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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
'Cool glove' helps athletes keep going
Flora London marathon
Marathon runners often hit a "wall"
Exhausted athletes could be helped to finish a race with a high-tech glove.

The device has been designed by US researchers, who say it can prevent athletes becoming tired and overheated by rapidly cooling their internal organs.

When a person is active, they are kept cool by diverting blood from deep inside the body to just beneath the skin of the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet.

As the blood is pumped through these vessels, it loses heat through the skin, meaning internal organs do not become overheated.

As a former long-distance runner, it wouldn't have appealed to me

Bill Adcocks, UK Athletics
But this means there is less blood available to carry oxygen to the muscles which then cannot work as hard.

This lack of energy is often described as "hitting the wall".

The glove, or Rapid Thermal Exchange, created by researchers from Stanford University in California, is designed to cool the body's organs without the need for blood to be diverted away from the muscles.

They say it could also help runners or cyclists who have to pull out of races because of heat exhaustion who could use the glove and then rejoin the race.

Blood flow

It is made up of a chamber containing a water-cooled steel plate.

The athlete puts their hand into the chamber, which has a seal around the wrist and a pump which creates a slight vacuum inside.

This helps increase the blood flow to the hand while the steel plate draws heat from the blood circulating through the hand.

The researchers say the cooled blood then flows back to the heart and is recirculated, cooling organs by up to 3C.

In tests, eight professional cyclists wore the glove during a 30 kilometre time trial on exercise bikes in the laboratory.

On average, they cycled 6% faster with the glove than without it.

Others who used the glove while weight training found the glove enabled them to manage around 20% more repetitions of bench presses.

Energy lapse

Julian Nikolchev, president of Avacore Technologies in Palo Alto, California which has been licensed to market the glove, says it could also have medical uses, such as cooling the bodies of people to reduce the damage caused by heart attacks or strokes.

He said it could also be used to increase the effectiveness of cancer therapy because cancer cells are more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation at higher temperatures.

The glove has already been approved by the US Food and Drugs Administration for regulating body temperature.

But Bill Adcocks, an information officer for UK Athletics and a former Olympic marathon runner, cast doubt on how effective the glove could be in helping athletes.

"When the blood circulates back to the heart, the length of vessels it goes through exceeds what it goes through in the hand. It would heat up very quickly."

He said the "wall" that runners hit was linked to oxygen levels in the muscles, but more particularly glycogen levels. "People just run out of energy."

Mr Adcocks said: "I wouldn't wish to pour cold water on this totally, but as a former long-distance runner, it wouldn't have appealed to me."

See also:

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