UCL News


Mountaineering doctors hike medicine to new heights

2 March 2005

UCL doctors working are set to climb the world's tallest mountain to look death in the face - and take its pulse.

Experiments in Everest’s high-altitude, low-oxygen environment may help future trauma patients to survive The medical research team will make the first ever measurements of blood oxygen in the 'death zone', at altitudes above 8,000m where the human body has struggled - and frequently failed - to survive.

UCL's Centre for Aviation, Space & Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE) team will lead the expedition to Mount Everest's 8,850m peak in 2007. At the summit, clinicians will measure the amount of oxygen in their own blood along with running tests to see how well their brains, lungs and metabolisms are working at extreme altitude. The experiments alone entail a risk of thrombosis and other complications; combined with the harsh mountain conditions, only the toughest are likely to finish the job.

Dr Hugh Montgomery, who leads a research group in cardiovascular genetics, told the Guardian that oxygen levels in the blood plummet at high altitudes, to a point where most people cannot survive without support. The same happens to many intensive care patients. And just as certain individuals cope with high altitudes better than others, or find it easier to acclimatise, some patients are better than others at surviving trauma.

Dr Montgomery said: "If we can understand how some patients are able to cope with that low oxygen level, and why others are not, then we may be able to make a large difference to levels of survival. The answer, we think, is to look at people climbing the highest mountains of the world, where oxygen tension is as low as can be found on the Earth's surface."

To find out more about the project use the links below.

Everest in the news
The Guardian article
BBC Online article