New sports technology provides a GPS alternative

Instead SABEL Labs has developed SABEL Sense, an alternative to GPS for tracking running speeds and distances and which is set to be a game changer in the sports performance and wearable technology industries.

SABEL Sense is timely, as sporting organisations in particular consider their options. The AFL recently announced it had switched its GPS provider.

SABEL Labs project manager and research fellow Dr Jono Neville developed a model which presents accelerometers as a viable alternative to GPS in the quest for improved athlete assessment techniques.

His research, titled ‘A model for comparing over-ground running speed and accelerometer derived step rate in elite level athletes’, is detailed in Sensors Journal, which is currently published online and will be in print next month.

Dr Neville said while Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are an important tool for workload management, the devices have limitations when it comes to changes in speed and direction and when they are used indoors, due to their reliance on external satellites.

He said he compared inertial sensor data with GPS data, collected simultaneously from Brisbane Lions AFL players during 2009, to create a model which was highly accurate for running speeds.

“There is a driving need for emerging technology like this in the sports performance industry,” the microelectronic engineer said.

“When it comes to frequent and rapid changes in speed and distance, GPS just doesn’t cut it, although it’s still the most widely used technology.

“We have found a data processing technique which allows us to extract data from an athlete and create an individualised model. “

Dr Neville said his technology will be key in monitoring training and game workloads.

“This will assist in preventing things such as over-training, which is a major concern for elite athletes, to reduce risk of injury.”

Dr Neville said individualised models are created automatically using SABEL Sense technology which can then be used to track speeds and distances.

First study of effects of Ultraman competitions

But what is all of that work really doing to your body?

A team of Florida State researchers is trying to find out.

“These people are at the peak of fitness, but what they are doing is incredibly hard on the body,” said Mike Ormsbee, assistant professor of exercise science and director of the Institute for Sports Sciences and Medicine.

Ormsbee is leading the first group of scientists to look at how the human body responds to the endurance competition known as the Ultraman.

The Ultraman is a three-day competition designed to test an athlete’s physical and mental endurance. The first day is a 6.2-mile open swim, followed by a 90-mile bike ride. The second day is a 172-mile bike ride. And the third day is a double marathon — a 52.4-mile run.

And for 20 competitors at February’s Ultraman Florida event — 15 men and 5 women — they also spent mornings stepping on a scale, giving urine samples and pricking their fingers so that Ormsbee, accompanied by graduate students Chris Bach and Dan Baur and undergraduate student Will Hyder, could analyze body composition, glucose levels and other physiological changes. Their sample included Florida State alumnus Chris Clark, the first type 1 diabetic to ever finish the race.

“We’d analyze the person on the spot,” Ormsbee said. “We looked at everything we could — weight, body composition, glucose and hormone levels.”

The immediate effect of the competition on the body was somewhat startling, the researchers said.

Prostate cancer: Unexpected results from international Phase III study

The “Urological Tumors” working group at MedUni Vienna’s Department of Medicine I in Vienna General Hospital is known to oncologists throughout the world as a research team with recognized expertise in the modern treatment of prostate cancer. In 2012, the team was therefore invited to participate in an international study for a new drug (cabozantinib) for the treatment of advanced — so-called castration-resistant — prostate cancer. Michael Krainer, Head of the Urological Tumors working group and currently working as Visiting Scholar in the USA at the invitation of MGH, had the following to say about the results: “Although, in most cases, cabozantinib increased the overall survival of the patients by one to two months, this effect was not statistically significant when compared with the current standard treatment. This surprised us, in so far as the Phase II studies had shown clear improvements for patients in many areas.”

Cabozantinib is an orally administered inhibitor of certain cellular signaling pathways (such as that of receptor tyrosine kinase MET and that of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), which are closely associated with the development and progression of prostate cancer. And, indeed, initial clinical studies showed that the administration of cabozantinib had a beneficial effect upon the course of the disease for prostate cancer patients: patients’ progression-free survival was prolonged and their quality of life improved.

Prostate cancer treatment rates drop, reflecting change in screening recommendations

The decline reflects efforts to decrease overdiagnosis and overtreatment — preventing some unnecessary treatments that can cause long-term impact on quality of life, while still providing life-saving care to patients who need it.

But among those who are diagnosed, only 8 percent fewer are getting initial surgery or radiation treatments — even as data shows those with low-risk disease can substitute surveillance.

“It’s not entirely surprising: Primary care doctors who perform the majority of screening were the target audience of U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines recommending against screening. But the specialists who treat prostate cancer once it’s diagnosed had a more tempered response,” says study author Tudor Borza, M.D., M.S., a urologic oncology and health services research fellow at Michigan Medicine.

In a study published in Health Affairs, Michigan Medicine researchers used Medicare claims data to identify 67,023 men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer between 2007 and 2012. Nearly three-quarters of those men had initial curative treatment, such as surgery or radiation.

In comparing overall treatment rates from 2007 till 2012, researchers found a sharp decrease of 42 percent, reflecting a change in screening recommendations and adoption of surveillance strategies in select groups of men. In 2008, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised against routine screening in men older than 75. By 2011, a recommendation came out against all PSA screening. However, specialty societies, such as the American Urological Association, continued to advocate for screening in men who were most likely to benefit.

How cancer’s ‘invisibility cloak’ works

“The immune system is efficient at identifying and halting the emergence and spread of primary tumors but when metastatic tumors appear, the immune system is no longer able to recognize the cancer cells and stop them,” said Wilfred Jefferies, senior author of the study working in the Michael Smith Laboratories and a professor of Medical Genetics and Microbiology and Immunology at UBC.

“We discovered a new mechanism that explains how metastatic tumors can outsmart the immune system and we have begun to reverse this process so tumors are revealed to the immune system once again.”

Cancer cells genetically change and evolve over time. Researchers discovered that as they evolve, they may lose the ability to create a protein known as interleukein-33, or IL-33. When IL-33 disappears in the tumor, the body’s immune system has no way of recognizing the cancer cells and they can begin to spread, or metastasize.

The researchers found that the loss of IL-33 occurs in epithelial carcinomas, meaning cancers that begin in tissues that line the surfaces of organs. These cancers include prostate, kidney breast, lung, uterine, cervical, pancreatic, skin and many others.

Working in collaboration with researchers at the Vancouver Prostate Centre, and studying several hundred patients, they found that patients with prostate or renal (kidney) cancers whose tumors have lost IL-33, had more rapid recurrence of their cancer over a five-year period. They will now begin studying whether testing for IL-33 is an effective way to monitor the progression of certain cancers.

“IL-33 could be among the first immune biomarkers for prostate cancer and, in the near future, we are planning to examine this in a larger sample size of patients,” said Iryna Saranchova, a PhD student in the department of microbiology and immunology and first author on the study.

Researchers have long tried to use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer but only in the last few years have they identified treatments that show potential.

In this study Saranchova, Jefferies and their colleagues at the Michael Smith Laboratories, found that putting IL-33 back into metastatic cancers helped revive the immune system’s ability to recognize tumors. Further research will examine whether this could be an effective cancer treatment in humans.

This study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Family friendly skiing at La Plagne, France

La Plagne, in the Tarentaise Valley of the French Alps, is probably the world’s most popular family friendly ski resort. Many are attracted by its vast ski area and its myriad of beginner and intermediate runs and the choice of affordable apartments and villas.

The resort was born in the 1960s, with a bold new post war vision of giant Alpine complexes to provide affordable ski holidays, but these ended up no bigger than rabbit warrens amid vast acreages of linked ski slopes.

Decades later, these tiny apartments were knocked into larger units and nine satelite villages were developed. One of which is former farming village, Montchavin – my base for the duration of my stay.

Montchavin les Coches (c) Phillippe Royer

In recent years La Plagne has been connected by a spectacular cable car with neighbouring Les Arcs – the Vanoise Express. It spans a valley that is 1,800m wide and 380m deep and forms the vast ski and snowboard playground marketed as Paradiski.

It sits between enormous linked ski areas – the Espace Killy (Val d’Isère-Tignes) and the Trois Vallees, which comprises resorts including Meribel and Courchevel. At its heart is the original, 45 years-old development now known as Plagne Centre.

Its great advantage was (and still is) that it allowed visitors to ski from and back to its doors. The flattish snowfield outside, the so called Front de Neige, with its cat’s cradle of lifts heading in all directions, can be so busy it gives the impression that if you sat long enough at one of its outside tables someone you know would eventually come gliding past.

Paradiski (c) T. Shu

Paradiski is claimed to be the world’s second biggest ski area connected by lifts. It has some 265 miles of pistes, and with more than two-thirds of its skiing over 6500 feet.

A great advantage of La Plagne is the large amount of blue rated intermediate cruising, on long and unthreatening slopes. Unthreatening, that is, on groomed powder. If you’re unlucky enough to catch them when they are hard and icy, head for steeper red or black pistes, for the easy terrain tends to attract skiers whose compulsion to bomb down exceeds their abilities.

Montchavin panoramic view (c) Phillippe Royer

Experts may wish to head for Roche de Mio for its 2,700m of challenging runs or the Bellecôte Glacier for black pistes and the opportunity to go off-piste.

And you can always take the cable car to Les Arcs, you don’t have to journey far to find a clutch of similarly moreish descents above Vallandry.

Funiplagne (c) Elina Sirparanta

Skiing back to Montchavin – it lies at only around 4100 feet – can be tricky. In warm conditions I found the snow to be heavy as wet sugar. But you can always wimp out and catch the gondola down the last stretch.

The resort certainly has its charms with a lovely range of pistes and gives the impression of being a sort of Metropolis on snow that is worthy of its popularity.

Note: This is a vast area so it may be worth downloading the Paradiski app, Yuge, so that you know where the queues are and anticipated waiting times. There’s also a digital piste map, weather forecasts, ski itineraries and tracking information.

Where to eat: Les Cocottes offers commendable cooking, pleasant service and not bad prices – though unless the £ recovers from its post Brexit vote slump you’ll need to allow about £25 – £30 a head.

Where to stay: a double room at the Hotel Bellecôte for a week between late January and early February costs between €130 and €150 a night for b&b.

Tour firms offering holidays at the hotel include Erna Low and Ski Solutions. Peak Retreats also offers holidays to Montchavin.

For more information on La Plagne go to

Header image by Ola Matsson

New Insights Into Side Effects Can Help Prostate Cancer Patients Choose Treatments

In the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study examines quality-of-life outcomes for the treatment choices most patients will face. Those choices include active surveillance, radical prostatectomy, external beam radiation treatment, and brachytherapy, a treatment that involves inserting radioactive seeds into the prostate. “Patients diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer — and that’s the vast majority of patients with this disease — face many treatment options that are thought to be similarly efficacious,” said Ronald C. Chen, MD, MPH, UNC Lineberger member and associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology. “Therefore, the quality-of-life differences among these options become an important consideration when patients are trying to make their decisions.”

The study is needed as prostate cancer treatment technologies have advanced, and as active surveillance has emerged as an important strategy for sparing low-risk prostate cancer patients unnecessary side effects. Active surveillance involves regular testing to check for cancer growth rather than immediate treatment, and many patients with low-risk prostate cancer on active surveillance may be able to avoid treatment for several years or altogether. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has endorsed active surveillance for most men with low-risk prostate cancer.

“There has not been a large-scale comparison of the quality-of-life impact for these modern options, until now,” Chen said. “Existing quality of life studies have studied older types of surgery and radiation that are no longer used, and patients need updated information regarding the impact of modern treatment options so they can make informed decisions about the choices they face today.”

Getting the jump on competitors: athletes’ focus determines winning jump

Dr Daniel Greenwood, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, with support from the Queensland Academy of Sport Centre of Excellence for Applied Sport Science Research, has studied the run-ups of elite athletes in sports such as cricket, long jump, triple jump and pole vault and found the vertical objects sportspeople see at the end of the runway significantly impact their performance.

“What we have found is as athletes prepare for their run-ups, they visually focus on something at the end of the runway to help them get their foot in the right place and make their final steps accurate,” he said.

“My research has pinpointed what the visual element is that athletes use to regulate their run-up and found it is vertical objects such as judges, umpires, windsocks and spectators.

“Knowing this we have adapted our training environments to replicate the dynamic stadium environment, something that has not been standard practice until now. Most training settings are sterile, stable environments.

“We now make it part of training to have people stand in as judges, to have windsocks in sight and to have people milling around.”

Dr Greenwood said this was a breakthrough finding and was being used to better train Queensland Academy of Sport athletes prior to competition.

As part of his PhD research, the sports biomechanist tested his theory by working closely with elite athletes connected to the Queensland Academy of Sport and Athletics Australia national jump centre based in Brisbane.

“I have been working with Robbie Crowther (long jump) and Henry Frayne (long jump) who recently competed at the Commonwealth Games, and also Olympic long jump medalist Mitchel Watt and Olympic champion hurdler Sally Pearson since 2010, as well as a host of world junior track and field athletes,” Dr Greenwood said.

“What this has allowed me to do is test my research in a practical environment.”

Dr Greenwood used specialised analysis methods to show when there was no vertical reference point in view, athletes made about 80 per cent of their adjustments to running behaviour in the final stages of their run-up, compared to just 40 per cent when there was a vertical object in view.

“This is a critical finding because we want athletes to make most of their adjustments in the early stages of their run-up, so their performance is less likely to be impacted with late stepping changes,” he said.

“We also found that athletes who can master their first run-up perform better in competition. For example, a study of competition winners in long jump over a 10 year period, found 85 per cent led their competition from their first jump.”

“This shows getting the run-up right quickly is vital to performance in competition.”

Dr Greenwood said athletes were also being trained to embrace a changing environment where movement is part of the competition.

“We are educating our athletes that every run-up is not the same and they have to deal with that, then it is less likely that these changes will impact their performance on competition day.”