Starting this month, researchers at UC’s Institute for Military Medicine (IMM) will need to travel a significantly shorter distance to study the environment of aeromedical evacuation—instead of flying hundreds of miles, they’ll just drive a few minutes up the highway.
The IMM just finished installing its new research altitude chamber at UC’s Reading Campus. Previously, researchers traveled to San Antonio to conduct Air Force-funded projects in the altitude chamber at the Brooks-City Air Force Base.
"This new altitude chamber is a tremendous asset to our research team,” says Alex Lentsch, PhD, director of the IMM and vice chair for research in the department of surgery. "This will allow us to not only conduct our Air Force studies more quickly and efficiently, but also expand collaborations across the university in a manner that benefits our partners at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
The new chamber is constructed of steel, weighs more than 5,000 pounds and, on the inside, measures 4 feet wide by 4 feet high by 6 feet long. It can simulate conditions up to 25,000 feet above sea level, though Lentsch says most of the work will be done at lower simulated altitudes.
The chamber will be used to study the effects of hypobaric hypoxia, or conditions of low air pressure and low oxygen content, the unique environment of aeromedical evacuation at high altitudes. Lentsch says its main purpose will be to test the effects of simulated altitude on serious injuries and infections as well as on proper functioning of medical devices.
In 2010, the Air Force signed a cooperative agreement with UC funding $24 million of IMM research. Recent research has included studies on the bacterial colonization of complex musculoskeletal wounds at altitude and studies on the amount of oxygen required when using an oxygen concentrator at altitude.
IMM researcher and surgery resident Sung Yang, MD, will use the chamber as part of his research on the effects of altitude on traumatic brain injury. Yang’s studies have identified specific therapeutic targets that can reduce altitude-associated worsening of traumatic brain injury.
"The altitude chamber will allow us to simulate flight and better understand the effects of brain injury after flight,” says Yang.
Other projects expected to utilize the chamber include studies on the effects of altitude on pneumonia and pulmonary infections in transport patients.
Lentsch says some Institute research has been on hold because teams were not able to travel to the Brooks-City Base in recent months.