Andreas Fahlman, Ph.D. Biology 2000

On the physiology of hydrogen diving and its implication for hydrogen biochemical decompression



Biochemical decompression, a novel approach for decreasing decompression sickness (DCS) risk by increasing the tissue washout rate of the inert gas, was tested in pigs during simulated H2dives. Since there is only limited physiological data on the use of H2as a diving gas, direct calorimetry and respirometry were used to determine whether physiological responses to hyperbaric H2 and He are different in guinea pigs. The data suggested that responses in hyperbaric heliox and hydrox cannot be explained solely by the thermal properties of the two gas mixtures. To increase the washout rate of H2, a H2-metabolizing microbe (Methanobrevibacter smithii) was tested that converts H2 to H2O and CH4. Using pigs (Sus scrofa) comparisons were made between untreated controls, saline-injected controls, and animals injected with M. smithiiinto the large intestine. To simulate a H2 dive, pigs were placed in a dry hyperbaric chamber and compressed to different pressures (22.3-25.7 atm) for times of 30-1440 min. Subsequently, pigs were decompressed to 11 atm at varying rates (0.45-1.80 atm ยท min-1), and observed for severe symptoms of DCS for 1 h. Chamber gases (O2, N2, He, H2, CH4) were monitored using gas chromatography throughout the dive. Release of CH4 in untreated pigs indicated that H2 was being metabolized by native intestinal microbes andresults indicated that native H2-metabolizing microbes may provide some protection against DCS following hyperbaric H2exposure. M. smithii injection further enhanced CH4 output and lowered DCS incidence. A probabilistic model estimated the effect of H2-metabolism on the probability of DCS, P(DCS), after hyperbaric H2 exposure. The data set included varying compression and decompression sequences for controls and animals with intestinal injections of H2metabolizing microbes. The model showed that increasing total activity of M. smithii injected into the animals reduced P(DCS). Reducing the tissue concentration of the inert gas significantly reduced the risk of DCS in pigs, further supporting the hypothesis that DCS is primarily caused by elevated tissue inert gas tension. The data provide promising support for the development of biochemical decompression as an aid to human diving.