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Mountaineering doctors hike medicine to new heights with Xtreme Everest

Doctors working at the edge of extreme are set to climb the world's tallest mountain to look death in the face and take its pulse. The medical research team will make the first ever measurements of blood oxygen in the 'death zone', at altitudes above 8,000 metres where the human body has struggled - and frequently failed - to survive.

The Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE) team, based at University College London (UCL), 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.

The summiting team, all of whom work with anaesthesia, intensive care or remote medicine, hope to draw parallels between the human body pushed to its limits during critical illness and changes that occur in extreme environments. Low levels of oxygen in the blood of high altitude climbers is similar to levels in critically ill patients on breathing machines with severe heart and lung conditions, "blue babies" and cystic fibrosis sufferers.

The summiteers will also test a prototype closed-circuit breathing system. This type of circuit has only once previously - and unsuccessfully - been used by climbers attempting the summit. The equipment, adapted from firefighters' apparatus, will be redesigned to cope with icy conditions.

Overall, the Xtreme Everest expedition will consist of research teams exploring the following science themes: Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency); Brain; Breathing Systems and Genetics. High altitude laboratories set up en route, including one on Everest's South Col (8,000m), will enable collaborating scientists to investigate many aspects of extreme altitude
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Contact: Jenny Gimpel
j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk
44-207-679-9739
University College London
16-Mar-2005


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