Surviving when oxygen is in short supply

One in five of us will end up in an intensive care unit (ICU) at some point in life. 40%, nearly half, will die, with a lack of oxygen reaching vital organs a major cause. Exploiting the oxygen-thin air at high altitude, via the Xtreme Everest research programme, we're simulating the hypoxia (lack of oxygen) experienced by many ICU patients.

Key investigator: Prof Mike Grocott

Progress to date

  • We have demonstrated variability in responses to low oxygen levels among healthy volunteers, providing the basis for understanding the impact of these variances on ICU outcomes, and have completed an assessment of the impact sustained low oxygen has on blood sugar control.
  • We were also the first to report a role for nitric oxide in normal physiological adaptation to low oxygen levels at high altitude, through the Xtreme Everest collaborations.
  • Our Hypoxia-Twin study is evaluating epigenetic differences between identical twins with different responses to sustained low oxygen levels.

Xtreme Everest studies

  • Caudwell Xtreme Everest assessed variability in physiological and metabolic responses to sustained low oxygen levels at high altitude, the data from which is being used to develop the Xtreme Everest BioResource.
  • Xtreme Everest 2 compared Sherpa and lowlander physiology and genetics. Sherpas are well known to be better adapted to life at high altitude, and we wanted to discover the underlying reasons for this. Initial results from testing a compound suggest that it can mimic the blood chemistry of Sherpas in lowlanders, and we are conducting further tests to see what effect this has on their fitness.
  • We are analysing the data collected on these two Xtreme Everest projects in our NIHR-MRC funded Phenome Centre and metabolic analysis of the Caudwell Xtreme Everest BioResource.

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