It is one of the only research centers in the world that allows scientists to study extreme environments, from a mile of ocean depth to nearly 23 miles into Earth’s stratosphere, and everything in between. And it is back up and running in its home at the University at Buffalo.
UB’s Center for Research and Education in Special Environments officially resumed operations over the summer.
The future of the lab was in doubt in 2013 due to the impending retirement of its then-director. However, since arriving as chair of exercise and nutrition sciences in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions in 2013, Dr. Dave Hostler has secured several grants to help resume operations and research in one of the most unique research facilities in the world.
In its new iteration, CRESE will be the focal point of studies and experiments addressing issues in extreme environments and prehospital medicine. The research will be particularly relevant to military personnel and emergency responders — Dr. Hostler has already conducted experiments with Buffalo area firefighters — as well as athletes and the general population.
“There are few centers in the civilian world that have similar infrastructure to what we have in the CRESE lab,” said Dr. Hostler, who also oversees the Emergency Responder Human Performance Lab that is part of CRESE.
The full team of CRESE scientists spans three schools at UB: Public Health and Health Professions, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Examples of research projects include:
CRESE consists of several pieces of equipment, most of which is housed in Sherman Annex on UB’s South Campus. By far the largest and most unique is the hypobaric and hyperbaric chamber, one of the only such chambers in the U.S. that remains in operation and isn’t on a military base. One end of the chamber can be filled with water, allowing researchers to conduct experiments at the pressure equivalent of up to 5,600 feet of seawater. It can also be used for altitude experiments up to 120,000 feet.
Dr. Hostler secured a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Navy last year to refurbish the 30-year-old chamber. The work, which is nearly finished, was performed by Pendleton, New York-based J.M. Canty Inc., whose founder, the late John M. Canty, built the chamber in the 1970s.
Grants from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research and the federal Department of Defense helped establish the center in the late 1960s. Then known as the Environmental Physiology Lab, it was the progenitor of many of the current military research facilities in the world. It remains unique in the breadth and depth of possibilities it affords researchers to study extreme environments and the interaction of multiple extremes — diving at altitude, for example.
“The research being conducted in the CRESE center by Dr. Hostler and his collaborators will increase our understanding of extreme environments on the human response. The funding Dave and his team have already secured supports the translational potential of this research to our country’s first responders and our military personnel who encounter extreme conditions regularly in their work,” said Dr. Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Dr. Claes Lundgren served as the center’s first director from 1985 to 2007, when Dr. David Pendergast assumed the role, which he held until his retirement in 2013.
In addition to Dr. Hostler, the CRESE leadership team includes both internal and external advisory boards, with plans to hire an associate director as funding becomes available.