Nebraska football will use high-tech pills to monitor players

Nebraska football will use high-tech pills to monitor players
Posted 6/12/2006 4:59 PM ET E-mail | Print |
Nebraska football players warm up in Lincoln, Neb., prior to the first day of spring practice. The team will use NASA technology to monitor the body temperatures of players.
Enlarge By Nati Harnik, AP

Nebraska football players warm up in Lincoln, Neb., prior to the first day of spring practice. The team will use NASA technology to monitor the body temperatures of players.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Starting this week, the Nebraska football team will be using the same technology NASA uses to monitor the body temperature of astronauts in space to protect players during the heat of summer.
The swallowable capsules house coils, circuits and a battery. The capsules transmit a low-frequency radio signal that varies with a patient’s body temperature, and the information being picked up by a hand-held recorder.

“We’re just trying to maintain a proactive approach, especially in the summer months when the humidity and heat index begin to build,” said Husker head coach Bill Callahan. “You can’t be too careful, in my opinion.”

In June and July, Nebraska players work out without pads in preparation for the official start of training camp in early August. At times during these often rigorous sessions, players’ body temperatures soar to potentially dangerous levels.

“If there’s a way to find that out immediately, that can be extremely helpful,” said Dr. Lonnie Albers, Nebraska’s director of athletic medicine.

Hence the pill sensors that a handful of college and pro teams have used in the last few years and that Nebraska is using for the first time. The pill measures core body temperature as it passes through the digestive system, and it typically stays in the system 20 to 36 hours.

During workouts, a trainer scans players with a device that resembles a television remote control and records the core temperature. If a player is overheating, the device sends a warning signal.

The NFL Jacksonville Jaguars use the CorTemp monitoring system for players who encountered past heat-related problems or appear to be at risk because of an existing medical condition or other factors that might elevate risk.

Albers said Nebraska plans to do something similar, and about a dozen Nebraska players will take the pills starting this week. Albers declined to name the players the team plans to monitor.

Callahan said he read about the technology while reviewing Nebraska’s protocol for managing heat-related issues in practice.

As Albers studied the same literature, he noticed several examples of players who exhibited no symptoms during workouts but had dangerous core body temperatures.

“That’s an extremely risky situation,” Albers said. “With this technology, you have the ability to pull the player from the workout before it becomes a full-blown heat issue, and you can get the player in a cold tank immediately and then watch them closely.”

Albers said CorTemp pill sensors — which cost about $30 apiece — appear to be more accurate gauging core body temperature than regular oral thermometers.

“Really, in this type of situation, the only accurate thermometer in the past has been the rectal thermometer, and that’s unpleasant for the patient and the monitoring person, and very inconvenient,” he said.

Florida-based HQ manufactures and distributes CorTemp. The company acquired the patent and licensing rights from NASA to market the pill in the mid-1980s.

Sports teams started using CorTemp only in the last few years in response to growing concern about heat illness in athletes.

According to HQ officials, at least 30,000 people have taken the pill with no side effects or incidents.

“I think it gives everyone reassurance that we’re doing everything we can to try to avoid a situation where a person develops a heat emergency,” Albers said. “And I think it gives our strength coaches more confidence that they can be aggressive in their efforts to acclimate players to the heat, while knowing everything’s being done to monitor those who might be at risk.”

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star

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