Sun, Jun 11, 2006 - Page 6 News List

British group to run low-oxygen tests on Everest

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Wanted: 200 volunteers to climb 5,300m up to Mount Everest base camp and take part in medical experiments at the highest laboratory in the world. A place in the annals of science and the satisfaction of helping people in intensive care, with cystic fibrosis or lung disease are guaranteed.

The trip will be part of the Xtreme Everest expedition run by a group of doctors from University College London (UCL). They want to discover how the human body reacts when oxygen is scarce.

In addition to the lab at base camp, where volunteers will take part in observational experiments for an hour every morning over three weeks, a smaller team of scientists will climb to the mountain's summit, where they will take blood samples and test their mental functions.

Hugh Montgomery, a lecturer in cardiovascular genetics at University College London and one of the scientists leading the Everest expedition, said the experiments would help people who are unable to take in sufficient oxygen, either because of lung disease or conditions such as cystic fibrosis.

Speaking at a conference on survival in extreme conditions this week, Montgomery said: "We do know you can adapt to low oxygen levels. If I put you on Everest now you'll be unconscious in 35 seconds and dead in three minutes. If you take your time, you would get there. If we could understand how you could adapt in that way, we could export that knowledge to patients."

Lack of oxygen is also a critical problem for patients in intensive care units. "One in six Britons will spend time in an intensive care unit and, shocking as it may sound, statistics show that up to three in 10 people admitted do not pull through, causing devastation to families," Montgomery said.

At the 8,850m summit there is so little oxygen getting into the lungs that the body starts shutting down and mountaineers risk slipping into a coma.

"These extreme conditions mimic what it's like for patients in intensive care and studying the human body in this environment will teach us invaluable lessons in the science of survival," he said.

The traditional thinking is that, if oxygen levels get low, people breathe harder, the heart pumps faster and more oxygen-carrying red blood cells get to the organs. The UCL team does not believe that is the whole story.

"Clearly that's an important factor but most of the evidence is pointing up the fact that what changes is not the delivery of the fuel but the efficiency with which we burn it," Montgomery said.

Previous studies have shown that a gene associated with improved performance at high altitudes is also associated with a better outcome for some people in intensive care units.

The team leaves for Everest in March.

This story has been viewed 1985 times.
TOP top