Scientists at King Abdullah University Develop a Sensor That Can Warn When You Are Nearing Your Athletic Limits

Undeniably, exercising is very beneficial. However, pushing your body to the limits can be detrimental to your body. This is because when you cross the safe limits of exercising lactic acid tends to build up in the system, especially the muscles, this, in turn, does different types of damages, depending on the level of this acid in the body.

Fitness Sensor Data

Schematic showing the design of the muscle fatigue sensor. Image Courtesy of DOI: 10.1002/smtd.202100819

That said, if you’re going to exercise, you must know when you are nearing your limits, to avert the acid build-up and other ugly issues that come with it.

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How do I know I am reaching my limits?

A team of researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology developed a system that can inform us when we nearing our limits.

These researchers used Ultrathin nanomaterials [MXenes] to design an alarm system that tips the person off when they are nearing their limits. The MXenes mode of operation is by analyzing the rate of perspiration and analytes in sweat.

Essentially, the MXenes are a group of two-dimensional inorganic substances, they are made up of nontoxic transition metals nitrides, carbides, and carbonitrides. Owing to the fact that they merge the high metallic conductivity of transition metals with their hydrophilic property, they can detect little changes in chemical concentration. This makes them an excellent choice for biosensors.

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In 2019, the team led by Husam Alshareef developed a wearable armband sensor using MXene composite electrode. The MXene was laden with certain enzymes which could adsorb sweat, identify and measure different analytes like sugar and lactic acid in sweat.

Furthermore, this research team collaborated with another research team led by Sahika Inal. Together they loaded the MXene sheets with water-filled polymers called polymers that the body system can tolerate. Surprisingly, they discovered several mobile ions in the hydrogel could reflect the amount of mechanical stress a person underwent in the course of an exercise.

Alshareef commented, “Initially the MXene sheets are randomly oriented within the hydrogel, but once you apply pressure to them, the sheets become more horizontally oriented… because MXenes have a high concentration of negative charges on their surfaces, horizontal arrangements strongly affection movements within the hydrogel, and thus we can measure different levels of pressure change.”

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Simply put, this novel device uses an electrical resistance pattern to trace the degree of mechanical stress. However, with the introduction of ions from enzymes from the MXene, the resistance pattern changed immediately. This discovery made the KAUST understand that the device could help them track changes in PH from sweat to a lactic acid build-up in the muscles that can lead to fatigue.

Ex-KAUST postdoc, Kang Lee explained that as we exercise our muscles are stressed and at a point, they get tired. This set the stage for the sensor to act because the stress creates change in chemicals and concentration. Also, it generates different electrical resistance versus stress curves. These little variations here and there help the sensor tell you when you are nearing your limits. The sensor is then engineered via Bluetooth to connect to a nearby device.

Clinical significance

This device will in time become indispensable both to athletes in training, exercise physiologists, and the like. This could also be applied to other scientific fields to optimize their management as well as results.

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This technology is arguably one of the best things that happened to folks that love exercising. There is always this tendency for people to be overzealous with exercise, forgetting that there could be certain complications. The tech could be their savior.


Muscle Fatigue Sensor Based on Ti3C2Tx MXene Hydrogel



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