Decompression is a gas

June 03, 1999

All divers risk decompression sickness if they surface too quickly for their bodies to lose the excess gas absorbed from breathing mixtures used during the dive. ONR-funded researchers at the Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda, Md., are developing a novel method of reducing the risk of decompression sickness for the more than 4,000 divers employed by the U.S. Navy. Dr. Susan Kayar and her team add a non-toxic bacteria, Methanobrevibac smithii, into the intestines of animal models to metabolize the hydrogen to water and methane. By measuring how much methane the animal releases, they obtain an index of how well the bacteria are working in the intestine. From the index, they can predict how much the risk of decompression sickness is lowered. The researchers say that hydrogen-metabolizing bacteria could also be used to treat people who experience an overpopulation of the intestinal bacteria that make hydrogen; a condition which causes bloating and discomfort. The researchers plan to seek FDA approval for an enteric-coated capsule for divers to use.
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Office of Naval Research

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