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Tracking muscles on the run: ProbeFix S world premier at Eindhoven Marathon

Oct 12, 2016 12:38:15 PM. By: High Tech Campus

The Eindhoven Marathon had a world premier last Sunday.  It was the first time a moving muscle was observed with ultrasound technology during prolonged exercise.

Science journalist Hidde Tangerman had the honour of being the test subject, as he ran the half-marathon with an ultrasound transducer strapped to his leg. He shares his personal experience below.

It’s always nice to be first in something. After last Sunday I can proudly I say that I am the first human being to have run a half-marathon while my leg muscle was being monitored by an ultrasound transducer. It sounds like a Guinness World Record, and I think it should be.

Ultrasound is pretty standard procedure in hospitals as a quick and non-invasive way to observe muscle tissue and organs. The MedTech startup Usono, located at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, wants to take ultrasound out of the hospital and into our daily life. Their goal is to make ultrasound available for everyone. Usono believes that being able to observe our muscles in real-time will help with injury prevention, recovery and rehabilitation.

To do this they developed a product called the ProbeFix S, which is basically a high-tech strap housing a mobile ultrasound transducer. The strap can be tied to any part of the body, with the transducer pressed to the skin to monitor the moving muscle. The image is sent to a smartphone, allowing you to see your own muscle from the inside. Usono hopes that early warning signals for muscle tears, strains and other injuries can be spotted before the injury actually happens. They started a fundraising campaign on Leapfunder to meet these goals.

Sci-fi movie
I met the guys from Usono in a hotel near the start of the half-marathon to get wired up for the test. They were all pretty excited about their world premier. Loving both technology and running, I was excited too.

It took some tweaking to properly fix the ProbeFix S to my right leg, as it had to stay fixed there for 21.1 kilometers. When all the straps had been applied, I was ready to go. With the transducer bulging on my right leg I had the distinct feeling of being an actor in a sci-fi movie. “You look like a robot,” chuckled Usono’s co-founder and CEO Benjamin Tchang.

It was pretty awesome to see my own muscle on my smartphone screen. It looked like the surface of a dark sea dotted with little waves. If I moved my leg, the little waves on the screen would move and crash as well. It was live, it was real, it was my own muscle. And I wasn’t even near a hospital.

When the race started I was surprised at how free I was in my movements. Despite the size and the amount of straps, the ProbeFix S felt pretty solid. At every kilometer of the race I activated the transducer via the smartphone app, which made a 10 second live ultrasound video of my moving thigh muscle. The Usono boys were on their bikes and followed me for most of the race, armed with backup material in case something went wrong.

But nothing went wrong. I finished the race with no hiccups and 21 short video’s on my phone, which were uploaded to laptops right away. 21 images of a dark sea moving and churning as if a storm was upon it. “Too bad the left side of the image is too dark,” said COO Victor Donker. “I think the gel has come loose there.”
Although it proved hard to draw conclusions from the data (Benjamin Tchang had wanted to measure the diameter of my muscle as the race progressed to see if it changed with fatigue, but the dark spots on the video prevented an accurate measurement), the boys at Usono were satisfied with the test.

“We’re very happy that the fixation was good and felt comfortable during the run,” said Tchang. “The fact that we were able to monitor a moving muscle for an hour and a half is in itself a success,” added Donker.

Actually, it was one hour and twenty minutes, thank you very much. (I do take some pride in my finishing time.)

All the way
I can see how technology of this kind could help both elite athletes and regular exercisers. Having been injured a few times myself, I would love to be able to see early warning signals in my muscle before the injury took place. And to track the progress of the muscle during recovery. Let’s hope Usono can take the technology all the way.

In the meantime I will be filling out my application for the Guinness Book of World Records.
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