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U.S. Navy Grant Awarded To Study Treatment And Prevention Of Decompression Sickness

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RICHMOND, Virginia -- The U.S. Office of Naval Research awarded a grant to Virginia Commonwealth University's Reanimation Engineering Shock Center to study decompression sickness.

The $1.3 million grant will fund the study called "Coordinated Follow-up Studies in the Treatment and Prevention of Decompression Illness and Venous Air Embolisms with Perfluorocarbon Emulsions." Using the grant, VCURES has contracted Synthetic Blood International Inc., a California-based biopharmaceutical company, to supply its trademarked Oxycyte blood substitute for the treatment and prevention of decompression sickness studies.

The new award will allow for VCURES to continue its work into understanding how PFC removes nitrogen as well as the limits of this technology. PFCs are capable of carrying significantly more nitrogen and oxygen than plasma. The proposed studies will build upon what has recently been learned and will focus upon the use of helium/oxygen mixtures and other techniques to see if the PFCs could be utilized prior to emergency surfacing. These new studies will employ the novel use of retinal angiography as a means of studying the cerebral microcirculation in response to decompression illness and its treatment.

Dr. Bruce Spiess, principal investigator and VCURES Director, states “these studies will also advance our understanding of oxygen transport in many states of critical illness and injury”.

Decompression illness occurs when a diver ascends to the water's surface too quickly. Nitrogen gas that was dissolved in the blood stream forms bubbles and these bubbles clog important blood vessels supplying oxygen to the heart, brain, and spinal cord. This can result in massive stroke, paralysis and death. The project examines the novel use of PFC emulsions to carry and eliminate nitrogen as it comes out of solution during assent and to preserve oxygen delivery to vital tissues. DCS is a risk for sport diving, military missions where dive profiles have to be suddenly changed or in accidents, and is a primary impediment to direct escape from a disabled submarine. The Unites States Navy has been tasked with creating a more realistic scenario for submarine rescue.

“The VCURES effort is part of that Navy priority and we are proud to play an integral role in advances towards a safer submarine operation for our sailors” says Dr. Spiess.

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