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First wearable health sensor for monitoring muscle atrophy

Researchers at The Ohio State University have fabricated the first wearable sensor designed to detect and monitor muscle atrophy.

A condition involving the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, muscle atrophy can happen for a variety of reasons, but is typically a side effect of degenerative disease, aging or muscle disuse. 

While physicians currently rely on MRI to assess whether a patient’s muscle size and volume have deteriorated, frequent testing can be time-consuming and costly.

However, this new study published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering suggests that an electromagnetic sensor made out of conductive “e-threads'” could be used as an alternative to frequent monitoring using MRI.

To validate their work, researchers fabricated 3D-printed limb molds and filled them with ground beef to simulate the calf tissue of an average-sized human subject. Their findings showed that they were able to demonstrate the sensor could measure small-scale volume changes in overall limb size, and monitor muscle loss of up to 51%. 

“Ideally, our proposed sensor could be used by health care providers to more personally implement treatment plans for patients and to create less of a burden on the patient themselves,” said Allyanna Rice, lead author of the study and a graduate fellow in electrical and computer engineering at The Ohio State University. Allyanna Rice

The first known approach to monitoring muscle atrophy using a wearable device, the study builds on Rice’s previous work in creating health sensors for NASA. The space agency is interested in monitoring the health of astronauts in a variety of ways, as spending large amounts of time in space can often have detrimental effects on the human body.

Researchers have spent decades trying to understand and combat these effects, and this study was inspired by the goal of finding solutions to health issues facing astronauts. 

For instance, while scientists know that even crew members on short spaceflights can experience up to a 20% loss in muscle mass and bone density, there isn’t much data on what effect living in space for much longer missions could have on their bodies, Rice said.

“Our sensor is something that an astronaut on a long mission or a patient at home could use to keep track of their health without the help of a medical professional,” she said.

But creating a wearable device capable of accurately measuring minute muscle changes in the human body is easier said than done. Rice and her co-author Asiminia Kiourti, a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State, designed the device to work by employing two coils, one that transmits and one that receives, as well as a conductor made out of e-threads that run along the fabric in a distinct zig-zag pattern. 

Though the final product resembles a blood pressure cuff, Rice said it was originally a challenge to find a pattern that would allow for a wide range of changes to the size of the sensor’s loop so it would be able to fit a large portion of the population.

“When we first proposed the sensor, we didn’t realize that we would need a stretchable material until we realized that the person’s limbs were going to be changing,” she said. “We need a sensor that can change and flex, but it also needs to be conformal.”

After some trial and error, they found that while sewing in a straight line would limit the sleeve’s elasticity, a zig-zag pattern was ideal for amplifying it. This same novel pattern is the reason the sensor may be scalable across multiple different body parts or even several locations on the same limb. 

Though the wearable is still years away from implementation, the study notes that the next major leap would most likely be to connect the device to a mobile app, one that could be used to record and deliver health information directly to health care providers.

And to improve life for future patients both on Earth and in space, Rice is looking forward to combining the sensor with other kinds of devices for detecting and monitoring health issues, such as a tool for detecting bone loss.  

“In the future, we would like to integrate more sensors and even more capabilities with our wearable,” Rice said. 

This work was supported by NASA. 

Ohio State petitions U.S. Supreme Court to preserve statute of limitations, Title IX

The Ohio State University today (March 14) filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court asking the justices to review a divided decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in order to preserve the statute of limitations for Title IX claims, which is foundational to the nation’s shared rule of law, and affirm the scope of federal education protections under Title IX.   

The petition asks the court to overturn a divided ruling by the Sixth Circuit that effectively eliminates the statute of limitations for Title IX, allowing claims that are decades old to move forward, and potentially expands Title IX to anyone who steps foot on a campus – even the 100,000 visitors to a football stadium on game day. Four judges on the Sixth Circuit disagreed with that ruling or expressly urged the Supreme Court to review it.  

Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the Sixth Circuit’s ruling will negatively impact educational institutions that accept federal funds and are subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments, as well as students of these institutions.  

The Ohio State petition asks the Supreme Court to: 

  • Uphold its commitment to statutes of limitations that begin when an injury occurs  not decades later.  
  • Preserve Title IX’s protection of students who are denied educational opportunities or benefits – rather than individuals who visit campuses for other reasons, such as to attend sporting events.  

“If left to stand, [the ruling] will produce enormous uncertainty for educational institutions as well as victims of alleged abuse on the accrual of Title IX claims, and effectively penalize schools for investigating decades-old conduct,” the petition says. 

Ohio State’s petition does not question survivors’ accounts of sexual abuse by former Ohio State doctor Richard Strauss and does not diminish Ohio State’s commitment to supporting survivors. Strauss was employed by Ohio State from 1978 to 1998 as a physician treating students, primarily student-athletes. He died in 2005. Ohio State has led the effort to investigate and expose Strauss’ abuse and the university’s failure at the time to prevent it, and the university has reached settlement agreements with nearly 300 survivors, more than half the plaintiffs. 

“Ohio State condemns the reprehensible conduct underlying these lawsuits, has committed substantial resources to preventing and addressing sexual misconduct on campus, and is a fundamentally different institution today than it was 25 years ago,” the petition states.  

In March 2018, Ohio State received a report from a former student-athlete about sexual abuse by Strauss decades earlier. Ohio State took the allegations seriously and acted immediately. Less than one week later, Ohio State announced an investigation and notified the Columbus Division of Police. Perkins Coie LLP was retained to conduct an external, independent investigation.

Since February 2019, the university has covered the cost of professionally certified counseling services and other medical treatment to Strauss survivors and their families for as long as needed. It has also reimbursed costs for pre-existing counseling and treatment related to Strauss. This is offered through Praesidium, which has extensive experience providing confidential and sensitive support services. No contact with the university is required, and Praesidium will not share identifying information with Ohio State. The university will continue to cover the full cost of counseling services and provide other forms of institutional support even as it pursues this case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Additional details are available on the Strauss investigation webpage.

The university has embraced and enhanced stringent compliance standards separate and apart from its response to Strauss. Over the past 25 years, Ohio State has made robust changes to its culture and policies to protect students, faculty and staff. A comprehensive list of initiatives over the past 25 years is available on the university’s Office of Institutional Equity website.  

Although the two-year statute of limitations had long expired, Ohio State offered survivors the opportunity to settle their lawsuits for substantial amounts.    

The majority of the survivors settled their claims. Ohio State provided more than $60 million to 296 individuals through a trauma-informed approach that did not require survivors to prove they were harmed through any litigation process such as discovery or depositions. Ohio State has sincerely and persistently tried to reconcile with survivors through monetary and non-monetary means, and all male students who filed lawsuits have been offered the opportunity to settle. The remaining plaintiffs who were male students rejected monetary offers and continue to pursue their legal claims.    

A federal trial court dismissed those claims in 2021 because the two-year statute of limitations had long ago expired.    

But in a divided decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last year ruled that the cases could move forward, effectively extending the statute of limitations by decades. The Sixth Circuit ruling also expanded Title IX protections to non-students.  

Four judges of the Sixth Circuit either disagreed with that decision or expressly invited the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, as Ohio State is now requesting.   

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that statutes of limitations are not simply technicalities but are vital to the legal system. They have been upheld by justices from Antonin Scalia to Sonia Sotomayor.    

Last year, seven universities that collectively educate 200,000 students joined Ohio State in petitioning the Sixth Court to reconsider its decision and preserve the two-year statute of limitations and Title IX’s focus on students.  

“By effectively eviscerating the statute of limitations for Title IX claims, the panel’s opinion puts schools in the impossible position of being forced to defend against claims where the only evidence remaining may well be the plaintiff’s say-so,” they wrote in the amici curiae brief.   

If the Supreme Court grants the petition, it would hear the case during its next term, which begins in October, and likely issue a ruling in 2024. If the Supreme Court does not review the case, it will be remanded back to the trial court for further legal proceedings. 

Ohio State continues to commit resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct, including policies, programs, staffing and tools. Anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct while at Ohio State and the incident involved another student or university employee is encouraged to report to the Office of Institutional Equity, the university’s anonymous reporting service or law enforcement. 

Those who have experienced sexual misconduct outside of Ohio State should contact local law enforcement. Additional resources include: 

  • If you reside in the Columbus, Ohio, area, advocates from SARNCO can assist you in reporting, explain the investigation process and support you. SARNCO’s confidential, 24/7 support hotline is 614-267-7020.
  • If you do not reside in the Columbus area, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, a confidential, 24/7 resource, at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). You can also visit the website to chat live with a representative. Advocates will help you find a resource in your community. 

Current Ohio State students seeking additional support services can contact the Office of Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Service, while faculty and staff can access support resources through the Employee Assistance Program.