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Doctors to scale Everest for thin-air research

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, June 6 (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 people.'' The scientists hope that by studying the effects of low oxygen on healthy people on Everest they will find some answers.

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 metre 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 functions.

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.'' REUTERS CH HS0925

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