Saturday, December 08, 2007

Fetuses Learn to Play Sports, Bulk Up

I was browsing science news yesterday, when I stumbled upon this gem. It seems that there is company called AmnioTrainer producing “in vivo” sports training products for FETUSES! They don’t have U.S. approval yet and there is a debate about the potential hazards of the products. The company’s current products include AmnioBall Futbol and AmnioShock Strength Trainer.

AmnioBall Futbol measures 1.2 centimeters in diameter when inflated, but is inserted surgically while uninflated. Once in the womb, it is filled with the mother’s amniotic fluid so that the ball does not float or sink. A harmless strain of the E Coli bacteria genetically engineered for bioluminescence gives the ball a faint glow, encouraging the fetus to interact by grasping, punching, and kicking. 3D and 4D ultrasound images and movies posted on the company’s website seem to verify these claims. According to AB, the Futbol product will be available for implantation throughout the U.S. and Europe in mid-2008.

AmnioShock Strength Trainer uses low-current high-voltage technology similar to that used for weight loss and strength training in adults to stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing fetuses to develop superior strength and speed without the use of pharmacological agents. The Strength Trainer product will be not be immediately available in the U.S., but is available at several clinics in China and Central America. The delay in primary markets is over concerns that trial data showed a slight increase in pre-term deliveries in the study but not the control group. The “significant but not pronounced” decrease in gestation time should not be a concern, according to the company spokesperson. However, AmnioShock Strength Trainer has provoked strong criticism from a number of groups including Fetal Rights Watch and the Preschool division of the Pan Americas Youth Soccer League.

While AmnioTrainer’s methods are debatable, there seems to be no doubting the results. According to the trial results, which began in Brazil on January 8th, 2005 with 127 second trimester fetuses, the performance of two-year-old children trained with AmnioBall Futbol was on average 12 percentile points higher in kickball and 17 points higher in soccer. Results from AmnioShock were varied but showed an overall average of 34% strength gain across all major muscle groups.