June 6, 2006

Doctors to scale Everest for thin-air research

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - British doctors plan to climb Mount
Everest to study the impact of low oxygen levels on the body, a
project they hope will help critically ill patients.

A team of 30 researchers and physicians will monitor the
health of 210 trekkers to Everest base camp during the 3-month
expedition next year. Thirty doctors will ascend the South Col
route and 10 will go to the peak.

"Our Everest ascent will involve creating the world's
highest medical laboratory, taking field science to a new
level," said Dr Hugh Montgomery, the University College London
research leader of the 2007 Xtreme Everest Expedition.

The thin air on Everest limits the amount of oxygen getting
into the lungs which can lead to altitude sickness, organ
failure and coma.

Patients with lung and heart ailments in intensive care
units, premature babies, cystic fibrosis sufferers and others
also suffer from low-oxygen levels, known as hypoxia.

"In our line of work, we all work in intensive care units
and all our patients have that problem," said Montgomery at a
conference on extreme environments on Tuesday.

"Some survive and some don't," he said. "If we could crack
why that is, we could make a big difference to all those

The scientists hope that by studying the effects of low
oxygen on healthy people on Everest they will find some

Both the physical and mental condition of the trekkers will
be assessed as they make their way up to base camp and on to
the 8,850 meter (29,040 ft) summit.

"The major thrust of the experiments is to see how the body
adapts to low oxygen levels," said Montgomery. "We think a lot
of that is down to the tuning of the engine. We think cells can
be tuned to get more of a workout by burning less oxygen."

The scientists will also study heart, lung and brain

Altitude sickness is a spectrum of symptoms ranging from
nausea and dizziness to leaking of blood vessels, lung failure
and swelling of the brain.

"We do, indeed, see all of those phenomena on intensive
care units," said Montgomery. "We believe to a large degree
that they are the same disease processes."