Hyperbaric Medicine Unit

MCW Researchers have pioneered the use of hyperbaric oxygen in conjunction with NASA near-infrared Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology for treatment of hard to heal wounds such as diabetic skin ulcers, serious burns and the complications of cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation). For this research, the team, led by Dr. Harry Whelan, Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics and Hyperbaric Medicine, was inducted into the NASA Space Technology Hall of Fame in the year 2000. Research funding for these innovative forms of treatment currently come from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA and MCW are exploring the value of hyperbaric oxygen and high intensity, near-infrared light for counteracting the harmful effects of weightlessness and radiation in space, and for the treatment of our patients here on earth.

The Hyperbaric Unit at the Medical College of Wisconsin has been in existence for about one decade and currently performs over one thousand treatments per year using hyperbaric oxygen for the healing of a wide variety of conditions. These conditions include: clostridial gas gangrene, crush injury, compartment syndrome and other acute traumatic ischemias, necrotizing soft tissue infections (such as fasciitis), osteomyelitis, radiation tissue damage, compromised skin grafts and flaps, and the promotion of healing reattached (previously severed) body parts. Thermal burns, intracranial abscesses and various diving injuries such as air or gas embolism and decompression sickness are also accepted indications for the use of hyperbaric oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen may also be used to prevent permanent brain damage in the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. Hyperbaric oxygen has been effective as a component of treatment for a number of refractory wounds by triggering a healing cascade in experimental models and patients resulting in activation of growth factor pathways and inflammatory cells ultimately leading to the ingrowth of small new blood vessels (microvascular angiogenesis). The research being performed with NASA has further demonstrated that high dose near-infrared light provided by LED-arrays up to ten times brighter than the sun can stimulate the energy compartment in every cell (the mitochondria). This special light increases the energy metabolism and growth of cells, leading to tissue regeneration and healing, which adds to the benefit of hyperbaric oxygen. The Hyperbaric Medicine Unit works in conjunction with the Medical College of Wisconsin Wound Care Center, directed by Dr. Lisa Gould (Plastic Surgery).

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Dr. Whelan