Research News

SPHHP's Hostler to study diving at altitude

Dave Hostler (far left) received an $875,861 grant from the Naval Sea Systems Command to study diving at altitude. Photo: Douglas Levere

By JACKIE HAUSLER

Published May 23, 2017

“Mission needs can require personnel to be flown immediately to altitude without time for adjustment or adaptation.”
Dave Hostler, chair
Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

A UB public health researcher has received a new award from the Naval Sea Systems Command. The funding award amount is $875,861 and will run through Jan. 31, 2020.

The study — titled Optimizing Performance During Topside Operations and Diving at Altitude — examines the effects of respiratory muscle training (RMT) on performance during topside operations at altitude and during diving at altitude. The project’s principal investigator is Dave Hostler, professor and chair in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Professions.

In addition to examining the effects of respiratory muscle training on performance during topside operations at altitude and during diving at altitude, the study will also explore the decompression strain that occurs after diving at altitude by assessing venous gas bubbling after diving at 3,658 meters (12,000 feet) of altitude.

“U.S. military ground operations can be conducted at medium and high altitude, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mission needs can require personnel to be flown immediately to altitude without time for adjustment or adaptation,” Hostler said.

“One of the normal physiological compensations of altitude is hyperventilation to preserve blood oxygenation. The increase in respiratory work provides some protection against altitude-related disease but can also impair performance due to respiratory muscle fatigue. Problems can quickly develop on land with exercise, but can also be seen underwater should diving activity be required.”

While hypoxia is eliminated with increasing ambient pressure, the respiratory fatigue may make the high work of breathing associated with diving more difficult to tolerate, leading to additional performance compromise. This problem is independent of the increased decompression stress associated with altitude diving.

Hostler has been a firefighter/paramedic and hazardous materials technician for 30 years, which has motivated his current research program in work physiology of first responders and the military. He is the director of the Center for Research and Education in Special Environments (CRESE) and the Emergency Responder Human Performance Lab in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.