Xtreme Everest 

In the UK one in five of us will end up in intensive care at some point in our life. Sadly one fifth of those admitted will die. Extreme illnesses require cutting edge research to provide solutions

Despite intensive care being one of the most sophisticated areas of hospital care, even now, in the 21st century, there is still limited understanding of why some people survive and some die. Hypoxia - lack of oxygen reaching the body's vital organs - is a common problem for patients in an intensive care unit.

Xtreme Everest is a dedicated team of intensive care doctors, nurses and scientists, many of whom work at UCL and UCLH. Because it is very difficult to study patients in intensive care units, not least because they are so ill, the team volunteer themselves as subjects. The team conduct experiments on both themselves and other volunteers at high altitude, exploiting the oxygen-thin air, to provide critical insights into how intensive care patients might be helped in the future.

In order to simulate the critical conditions of intensive care, the team went to Everest, the world's highest mountain, in 2007. The oxygen levels on the summit are a third of those at sea level - similar to those experienced by patients in intensive care. The team even performed tests on themselves in the "Death Zone" above 8000 metres on Everest,  a height where there is barely enough oxygen to support life. Here the team measured the lowest levels of oxygen ever reported in human blood in a healthy human volunteer. In addition, 208 volunteer subjects joined the 2007 expedition, trekking to Everest Base Camp so that they could provide invaluable data about how they adapted to the low levels of oxygen found at this altitude.

Further questions needed to be answered, so in 2013 the team and more volunteers returned to Nepal and Everest to be studied. This time the volunteer groups joining the Xtreme Everest scientists included identical twins, children, and Sherpas, as well as some of the volunteers who took part in the 2007 expedition.

Xtreme Everest is a not for profit organisation, led by doctors and scientists from UCL, University of Southampton and Duke University in the United States, conducting this innovative, cutting edge research. 

To learn more about the Xtreme Everest project and current research projects looking for participants visit www.xtreme-everest.co.uk and www.case-medicine.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @XtremeEverest and @CASE_Medicine.

Studying the human body in this extreme environment will teach us invaluable lessons

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