A University of South Florida associate professor is attempting to break a world record by living underwater for 100 days. Joseph Dituri is studying how the human body responds to long-term exposure to extreme pressure – all while teaching his biomedical engineering class online.
Dituri will live 30 feet below the surface in a 100-square-foot habitat located at Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo. A medical team will document the 55-year-old’s health by routinely diving to his habitat to run a series of tests. Before, during and after the project, Dituri will complete a series of psychosocial, psychological and medical tests, including blood panels, ultrasounds and electrocardiograms, as well as stem cell tests.
A psychologist and psychiatrist will also document the mental effects of being in an isolated, confined environment for an extended period – similar to space travel.
“The human body has never been underwater that long, so I will be monitored closely,” Dituri said. “This study will examine every way this journey impacts my body, but my null hypothesis is that there will be improvements to my health due to the increased pressure.”
Dituri is advancing conclusions found in a study, where cells exposed to increased pressure doubled within five days. This suggests the increased pressure has the potential to allow humans to increase their longevity and prevent diseases associated with aging.
“So, we suspect I am going to come out super-human!” Dituri said.
Dituri found his passion for science while serving in the U.S. Navy for 28 years as a saturation diving officer. After retiring in 2012 as a commander, Dituri enrolled at USF to earn his doctoral degree to learn more about traumatic brain injuries.
“Many of my brothers and sisters in the military suffered traumatic brain injuries and I wanted to learn how to help them,” Dituri said. “I knew well that hyperbaric pressure could increase cerebral blood flow and hypothesized it could be used to treat traumatic brain injuries. I hypothesize that applying the known mechanisms of action for hyperbaric medicine could be used to treat a broad spectrum of diseases.”
The 100-day mission includes a number of other projects. Dituri will test new technologies, such as an artificial intelligence tool developed by a colleague that can screen a human body for illness and determine if any medications are needed.
He’ll also be joined underwater by other scientists for discussions on ways to preserve, protect and rejuvenate the marine environment, which will be streamed on Dituri’s YouTube channel.
Dituri plans to use this project as a platform for STEM outreach by welcoming adults and children with chaperones to join him for 24 hours at a time, giving them an opportunity to explore the ocean and learn the research process. He hopes it will inspire the next generation of researchers.
“Everything we need to survive is here on the planet,” he said. “I suspect the cure to many diseases can be found in undiscovered organisms in the ocean. To find out, we need more researchers.”
The current world record for living underwater is 73 days and was set in 2014 by two professors from Tennessee. They also stayed at Jules’ Undersea Lodge.
On March 2, Dituri spoke with journalists in a media availability.