Peak practice for scientists

January 6, 1995

Intrepid scientists have just completed a breathtaking voyage of discovery taking them to the top of the world to study, among other things, the common cough.

The British Mount Everest Medical Expedition involves more than 70 researchers who tackled mountains in Nepal and Tibet. Fifteen medical projects were undertaken, including the study of coughs, heart rate and breathing. The findings are expected to have enormous implications for skiers and climbers as well as for the general understanding of conditions like bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and heart conditions.

Peter Barry, clinical research fellow in the department of child health at Leicester University, is a key member of the research team. "The strengths of the expedition's research programme lie in its breadth of experiments and its number of subjects," he said.

"This project involves 60 research subjects which will yield the equivalent of ten years of data at high altitude." Dr Barry said the scientists planned to collect data on weight, acute mountain sickness, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure and other information on physical performance.

The effects of ascent and acclimatisation to high altitude on blood pressure and carbohydrate absorption were measured as weight loss has been repeatedly observed in climbers above 5,000m.

The function and dysfunct-ion of the eye and nasal ciliary structure at altitude were also analysed.

Dr Barry said 12 researchers established a research base at the foot of the Khumbu Ice Fall, (altitude 5,500m) where most of the involved studies took place. Eight members of the expedition would climb Everest and the rest would attempt other peaks.

The toughest ambition was to set up a research station on the Western Cwm, the final approach to the summit of Everest. This would allow the researchers to study many more details of those living and working for extended periods at 7,000m.

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