Muscle loss is common with aging. However, if young people start to lose a noticeable amount of muscle mass, the situation may point to many underlying diseases. And for the fitness enthusiasts out there, the deficit is nothing short of a nightmare.

So far, doctors have relied on MRIs to measure the lapses, but it’s time-consuming as well as expensive, to say the least. Now, a team of researchers at the Ohio State University has come up with a cost-effective and reliable solution--a health sensor designed to detect and monitor muscle atrophy.

According to a new study published in the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, an electromagnetic sensor made out of conductive “e-threads” could be a potent alternative to an MRI in regard to muscle loss detection. As part of their research, the scientists created a 3D-printed limb model and filled it with ground beef to mimic the original muscles. They found that the device could detect small amounts of volume changes in the overall limb size, as well as could monitor muscle loss up to 51%.

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

The first-known approach to monitor muscle mass was in line with Rice’s earlier work, which involved creating health sensors for NASA. The sensors helped the agency with monitoring the health of their astronauts on a space mission, according to a news release by OSU.

Rice said it was a difficult road for them to develop a device that conveniently measures muscle atrophy. Rice and co-author Asiminia Kiourti, a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State, designed the device 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 zig-zag pattern, which was proven to be the most effective one in measuring sensor across different parts of the body and limbs.

In the end, the device ended up looking like a blood pressure cuff. This is surely going to be an ambitious project though, it’s years away from implementation, as Rice is hoping to connect the wearable with other health devices to detect and monitor a wider range of health issues as well as to link the device to a mobile app, as it will make the job of healthcare providers a whole lot easier.