Getting into the festival spirit 

11/06/2013 00:00 

The Xtreme Everest 2 expedition, which includes UCLH and UCL clinicians and academics, is being featured at science festivals this summer, to mark the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest.

Kay Mitchell and Professor Monty Mythen (wearing white t-shirts) outside the Namche Bazaar laboratory

Kay Mitchell and Professor Monty Mythen (wearing white t-shirts) outside the Namche Bazaar laboratory

The pioneering study, in which researchers went to Everest to study how the body adapts to low levels of oxygen, was showcased at last weekend’s Cheltenham Science Festival.

The XE2 team, which includes  researchers from the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, is also being featured at London shows at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (7 July) and the Royal Institution (9 July).

Earlier this year investigators set about studying how the body adapts to low levels of oxygen and how some people cope better with low levels of oxygen than others. Lack of oxygen reaching the body’s vital organs – also known as hypoxia – is a common occurrence for intensive care patients.

Carrying out research on people in intensive care units is not always an option so the team took healthy volunteers to Everest, a setting with very low levels of oxygen, where a series of tests were carried out.

The unique project, which continues the work of the Caudwell Xtreme Everest expedition in 2007, has also been reported on weekend television.

TV and radio science presenter Greg Foot took part in the expedition to Everest.
Greg appeared on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch to describe his journey to Base Camp and explain the science of high-altitude survival. Joining Greg on the show was Professor Can Ince, a member of the XE2 research group, who has developed a handheld microscope that was used to measure blood flow in the tiniest blood vessels in the body, which is key to oxygen delivery to the cells.

Greg explained how going to high altitudes leads to an increase in red blood cells, which are needed to carry more oxygen as the air becomes thinner at a lower atmospheric pressure. The tiniest blood vessels (microcirculation), found under the tongue, are essential for delivering oxygen.

The XE2 investigators were particularly interested in how microcirculation transports oxygen to our mitochondria (the mini power stations in our cells), and the levels of nitric oxide levels in our bodies: they believe nitric oxide levels affect how people perform at altitude. Microcirculatory flow can differ from person to person and plays an important role in the development of organ failure in critically ill patients.

The XE2 medics were able to study the subjects’ microcirculation by checking for abnormalities in the smallest of blood vessels, even when blood pressure was normalised, using the pioneering ‘Cytocam’ microscope.

Along with results obtained from the first expedition in 2007, the team are now able to take their mountainside data to the hospital bedside. Findings will be highly significant to understanding how healthy individuals adapt to low oxygen and support bids to optimise the delivery of oxygen to patients in a critical condition.

XE2 is being showcased at the following events:


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