he time of the oil crisis in the early 1970s and the rise in importance of offshore oil production from the North Sea, saw the arrival of the technical field of diving and hyperbaric medicine in Aachen.
The former institute for shipbuilding in Aachen, at the Eilfschonsteinstraße, was involved in the initiation of hyperbaric working studies in a pressure chamber system built by the Dräger company. This work focused primarily on welding technologies for hyperbaric environments and underwater. The system had four individual chambers and was designed to simulate diving depths of up to 1000 metres: for practical reasons it was installed in front of the building’s third floor. It was demolished in 2013.
Other special hyperbaric chambers were built at Helmholtz centres and at the German aerospace centre (DLR) in Köln-Porz near Cologne (Titan deep diving system) to research the problems and effects of deep diving on people. Material testing took place at the Geesthacht underwater simulator (GUSI) of the GKSS (Gesellschaft für Kernenergieverwertung in Schiffbau und Schifffahrt – society for the use of nuclear power in ship building and shipping) near Hamburg.
The medical division of the field was set up from 1995 onwards by Dr. Siekmann, offering teaching, research and clinical applications. As a member of the German navy, he was aware of the outstanding clinical results of well implemented oxygen therapy in hyperbaric chambers, and after working in close co-operation with the German naval institute for maritime medicine in Kiel-Kronshagen, knew of the scientific issues of hyperbaric work. As an anaesthetist he was primarily interested in the clinical issues arising in the field of physiology which appeared to be solvable under hyperbaric conditions.
It was against this background that the winter semester of 1995/1996 saw the first seminar in diving and hyperbaric medicine at the clinic for anaesthesia. In the interim it has evolved to become not only an elective course of the technical faculty but is also an elective course for the new medical licensing regulations in Germany and is in fact the prototype for a seminar of the interdisciplinary medical course model in Aachen. As a result of these developments, the subject of diving and hyperbaric medicine has actually been represented at the RWTH university clinic Aachen for longer than at any other German university.
The spin-off of a clinical hyperbaric centre from the RWTH university clinic (HBO Centre Euregio Aachen), created the chance of also gaining clinical experience by way of patient treatment, application observations and observational studies and trials. Thus, up until 2005, more than 3,500 treatments had been implemented for the Aachen university clinic and the universities of Maastricht, Nijmegen and Amsterdam.
Further to the clinical issues such as the treatment of central retinal vein occlusions with hyperbaric oxygenation (department of ophthalmology), a number of individual research groups are working on cell cultures in the fields of osteoblast activity (clinics for trauma surgery and orthopaedics) as well as on questions arising in connection with inert gas narcosis of xenon on isolated cardiomyocytes (clinic for anaesthesia).
Two experimental hyperbaric chambers are available here.
In the meantime, the competence centre in Aachen for diving associated with the anaesthesiology clinic now boasts representatives of almost all special areas, for example engineering science and medicine in pertinent working groups. For example, co-operation partners provide government certified state experts for diving equipment, for technical diving, diving with rebreathers, as well as approved occupational physicians for professional diving activities and diving doctors for the diving accident hotline organised by the VDST German sports divers association; at the same time emergency services for police and the THW (the German technical emergency service organisation) are supported at underwater operations in NRW (North Rhine -Westphalia).
Training to become diving medicine physicians and hyperbaric physicians pursuant to the guidelines issued by the GTÜM are provided by staff of the HBO centre in Aachen.