Published: March 7, 2022 By

Shields in the lab

Assistant Professor C. Wyatt Shields IV is a recipient of a 2022 Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigator Program Award for his proposal “Mapping Immune Cell Responses to High Pressures in Decompression Illness.” He is among 32 researchers nationwide selected to receive funding for conducting “innovative scientific research that will benefit the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps” according to the ONR.

The U.S. Navy has an ongoing interest in studying decompression sickness, which is often referred to as “the bends.” Shields and his group seek to understand how immune cells in human lungs respond to extreme diving conditions to learn more about the origins of this affliction. 

“As divers descend, increased gas pressure within the lungs leads to increased dissolved oxygen and nitrogen in the bloodstream, affecting the biochemistry of alveolar cells,” Shields said. “Our research aims to understand how alveolar immune cells respond to extreme environmental factors associated with deep sea diving as a step toward discovering the potential etiology of decompression sickness.”

The lab group is currently developing a “lung-on-a-chip" device as a model system that replicates the physiological conditions of human lungs experiencing high pressure loads. This work requires cross-disciplinary collaboration with human health researchers, including Professor Ivana Yang at CU Anschutz, who will help identify genes that regulate cellular responses to these environmental factors through epigenomic and transcriptomic screens on monocytes. 

The first phase of research is devoted to building the lung-on-a-chip devices, with initial results expected by the second year of the three-year project.

NSF CAREER Award winner
Shields recently received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research into biosensing, which is part of his outreach and mentorship program at Northglenn High School.