Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Medical Research Methodology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Design and conduct of Caudwell Xtreme Everest: an observational cohort study of variation in human adaptation to progressive environmental hypoxia

Denny ZH Levett1, Daniel S Martin2, Mark H Wilson3, Kay Mitchell2, Sundeep Dhillon3, Fabio Rigat4, Hugh E Montgomery3, Monty G Mythen1, Michael PW Grocott1* and for the Caudwell Xtreme Everest Research Group

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, UCL Institute of Human Health and Performance, First Floor, Charterhouse Building, UCL Archway Campus, Highgate Hill, London, N19 5LW, UK

2 Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, Portex Applied Human Physiology, UCL Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK

3 Department of Statistics and Centre for Analytical Science, University of Warwick, Gibbet Hill road, CV4 7AL Coventry, UK

4 Smiths Medical Professor of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Portex Unit, UCL Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Research Methodology 2010, 10:98  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-10-98

Published: 21 October 2010

Abstract

Background

The physiological responses to hypoxaemia and cellular hypoxia are poorly understood, and inter-individual differences in performance at altitude and outcome in critical illness remain unexplained. We propose a model for exploring adaptation to hypoxia in the critically ill: the study of healthy humans, progressively exposed to environmental hypobaric hypoxia (EHH). The aim of this study was to describe the spectrum of adaptive responses in humans exposed to graded EHH and identify factors (physiological and genetic) associated with inter-individual variation in these responses.

Methods

Design

Observational cohort study of progressive incremental exposure to EHH.

Setting

University human physiology laboratory in London, UK (75 m) and 7 field laboratories in Nepal at 1300 m, 3500 m, 4250 m, 5300 m, 6400 m, 7950 m and 8400 m.

Participants

198 healthy volunteers and 24 investigators trekking to Everest Base Camp (EBC) (5300 m). A subgroup of 14 investigators studied at altitudes up to 8400 m on Everest.

Main outcome measures

Exercise capacity, exercise efficiency and economy, brain and muscle Near Infrared Spectroscopy, plasma biomarkers (including markers of inflammation), allele frequencies of known or suspected hypoxia responsive genes, spirometry, neurocognitive testing, retinal imaging, pupilometry. In nested subgroups: microcirculatory imaging, muscle biopsies with proteomic and transcriptomic tissue analysis, continuous cardiac output measurement, arterial blood gas measurement, trans-cranial Doppler, gastrointestinal tonometry, thromboelastography and ocular saccadometry.

Results

Of 198 healthy volunteers leaving Kathmandu, 190 reached EBC (5300 m). All 24 investigators reached EBC. The completion rate for planned testing was more than 99% in the investigator group and more than 95% in the trekkers. Unique measurements were safely performed at extreme altitude, including the highest (altitude) field measurements of exercise capacity, cerebral blood flow velocity and microvascular blood flow at 7950 m and arterial blood gas measurement at 8400 m.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates the feasibility and safety of conducting a large healthy volunteer cohort study of human adaptation to hypoxia in this difficult environment. Systematic measurements of a large set of variables were achieved in 222 subjects and at altitudes up to 8400 m. The resulting dataset is a unique resource for the study of genotype:phenotype interactions in relation to hypoxic adaptation.