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Slam Dunk: How GE’s Innovations Are Helping Athletes

Liz Wishaw
August 21, 2019
It takes blood, sweat and hours of training to become an elite-level athlete. And GE has found ways to improve athletes’ performance by creating technology that supports their achievements to reach the top. 3D printing, portable ultrasounds, data analysis and partnerships with the NBA are just a small part of that innovation.
Read more about these technological advancements for the sports world that GE is pioneering:


They’re Bulletproof: Taking Aim With Titanium Limbs 

 width= Top image: “I remember walking on the beach with my father as a little kid, and we never saw plastic,” Ben Lecomte says. Image credit: Ben Lecomte. Above: Anna Grimaldi competes in the women’s long jump final at the World Para Athletics Championships in London in July 2017. Image credit: Shaun Brooks/Action Plus via Getty Images.

New Zealand Paralympic athletes Anna Grimaldi and Holly Robinson can now get a solid grip during their weight training sessions, thanks to Zenith Tecnica, an Auckland-based company that specializes in a type of additive manufacturing known as electron beam melting (EBM). The company is using 3D printers built by Arcam EBM, a company that is part of GE Additive, to create custom attachments strong enough to grip a barbell. It will allow these athletes to improve upon their strength training for future World Championships. The technology works by building an object layer by layer, in this case fusing titanium powder together at a faster rate and with more energy than past laser-style models. And in this case, it took just two hours to process the CAD file of Grimaldi’s prosthetic arm and then 10 hours to print it, says Bruno Le Razer, Zenith Tecnica’s business development manager.


An Endurance Swim Brings Attention To Plastic Pollution 

 width= Ben Lecomte’s team is traveling with a laptop-size ultrasound system from GE Healthcare called the Vivid iq — the same technology used on the International Space Station to image blood vessels around the eye and help NASA track changes in astronaut vision. Image credit: The Longest Swim.

French-born American endurance athlete Ben Lecomte decided to bring attention to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in 2018 by swimming from Tokyo to Hawaii across the Pacific Ocean to support the cause. Six months and 1,523 nautical miles later, he achieved his goal. His route took him directly through the massive garbage patch in the middle of the ocean. “I have children now, and I’m worried about how the pollution will affect them,” Lecomte said before the swim. Keeping tabs on Lecomte’s health during this epic undertaking: Vivid iq, a laptop-sized ultrasound system from GE Healthcare. It’s the same technology used on the International Space Station to image blood vessels around the eye and help NASA track changes in astronaut vision. By monitoring Lecomte’s cardiac activity, cardiologists were able to collect data to better understand how this swim affected his heart and analyze it with additional GE technology to measure strain and assess heart tissue function.


Crash Prevention: Software Works To Make Luge Track Safer 

 width= Designed by GE Healthcare in partnership with the IOC, the AMS system allows doctors to access Olympic participants’ medical, venue and sport-specific records, and track their treatment. Image credit: Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images.

In late 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) noticed a high amount of crashes during a luge track test event for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, held a few months later. But thanks to GE Healthcare’s Athlete Management Solution (AMS), doctors and the IOC were able to quickly spot where and what was causing those crashes — a specific turn, which featured a hard left followed almost immediately by a hard right. “We were able to respond quickly because of a peak in the data,” says Ray Bender, one of the product managers in charge of the AMS program for GE. Because it is a cloud-based system, more than 500 doctors and trainers were able to access and input data from a laptop or tablet regardless of whether they were on the slopes, at the clinic or in a local hospital. And using this analytics tool helped them predict possible injuries and illnesses as well as personalize the treatment for the 2,900 athletes competing — and it was available in nine languages.

This wasn’t the first partnership between the IOC and GE Healthcare. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, doctors used GE Healthcare’s electronic medical record system, the Centricity Practice Solution, to track athletes’ medical conditions. The system noticed that swimmers were seeking relief for eye irritation at unusual rates. Doctors were able to alert organizers, who discovered the pool’s chlorine levels were too high, Bender says.


No Bones About It: Solving The NBA’s Stress Fracture Issue

 width= An image of a left foot with a 5th metatarsal fracture from repetitive stress injuries. X-ray courtesy of TRIA® Orthopaedic Center.

Play a lot of basketball and you may experience a lower extremity injury. Bone stress, tendon and muscle injuries can be a challenge for elite-level basketball players, and GE Healthcare has teamed up with the NBA to fund multimillion-dollar research projects — currently 17 studies are funded — alike. For example, Dr. John DiFiori, the NBA’s director of sports medicine, says musculoskeletal injuries range in severity and that in some cases, healing them can be a clinical challenge. “When bone stress injuries occur, they typically result in a significant loss of playing time,” he says. And certain injuries can be difficult to diagnose, leading to the end of a career on the court for some players. It’s why better research is so important to detect and treat these injuries early on, DiFiori says. Five proposals have been funded — with plans to incorporate imaging techniques to gain further insight — on how to improve bone stress injury prevention, explore early-diagnosis techniques and develop innovative treatment protocols.


Tools To Target Health And Performance

 width= DXA technology provides insight into health and athletic performance, and allows doctors to analyze changes in body composition over time. Image credit: GE Healthcare.

For highly trained athletes, even a small change in body composition can significantly affect performance. Body composition monitoring provides valuable information that athletes and their trainers can use to adjust diet and training regimens. Body composition measurement helps establish a starting point and a target, helping any athlete to pursue a specific goal. DXA technology measures body composition and offers a convenient method adopted by top researchers and professionals in the sports performance and metabolic health industries. DXA body composition systems provide insights into health and athletic performance for athletes, such as measuring the distribution of fat and lean mass throughout the body or analyzing changes in body composition over time to help sports medicine professionals monitor the impact of training and dietary programs of their athletes.