University of South Florida

USF Hyperbaric Lab featured in national video on naval research

The Office of Naval Research recently released a video it produced highlighting the undersea medicine research projects taking place around the country, including the work by a team at the USF Hyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory (HBRL).

Videographer David Taylor and his team met last fall with USF Health’s Jay B. Dean, PhD, who created the HBRL and has directed it since it opened in 2000. The crew spent the better part of the day interviewing Dr. Dean and other lab members, hearing about the current projects of the lab.

photo of Dr. Jay Dean

Dr. Jay Dean

The finished PRESS RELEASE and target=”_blank”>VIDEO are meant to be presented to elective officials, sometimes even Congress, to showcase the level of research taking place that will likely benefit active-duty military personnel using scuba equipment. Ninety percent of the research taking place in the USF HBRL is funded by ONR, Dr. Dean said.

While the video looks at several facilities conducting studies related to different aspects of undersea medicine, Dr. Dean’s section of the video focuses on brain cell response to hyperbaric conditions.

“Oxygen is a drug,” Dr. Dean explained on camera last fall. “When the percentage of oxygen increases, it starts to have a powerful effect. Too much, you can have a grand mal seizure. It’s hard to predict. Cells involved with breathing are sensitive to oxygen, so we measure those levels to help predict when it’s too much. We look at cell membrane, its stickiness and fluidity.”

In addition, the USF team is looking at preventing oxygen toxicity using ketone esters, a highly efficient fuel for the brain that seems to delay seizures better than current medicine used to prevent seizures or ketogenic diets, a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.

Photo of USF Hyperbaric Lab team

USF Hyperbaric Lab team

The USF Hyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory is a collaborative research facility housed in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology. The HBRL maintains several hyperbaric/hypobaric pressure chambers containing equipment used to measure cellular function in real time via electrophysiology, polarography, fluorescence microscopy and atomic force microscopy during experimental perturbations of barometric pressure and gas partial pressures. 

The mission of the USF-HBRL is to identify the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in the body’s response to artificial atmospheres and altered pressure environments, including low barometric pressures (hypobaria), normal sea level pressure (normobaria) and high barometric pressures (hyperbaria).  Altered pressure environments perturb various cellular processes at the molecular level due to the effects of pressure per se, gas partial pressure alone, and/or the production of secondary reaction productions such as O2-induced free radicals or CO2-induced protons.  Altered pressure environments are routinely encountered in hyperbaric medicine (hyperbaric oxygen therapy), underwater diving (hyperbaric gases) and space exploration (hypobaric gases). 

To study cellular processes under these conditions, Dr. Dean and his colleagues at USF, Dr. Dominic D’Agostino (Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology), has assembled six hyperbaric/hypobaric pressure chambers for in vitro and in vivo biomedical research.  The design, development and implementation of these novel research tools have been funded primarily through equipment grants from the Department of Defense and Office of Naval Research (ONR), Undersea Medicine Program.  Ongoing basic research by the USF-HBRL team is currently supported by the ONR, NIH and USF College of Medicine. 

Photo of hyperbaric chamber
“Atomic microscopes are common, but not atomic microscopes placed under hyperbaric pressure,” Dr. Dean said. “We’re the only lab in the world that has this range of tools.”

photo of Dr. Jay Dean getting 'miked'   photo of cameraman  photo of interview  

Story by Sarah A. Worth, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications.

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