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New study could reduce risk to divers

Aug. 10, 2011 at 6:04 PM   |   Comments

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy says a new capability to examine how cells work at pressures far below the sea surface will aid in underwater medical studies.

Office of Naval Research scientists at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit have designed and a novel hyperbaric environment to study cellular behavior at greater depths as they look for ways to help protect Navy divers working at depths of up to 1,000 feet, a release from the research office said Wednesday.

"This is a huge leap forward in our ability to understand cellular function at pressurized depths," said Cmdr. Matthew Swiergosz, the office's undersea medicine program officer. "This capability will bridge a gap in our understanding of identifying potential applications for diving operations."

In a technique called patch clamping, electrodes are attached to a cell membrane, allowing scientists to stimulate, monitor, and record the cell's electrical activity in a pressurized environment.

The research is intended to address the underlying molecular mechanisms of diving disorders such as decompression sickness, often called the "bends," the researchers say.

The research could benefit not just military divers but also people working in the commercial diving community, who are vulnerable to the same hazardous conditions associated with difficult underwater work, the research office said.

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