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03/29/2007

Athletes can't wait to get their hands in Stanford's RTX Glove

[Steroid Nation begins a new series of posts on a different sort of PED 'Performance Enhancing Devices'.  We will cover all manners of contraptions from the psychological to the mechanical to the nanochip and beyond.  We kick off this series by profiling a very interesting gizmo those wacko people at Stanford developed -- the RTX glove for cooling down an athlete, and thus enhancing performance.]

Update: Called 'Core Control' the RTX Glove is featured in The Wizard of Odds today.

Featured in Stanford Magazine, Wired, and Dave's Football Blog The RTX Glove uses the principles of “Rapid Thermal Exchange” or RTX to enhance athletic performance. 

It has long been known that patients with Multiple Sclerosis improve in cold and worsen in heat; this has to do with conduction along their nerve cells (the demylinating cells do better when cooled, like a computer).  Thus the team at Stanford began work on cooling devices.

RtxRTX promises to enhance human performance in applications ranging from sports to medicine to the military. It is the brainchild of biological sciences professor H. Craig Heller and senior research scientist Dennis Grahn, who have spent nearly two decades studying temperature regulation in mammals. Their lab, once devoted to hibernating ground squirrels and marmots, now attracts San Francisco 49er football players, military representatives from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, multiple sclerosis patients and sweating Stanford athletes. 

Medical researcher are curious types yes, and those warriors at DARPA always look for an edge but athletes interested in being cool?  The researchers worked on the technology;  a lab assistant who was a bodybuilder volunteered to use the device in a workout:

A lab technician who was also a body builder, Vinh Cao, volunteered to be the test subject. To generate metabolic body heat, Heller and Grahn had him do sets of pull-ups  to exhaustion. He started with a set of 14 pull-ups and soon dropped to eight per set. After 20 minutes, they applied cooling and a vacuum to Cao’s hand. When they asked him to do more pull-ups,they were amazed to see his performance jump back up to 14  pull-ups.

The lab team announced their new discovery.  It was slow to catch on:

Stancoolaid_aiExcited by what they had learned, they arranged a presentation in 2000 to Stanford athletics coaches. Heller remembers the stony faces and crossed arms that greeted them. “It was not a warm welcome. The four or five coaches who showed up didn’t seem to think that a couple of biologists could tell them anything about performance enhancement.” Only  Weir agreed to try it. Off campus, the 49ers and Raiders football teams were the earliest adopters—later followed by theUniversity of Miami football team, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the Manchester United soccer team.

The Stanford football team used the RTX glove in a game, as the trainer noted an important observation:

When a battery-operated model of the RTX became available, the Stanford football team started to use it. Head  athletic trainer Charlie Miller made an inadvertent breakthrough when one his players came off the field with leg cramps during the third quarter of a game against Boston College early in the ’02-’03 season. “Since cramps tend to recur, a coach has to decide between benching a key player or keeping  him on the field and risk another cramp recurring in the middle of play,” Miller explains. In addition to conventional treatments—massage, electrolytes, fluids—Miller had him put his hand into the RTX. To his surprise, the cramp disappeared and the player was able to finish the game. “When the IV fluids worked [to revitalize a player], it wasn’t the minerals or the rehydrating,” he says, “it was because we were invasively cooling the players down. We had noticed that if the IVs were kept on ice, they worked better. Now we know why.”

How good is the device.  An unamed NFL player said the RTX GLove goes as good as 'the juice':

Ever seeking a competitive edge, athletes began paying regular visits to the fourth floor of Gilbert, causing one of the staff to remark that the hallways had gotten  smaller. A former NFL player told Grahn, “This replaces the Juice,” referring to steroids. Weirdly, cooling does mimic steroids in the way it allows an athlete to recover from intense exertion quickly, allowing someone to do more work in a shorter period of time. But cooling doesn’t result in shriveled gonads or ’roid rage.

We cannot completely cover the RTX Glove in the space here, however read the references.  This is exciting AND legal technology.

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