Brave New Body

The future of human performance     Photo: Illustrations by Bryan Christie

EYES
Robovision is coming soon. In 2009, surgeons at Columbia University Medical Center in New York implanted an electronic retina in the eye of a blind woman, allowing her to "see" through a video camera mounted on eyeglasses. A microprocessor converted the digital feed to electronic signals and sent them to the retina, which stimulated neurons in her visual cortex to create mental images.

LUNGS
Time to become a better breather. In a 2010 study at Indiana University, cyclists puffed into a handheld machine that huffed back, providing respiratory resistance and strengthening the diaphragm. After six weeks, the riders required up to 4 percent less oxygen to pedal at a given pace. Respiratory-training devices of varying quality are already available and could soon show up at your local gym.

SKIN
Researchers at Stanford University have developed a microthin electronic hide made of pliable polymers and carbon. Nano-transistors embedded in the fabric and powered by stretchable solar-collection cells sense touch, as well as the presence of proteins that might indicate disease. The material will probably be used in clothing first but could someday replace damaged skin.

STOMACH
Fasted training—avoiding carbohydrates before and during a workout—is a sports-nutrition fad with solid scientific support. In a six-week study in January, cyclists who rode without eating converted fat to fuel much more efficiently than cyclists who ate before and during training. The fasted riders also maintained even blood-sugar levels during long rides, while cyclists accustomed to eating experienced abrupt drops in blood sugar when forced to go without. The benefits could be especially significant during races, when many athletes eat sparingly or not at all.

MUSCLES
Scientists at the University of Colorado may have found a fountain of youth for muscles. Typically, once you pass 30 your muscles are slower to repair themselves, so they don't recover as well after workouts or gain strength as effectively during training. But when researchers injected stem cells from the muscles of healthy mice into mice with injured leg muscles, not only did the injuries heal rapidly but the muscles remained vigorous for the rest of the mice's lives. The scientists are now hoping to test the procedure with humans.

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