Rock Climbing Doctors
set to climb world's tallest mountain to look death in the face, take its
The Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE) team,
based at University College London, will lead the expedition to Mount Everest's
8,850m peak in 2007. The medics will measure blood oxygen in the so-called
'death zone', at altitudes above 8,000 m where the human body has struggled
- and frequently failed - to survive. 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 mountain-climbing 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 (CF) 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.
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