UCL News


Lessons to be learnt from life at the very limit

22 April 2005

University College London (UCL) is hosting a conference on Wednesday 27 April 2005 to explore the parallels between extreme environment physiology and intensive care in hospitals.

Talks will cover the history and future of high altitude research and explain how lessons learnt from life at the very limit might teach us something about every day healthcare.

Conference speakers include some of the leading authorities in the world of high altitude physiology and critical care including Everest summiteer Dr Sundeep Dhillon, intensive care consultant and mountaineer Dr Hugh Montgomery and Nick Lane, author of the book 'Oxygen: the Molecule that Made the World'.

The afternoon session will cover the recently announced Xtreme-Everest expedition (www.xtreme-everest.co.uk), detailing the plans of a team of UCL doctors from the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE) to scale the world's tallest mountain and take the first ever measurements of arterial blood oxygen at the summit. Researchers plan to measure the amount of oxygen in their own blood along with running a battery of investigations to test their brains, lungs and muscles at this extreme altitude.

At 8,850 metres, Mount Everest represents one of the most austere terrestrial environments the world has to offer, so much so that physiologists once believed it would be impossible to survive at the summit without supplemental oxygen. But the experiences of mountaineers following in the footsteps of Reinhold Messener and Peter Habler, the first men to summit on Everest without supplemental oxygen, have proved them wrong. Confronted with physiological and environmental extremes a few remarkable people are somehow able to adapt and find the will to climb this mountain. But how in this seemingly lethal hypoxic environment is it possible?

For a molecule upon which all human life depends our understanding of oxygen and its physiological role is far from complete. This conference will explore extreme physiology and critical care, covering the history and future of extreme high altitude research.

Expedition leader and conference speaker Dr Mike Grocott says: "If you reached the top of Everest without acclimatizing you would be unconscious within two minutes, and death would follow rapidly. The normal pressure of oxygen in the blood is 12 to 14 kiloPascals. For someone who is sick with pneumonia, oxygen levels can drop to 7 or 8 kiloPascals, critical enough to require admission to an intensive care unit. We believe that at the summit, Everest climbers may be experiencing less than 4 kiloPascals, despite the fact that normally people would fall unconscious if their blood oxygen dropped below 5 kiloPascals."

Deputy expedition leader and conference organizer Kevin Fong says: "CASE represents a very special team with a unique combination of skills. We're very fortunate to have been able to assemble such a group. The Xtreme Everest expedition is an opportunity for us to take those people and do something truly amazing."

The one day conference, 'Knowledge: Lessons Learnt from Life at the Limits', will be held at UCL in central London on 27 April 2005, website http://www.xtreme-everest.co.uk/Events/main.html

Notes for Editors

Journalists who wish to register for the conference or receive a press pack should contact Siobhan Mythen, conference organizer, on e-mail uch.acru@btinternet.com .

Alternatively, for more information or to set up an interview, please contact Jenny Gimpel at the UCL Media Relations Office on +44 (0)20 7679 9739, Out of Hours: +44 (0)7917 271364 or e-mail j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk.