Physiology on top of the world - Xtreme Everest

3 December 2008

Dr Mike Grocott (UCL Medicine)

Caudwell Xtreme Everest (CXE) is a large, healthy volunteer field study investigating human adaptation to environmental hypoxia. CXE is a project of the Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE Medicine) at University College London.  The aim of CASE Medicine is to investigate variability in human adaptation to low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in order to improve understanding of how critically ill patients deal with hypoxia. During April and May 2007 more than 200 individuals were studied as they were progressively exposed to hypobaric hypoxia on the trek to Everest Base Camp at 5,300m. Most of these individuals were volunteers who gave up their holidays to be participants in the study. The remainder was comprised of doctors and scientists, 15 of whom continued the studies as they ascended up to 8,000m.  Eight of these investigators reached the summit of Everest and on their descent took the first measurement of arterial oxygen levels above 8,000m.  A series of complex physiological measurements were taken in London before departure, in four laboratories in Nepal on the ascent to Everest Base Camp, and in two laboratories high on Mount Everest. The next few years will see whether this new approach to investigating the pathogenesis of critical illness bears fruit.

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