Taking the Heat

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2004

How hot can you get come August? Palmetto-based HQ Inc. can give you the exact answer, thanks to an ingenious little pill it manufactures that takes your core body temperature-the true temperature of the body-rather than the skin temperature recorded by a traditional thermometer.

CorTemp is a silicon-coated pill developed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory for NASA in the mid-1980s to monitor hypothermic conditions in its space shuttle astronauts. The FDA-registered pill, no larger than a cold capsule, contains a battery, communications coil and circuit board with a quartz crystal temperature sensor that vibrates in direct proportion to the temperature outside of the pill. After being swallowed, CorTemp wirelessly transmits that core body temperature to a data recorder the size of a cigarette pack strapped to the small of the back or a belt loop. It is accurate to within plus or minus one-tenth of a degree C.

HQ Inc. bought the patent 15 years ago and started manufacturing CorTemp at its St. Petersburg plant. (The company moved to Palmetto in 2001 after it was bought by Ed Goggin, who also owns Quest Controls, a manufacturer of cell phone tower diagnostic equipment for the telecom industry. HQ Inc. and Quest Controls share facilities and purchasing, shipping and finance departments.)

Until now HQ Inc.'s biggest customers have been research institutions: the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, which tests how the sports drink cools down athletes' bodies; the United States military, which tests the effects of hazmat suits and other environmental clothing on its soldiers; the mine and rescue division of NIOSH (the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health), which gives the pills to rescue teams that go down into the mines. Several teaching hospitals, like the Walter Reed Army Hospital and universities of Florida and Miami, use the pill in their research on subjects from sleep studies to how different medicines affect a patient's core body temp.

But that's about to change, says Susan Smith, sales and product manager. The company has turned its focus to amateur and professional sports associations, which are scrambling to avoid heat-related illnesses after recent high-profile heat-stress deaths.

Smith represented HQ Inc. earlier this summer at the National Athletic Trainers Association conference in Baltimore and the American College of Sports Medicine conference in Indianapolis. The pill gained credibility among athletic trainers after University of Connecticut researchers used it last summer in a milestone NCAA-sponsored study that tested practice times and frequencies as they relate to athletes' temps. The study helped the NCAA develop new guidelines on practice times and frequencies, along with the amount of padding that can be worn in the hottest weather.

"A team's medical staff should be able to identify players who are more susceptible to heat stroke before summer practices begin, because the first two weeks in a summer practice are the most critical for people not acclimated to hot weather," says Smith. "The trainers literally hold the recorders; and as the players come off the field, they can take an instantaneous core temp reading."

In 2003, HQ Inc. sold several thousand handmade CorTemp pills at a cost of $40 each ($2,500 for the data recorder). Now that the company is refocusing on commercial applications rather than research, "it could be 10 times the size of that," says Smith. "Given the numbers of professional and amateur athletes, the opportunities are limitless."

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