Latest news from the Xtreme Everest expedition 

27/03/2013 00:00 

The first sets of twins have now been tested at the Namche Bazaar laboratory in north-eastern Nepal in the first leg of the XtremeEverest 2 scientific expedition, which includes UCL, UCLH, and BRC-supported researchers. The first set of Sherpa subjects have completed all of their testing and are on the way back from base camp.

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 ‘Sherpa capital’ Namche, which has an altitude of 3,500m, is home to the UCL Institute of Sports Exercise and Health (ISEH) High Altitude Research Group. 

The Namche Laboratory has been built over the last two weeks to provide five rooms kitted out with sophisticated scientific equipment flown in from London to enable the study of human physiology to the highest standards. The laboratory is staffed by a team of 10 volunteer scientists from around the globe led by Professor Monty Mythen, Director of Research at UCLH, and managed by Kay Mitchell, Senior Research Manager and Acting Managing Director of the Centre for Nurse and Midwife-led Research.

This latest expedition continues the work of the Caudwell Xtreme Everest expedition in 2007 to study hypoxia – a lack of oxygen reaching the body's vital organs and a common problem for intensive care patients.

As in the earlier expedition, a dedicated team of doctors, nurses and scientists including UCL, UCLH, and BRC-supported researchers, have embarked on a trip to Mount Everest to conduct experiments on themselves and other volunteers at high altitude in order to develop novel therapies to improve the survival rates of their patients.

Despite intensive care being one of the most sophisticated areas of hospital care, there is still limited understanding of why some people survive and some die.

Because it is difficult to study patients in intensive care units, the team volunteer themselves as subjects. In addition, the team will be carrying out by far the largest comparative physiological study of Sherpas trekking to high altitude ever.  

Comparable to the critical conditions of intensive care, oxygen levels on Everest’s summit are a third of those at sea level - similar to those experienced by patients in intensive care. In the first expedition, the team even performed tests on themselves in the ‘Death Zone’ (at an altitude where there is barely enough oxygen to support life). 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.

The Sherpa people appear to tolerate hypoxia remarkably well compared to low landers but classical physiological measures of heart and lung performance have yet to explain the overt difference in performance characteristics at altitude.

64 Sherpas have volunteered to trek to Everest base camp and be studied in great detail over the next eight weeks alongside 100 non-Sherpa lowlanders, including adult twins and children. The majority of the Sherpas that will be studied now live at relative low altitudes making this a completely unique study of this scale and detail.

The Sherpa trekkers completed baseline testing in Kathmandu in the Xtreme Everest Laboratory set up in a local hotel by Professor Mike Grocott of Southampton University (ex UCL) and a team of 10 scientists.

The Sherpa teams leftNamche after two days of testing to trek to Everest Base camp where Dr Dan Martin (UCL Surgery and Expedition Leader) and a 13 strong team have set up the third and highest set of laboratories for Xtreme Everest 2. 

The equipment and staff at Namche are funded in part by The NIHR University College London Hospitals BRC, The UCLH Special Trustees, the ISEH and Smiths Medical.

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.

For updates from the Xtreme Everest 2 team visit



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