Though not among the top 10 causes of death, decompression sickness can be fatal. A University of Houston professor is seeking to develop a laser-based system that can diagnose the sickness in seconds. Decompression sickness affects those who experience sudden, drastic changes in the air or water pressure surrounding their bodies. It can cause anything from joint pain to seizure, stroke, coma, and, in the most extreme cases, death.
Kirill Larin, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, is developing the first non-invasive optical tool to test those most likely to suffer from decompression sickness, such as scuba divers, submariners and airplane pilots. Larin's optical device can detect the presence of nitrogen gas in blood and tissues, which can restrict blood flow throughout the body and cause damage. The tool works like an ultrasound machine, but instead of using sound waves to obtain readings, it uses laser-generated light waves that bounce back when they encounter resistance, thereby providing a high-resolution image.
The Navy could eventually use this technology on all divers or pilots returning to the surface. Shining the laser on one of these individuals would provide an image that would reveal the
presence of any micro bubbles in the blood or tissue, within seconds. If micro bubbles are found, then medical steps, such as time in a decompression chamber, could be taken before the