Mimicking Gas Embolism on Vascularized Systems on a Chip

D. Nicolau
McGill University, QC, Canada

Keywords: gas embolism, barotrauma, decompression sickness, microfluidics

Gas embolism (GA) is a medical condition resulting from the existence of gas bubbles in the venous or arterial system. GA occurs due to a rapid decrease of pressure surrounding the whole body (global GA: divers’ decompression sickness, sudden depressurization of cockpits), parts of it (medium GA: airbags, aggressive resuscitation, chest barotrauma), or organs (local GA: laparoscopy, ultrasound imaging). Severe gas embolism could result in grave neurological sequelae (~30%), or even death (~30%). Because of very rapid onset and uncertain location of GA, its genesis was never observed in real time. Additionally, the only treatment for gas embolism is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), requiring large and specialized facilities. Because the initial GA is strictly a physical phenomenon, with biological effects triggered much later, we capitalize on this opportunity to develop in vitro microfluidics systems mimicking human micro-vasculature and the environmental conditions leading to GA. This system is used to (i) define the preconditions leading to GA, resulting in recommendation for its prevention; (ii) develop alternatives to HBOT deployable in the field; (iii) calibrate HBOT through the direct visualization of gas emboli during Navy’s DCS protocols; and (iv) advance the development of wearable systems for monitoring possible GA during service action.