand the next bout of HIIT. Endurance athletes, however, didn’t get the same benefits. It turns out that the breakdown of the ryanodine receptor is a consequence of the production of free radicals — highly reactive molecules — during exercise. Westerblad says that after prolonged endurance training, the muscles of endurance athletes have “a more effective antioxidant system,” something that the nonathletes will develop as their muscles get used to broken down ryanodine receptors. Endurance athletes, he argues, had no benefit because they had nothing left to improve — they were too fit for HIIT. Westerblad and his group published their results November 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But while HIIT has proven to improve health and endurance, it may not hit us where it really counts — our weight. “The only thing it definitely doesn’t do is weight loss,” Weston says. “Generally, it has not been claimed that HIIT is effective for losing weight, per se. The energy expenditure isn’t great enough.” But, she says, some studies have shown decreases in waist circumference. “It doesn’t affect the scale but may affect how you look in the mirror.” Even so, HIIT is still good for cardiovascular health and your blood sugar. What’s not to love? Well, it turns out, people don’t love the workout itself. “I was constantly questioning whether people would want to do that kind of thing,” says Stuart Biddle, who studies psychology and active living at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. “We know that those much higher levels of intensity are experienced as unpleasant.” In a debate with Alan Batterham of Teesside University published July 18 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Biddle argues that pushing HIIT for everyone might just doom most people to failure. “[HIIT] has physiological benefit, of that there’s no doubt,” he says. But he thinks the workouts themselves won’t make people come back for more. “It’s unpleasant, it’s hard to do,” he explains. “I don’t think people look forward to it.” The compressed time means a HIIT workout could work for people who say they have no time to exercise, but the reality may be they don’t want to exercise at all. “When people say they don’t have time, they aren’t documenting it,” Biddle says. “It’s a statement to reflect they don’t want to spend their free time doing exercise.” To overcome this, Biddle believes that people don’t need workouts that are faster and more challenging, like HIIT. Instead, he promotes exercise that can be incorporated into daily routines. With a tough workout and no weight loss to show for it, a HIIT regimen needs to be something that you’d actually want to do. And time spent working hard doesn’t feel so bad if it’s spent doing something you love. Weston says that applying HIIT principles to the types of exercise you prefer might help you come back for another bout. “People like different things,” Weston says. “I hate the treadmill, personally. There’s a misconception that [treadmill or cycling] is the only way [HIIT] can be done.” But that’s not true. Weston says it’s really just about getting yourself to work really hard. “It could be stair climbing or boxing drills, football drills, dance drills, gym equipment,” she says. “As long as you can get that cardiovascular response that shows you’re working hard, it doesn’t matter so much about the mode of exercise.”
Head injuries are a hot topic today in sports medicine, with numerous studies pointing to a high prevalence of sports-related concussions, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, among youth and professional athletes. Now an MIT-invented tool is aiding in detecting and diagnosing concussions, in real-time. In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine estimated that each year roughly 300,000 high school and college athletes are diagnosed with sports-related head injuries — but that number may be seven times higher, due to undiagnosed cases. One-third of sports-related concussions among college athletes went undiagnosed in a 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has consistently referred to the rise of sports-related head injuries as a national epidemic. Last October, MIT alumnus Ben Harvatine ’12 — who suffered several head injuries as a longtime wrestler — started selling a wearable sensor for athletes, called the Jolt Sensor, that detects and gathers data on head impacts in real-time. Commercialized through Harvatine’s startup Jolt Athletics, the sensor is now being used nationwide by teams from grade-school to college levels, and is being trialed by professional teams. “We’re trying to give parents and coaches another tool to make sure they don’t miss big hits, or maybe catch a hit that doesn’t look that big but measures off the charts,” Harvatine says. The Jolt Sensor is essentially a small, clip-on accelerometer that can be mounted on an athlete’s helmet, or other headgear, to measure any impact an athlete sustains. When the athlete receives a heavy blow, the sensor vibrates and sends alerts to a mobile app, which is monitored by coaches or parents on the sideline. The app lists each player on a team wearing the sensor. Filtered to the top of the list are players that received the biggest hits, players with the most total hits, and players with above average hits compared to their past impacts. If a player sustains a hard hit, the player’s name turns red, and an alert appears telling the coach to evaluate that player. The app includes a concussion symptom checklist and cognitive assessment test. “We can’t be overly diagnostic, but we do our best to communicate the urgency that that was a big hit and you need to check out the player,” Harvatine says. By recording every impact, big or small, the app also creates impact statistics for each athlete. “You can watch how an athlete is trending — day to day, week to week, month to month — in terms of their total impact exposure, and mitigate high risk situations before they result in injury,” Harvatine says. Several other concussion-monitoring sensors are currently available. But a key innovation of the Jolt Sensor, Harvatine says, is a custom communications protocol that allows an unlimited number of sensors to transfer data to the app from up to 200 yards away. “That gives us an unparalleled range,” he says. “You don’t have to chase your kids around the field with your phone to get those alerts. You can actually follow a whole team at once.” Apart from developing the sensors, the startup, headquartered in Boston, is focusing on gathering and analyzing data, which could provide deeper, objective insights into concussions, Harvatine says. Over the years, Harvatine has seen sports-related head injuries become increasingly polarizing in the U.S., especially among parents. Some parents, he says, deny concussions happen so frequently, while others say they’ll never let their kids play sports due to risk. By amassing data, Harvatine hopes Jolt Athletics can offer a scientific middle ground: “We’re trying to be that rational voice, saying, ‘Yes, there are risks in sports, but we can help you better understand that risk and intelligently mitigate it.’” So far, the Jolt Sensor has uncovered a surprising frequency of big hits among kids as young as 10, Harvatine says. “We had a couple sensors that have registered so many hits, at such a high level, that we’ve contacted the owners to make sure we didn’t have a defective sensor,” he says. “Turns out, it’s just typical for that age range.” Although that finding doesn’t come from a large data set, Harvatine has formed a hypothesis for why those young kids take such big hits. “They’re big enough, strong enough, and fast enough to put hard licks on each other, but not necessarily experienced enough that they’re in total control of their bodies,” he says. “That may be making that particular level of play a little more dangerous than the levels just before or just after.” Getting knocked around — for science Harvatine, who studied mechanical engineering at MIT, designed the Jolt Sensor for a class project after a fateful incident: During a practice his junior year for MIT’s wrestling team, he suffered a concussion that went unnoticed. “I was feeling dizzy and nauseous, but I thought I was dehydrated, so I pushed through,” he says. “But by the end of practice, I was having trouble getting up, and I couldn’t pull words together.” Harvatine ended up in the hospital with a months-long recovery that required dropping out of all classes for the fall semester. Upon returning to MIT the following spring, he enrolled in Course 2.671 (Measurement and Instrumentation), where he was charged with using a sensor to collect real-world data. And he had a revelation. “I grabbed a bunch of accelerometers, strapped them to my wrestling headgear, and, much to my parents’ chagrin, went back to the wrestling mat to get knocked around and start gathering data,” he says. In his fraternity house, Harvatine and classmate and Jolt Athletics co-founder Seth Berg ’14 designed the first Jolt Sensor prototype: a data-collection unit strapped around Harvatine’s waist, with wires running from the device, up his back, and connecting to accelerometers on his headgear. Everything had to be connected to a laptop. During open gym hours, Harvatine wrestled with teammates while wearing the prototype — and collected some interesting data. Wrestling moves that generated the biggest blows didn’t involve direct impact to the head, but instead came from snapping his head back and forth. “We were doing a lot of drills that cause that type of impact, and it was something that I would’ve never worried about,” Harvatine says. After graduating, Harvatine launched Jolt Athletics in 2013 to commercialize the sensor. While doing so, he received valuable advice from mentors at MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, with whom Harvatine still keeps in contact today. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do without VMS,” he says. Additionally, Harvatine says, MIT classes like Course 2.008 (Design and Manufacturing II) and Course 2.009 (Product Engineering Processes) taught valuable lessons in product design and manufacturing, and in applying engineering skills to real-world applications. “Those are a couple of a long list of MIT courses I can point to that gave some useful insight into how the world works,” Harvatine says.
Tennis star Maria Sharapova has been provisionally suspended from competition after testing positive for the recently banned drug meldonium. But what exactly does this drug do, and can it really enhance athletic performance? On Monday (March 7), Sharapova admitted to failing a drug test for the upcoming Australian Open because she had been taking meldonium (sold under the brand name Mildronate). Sharapova said she had been taking the drug for 10 years as advised by her family doctor. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) added meldonium to the list of prohibited substances as of Jan. 1, 2016. Sharapova said she started taking the medication in 2006, following a variety of symptoms, including frequent bouts of the flu; an irregular EKG (electrocardiogram, a test that assesses the heart's electrical activity); magnesium deficiency; and "indications of diabetes," a disease she said runs in her family. [The 16 Oddest Medical Case Reports] Mildronate is made by the Baltic pharmaceutical company Grindeks. The drug is not approved in the United States or Western Europe, but it is available over the counter and as a prescription in Eastern Europe. Earlier this month, Grindeks released a statement protesting the WADA's ban on Mildronate — and clarifying that the company is not the only manufacturer of drugs that contain meldonium. In the statement, the company said that Mildronate is used widely by doctors, mostly for the treatment of heart and cardiovascular diseases, including chronic heart failure, cardiomyopathy (abnormality of the heart muscle) and ischemic circulation disorders (reduced blood flow to certain regions). By making the heart consume carbohydrates in lieu of fatty acids as a source of energy, the drug reduces the amount of oxygen the heart needs, according to Grindeks. This is designed to help prevent muscle tissue damage in times of stress, including periods of increased physical activity. Grindeks representatives said meldonium is a protective drug meant to guard against cell death, not to increase the performance of normal cells. "Meldonium cannot improve athletic performance, but it can stop tissue damage in the case of ischemia [deficient blood flow to a body part]. That is why it is a therapeutic drug" and doesn't constitute doping, Grindeks representatives said in the statement. But a review of studies focusing on the effects of Mildronate, published in a booklet from the 5th Baltic Sport Science Conference in 2012, said otherwise. The authors of the review agreed that Mildronate optimizes oxygen consumption for protection against certain heart problems. They added, however, that Mildronate could have many advantageous effects for athletes, such as increased endurance, improved aerobic capabilities and reduced recovery times after physical exertion. Several scientific papers on meldonium in athletes also include information about how and when to dose the drug in order for patients to obtain the desired effects, said Mario Thevis, a professor of preventive doping research at German Sport University Cologne and a forensic chemist who helped develop the doping test for meldonium. The sports that have been studied for meldonium doping included wrestling, judo, canoeing, rowing and volleyball, Thevis told Live Science in an email. [What If Doping Were Legal?] Still, although these studies suggest that meldonium enhances athletic performance, there is no definitive evidence of its effects, Christian Schneider, a member of the European Olympic Committees' Medical and Anti-Doping Commission, said in an email interview to Live Science. In 2015, meldonium was one of two drugs added to the list of those set to be monitored by the WADA due to its possible cardiac stimulant effects. It was the only drug moved from the monitoring program to the prohibited list for 2016. A data analysis of meldonium use by athletes in the Baku 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan showed that 66 of 762 athletes tested positive for the drug before and during the Games, according to the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which was co-authored by Schneider. These were athletes competing in 15 different sports (the Games features 21 sports in total), and 13 of these athletes placed within the top three in their competitions. When asked about the importance of revealing athlete doping, Schneider said, "Fair play should be in all athletes' and supporters', or even spectators', interest … Any use of prohibited help [whether medical, technical or something else] should be known to others." Sharapova was not the only elite athlete to test positive for meldonium since the ban went into effect. Otherse who are reportedly in situation similar to Sharapova's include: Russian ice dancer and 2014 gold medalist Ekaterina Bobrova; Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov; Eithiopian-Swedish former world champion 1,500-meter runner Abeba Aregawi; and two Ukrainian biathletes, Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko. According to a statement from the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP), Sharapova was charged with an anti-doping rule violation and has been provisionally suspended. Three of her major sponsors — Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche — have already distanced themselves from the scandal, according to news reports. Forbes has estimated that losing the Nike contract alone would add up to a loss of $17.5 million for the sports star. Do Vitamin Supplements Work? Science Says Somewhat, Sometimes | Video Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. 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If alcohol is a part of your weekly routine, you should make sure to find time to hit the gym: A new study from the United Kingdom suggests that regular exercise can help balance out the harmful effects of alcohol. People in the study who drank alcohol — but also exercised on a regular basis — were less likely to die from any cause during the study period, compared with those who drank but didn't exercise. And exercise had a particularly strong effect on drinkers' risk of dying from cancer. Alcohol is known to increase people's risk of cancer, but the study's findings showed that regular physical activity nearly canceled out this increased risk, according to the study, published today (Sept. 7) in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. [7 Cancers You Can Ward Off with Exercise] Although it's not exactly clear how exercise may counteract the effects of alcohol when it comes to cancer risk, there are several mechanisms that could possibly explain the link, the researchers, led by Emmanuel Stamatakis, an associate professor of exercise, health and physical activity at the University of Sydney in Australia, wrote in the study. Drinking alcohol, for example, has been shown to increase inflammation and decrease immune function, both of which have been linked to cancer, according to the study. Physical activity, on the other hand, has been shown to have the opposite effects — it decreases inflammation and increases immune function, the researchers wrote. Ultimately, the mechanisms by which alcohol may cause cancer may be matched up with the mechanisms by which exercise may prevent it, but the two activities have opposite effects, the researchers wrote. In other words, the effects of exercise may cancel out those of alcohol. In the study, the researchers looked at the exercise and drinking habits of more than 36,000 men and women in England and Scotland. The participants were divided into six groups based on their level of alcohol intake: those who never drank; former drinkers; occasional drinkers (meaning they hadn't had a drink in the past seven days); those who drank within the guidelines (no more than eight drinks/week for women or 12 drinks/week for men); "hazardous" drinkers (eight to 20 drinks/week for women, or 12 to 28 drinks/week for men); and "harmful" drinkers (more than 20 drinks/week for women and more than 28 drinks/week for men). [Here's How Much Alcohol Is OK to Drink in 19 Countries] The people in the study were also divided into groups based on the amount of physical activity they reported. There was an "inactive" group, which got less than the study's recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week; a group that got the recommended amount of physical activity, and those who got double or more the recommended amount of physical activity. The researchers found that for people in the inactive group, the more they drank, the more likely they were to die from any cause during the study period of about 10 years. However, when exercise was added to the mix, the researchers found that people's risk of dying decreased, though it was still linked to the amount a person drank. And when the researchers looked at a person's risk of dying from cancer specifically, however, they found that getting the recommended amount of weekly exercise nearly canceled out this risk entirely. The exception in both cases was for those in the "harmful" drinking group. Among these heavier drinkers, exercise did not lower the risk of dying, the researchers found. In addition, exercise did not have an effect on an alcohol drinker's risk of dying from heart disease, according to the study. Finally, the researchers found that there was a slightly beneficial effect to having an occasional drink: regardless of physical activity level, occasional drinkers were slightly less likely die from any cause, or from heart disease in particular, compared with other groups of drinkers. An occasional drink didn't have any beneficial effect on reducing a person's risk of dying from cancer, however. The researchers noted that there were several limitations to the study. While they looked at the amount of alcohol the participants drank, they did not look at the pattern of drinking, so they may have missedbinge drinking, they wrote. In addition, the researchers didn't consider other factors, such as diet, that may have an effect on a person's risk of dying. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.