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A cooling defense

With a hand-held device called 'the glove,' researchers hope to help athletes avoid heatstroke and heat exhaustion.

September 01, 2003|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

For decades, football players have battled the oppressive and sometimes dangerous heat of summer with cold drinks, cool towels and giant misting machines. Now a hand-held device dubbed "the glove" offers athletes a new way to lower body temperature.

The risk of heatstroke or exhaustion is high in football, particularly during pre-season workouts notorious for their intensity and duration. The danger was highlighted two years ago when Minnesota Viking tackle Korey Stringer died of heatstroke after his body temperature reached 109. And this summer, several players have been hospitalized for heat symptoms in pro-training camps.

The new device, developed by a couple of Stanford University professors, allows athletes to cool themselves from the inside out as opposed to the traditional methods, which are largely outside in. Called RTX for Rapid Thermal Exchange, the device consists of a 70-degree steel plate inside an airtight chamber. An athlete places a hand in a chamber, which lowers the temperature of the blood flowing through the hand. The cooler blood lowers the overall body temperature as it circulates.

The device is in limited use, but that is expected to change, according to AVAcore Technologies Inc., the Palo Alto-based company that is marketing the product. Football teams at Stanford University and the University of Miami as well as the San Francisco 49ers have used the device for a season, and this year the Oakland Raiders will try it.

"It's a good to have around," said Jerry Attaway, the 49ers' physical development coordinator. "Other than submerging someone in ice water, this has to be near the top for reducing a player's core temperature."

Although intended for the serious athlete, the portable device is also being studied for use in other outdoor sports, according to Craig Coombs, general manager of AVAcore. Studies have shown the device is effective in reducing temperature in heart attack and stroke victims, allowing for improved and prolonged treatments. It can also be adjusted to 104 degrees to warm patients after surgery.

The Stanford professors, Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn, stumbled across the discovery while researching body heat regulation in bears, said Coombs. The biologists learned that humans, like bears and other mammals, increase blood flow to the palms, feet and cheeks when overheated. (The device would work just as well on feet and face, but the hand is simply the most convenient place.)

By reducing body core temperature, the device, which costs about $2,500, lowers the risk of heat-related illnesses and improves an athlete's recovery time. It has proved effective in reducing heat-related cramping in athletes as well, said Attaway.

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