UO researcher studies divers in search for new treatments for pulmonary hypertension

“By working with the scuba divers, or elite breath hold divers, we can stress the system by having their bodies experience low levels of oxygen,” researcher Andrew Lovering says.

EUGENE, Ore. - A University of Oregon researcher will be studying in Croatia in hopes to find ways to prevent respiratory diseases.

Answers to respiratory illnesses may lie underneath the sea.

“By working with the scuba divers, or elite breath hold divers, we can stress the system by having their bodies experience low levels of oxygen,” researcher Andrew Lovering says.

He’ll be partnering up with Croatian researchers to find ways to prevent pulmonary hypertension, a rare disease where arteries narrow in the lungs causing the heart to pump harder, resulting in shortness of breath.

With help from the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship, Lovering will be studying elite breath-holding divers in Croatia to measure their physiological changes before and after the oxygen deprivation.

“So, it mimics a mild reversible form of pulmonary hypertension and then we can give different drugs or try different interventions to see if we can prevent that from occurring, or see if it's not preventable,” Lovering says.

The divers will take Viagra to dilate their vessels, hoping the drug prevents change from occurring.

But Lovering’s study will also look to scuba divers to try and understand the mystery of why divers can experience a minor form of pulmonary hypertension after the dive, despite still having an oxygen tank.

“As soon as they get out of the water, they'll come back on to land take off all their gear get them back in the lab, and then we make all these measurements post,” he says.

Lovering says the exercises are all stressors on the body, such as riding an exercise bike in the lab.

But come next summer, Lovering might be able to find new ways to prevent increased pressure on the lungs.

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