College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Study team in peak condition for Andes trip

Pioneering medical students are to scale one of South America’s highest peaks where they will carry out vital research.

The Edinburgh team is to study the impact on the body of low oxygen levels found at altitude.

The students hope their findings can help people affected by a range of conditions, not just at high altitude.

Their experiments will be carried out on Chacaltaya mountain in the Bolivian Andes.

Students on the APEX 5 (Altitude Physiology Expedition 5) will be working in a pop-up laboratory in a ski lodge at 5,300 metres.

Training session

APEX 5 team
APEX 5 team

They prepared for their 11-day trip with a final training session on the climbing wall at the University's Centre for Sport & Exercise.

By studying the effects of low oxygen on healthy bodies at altitude, the 35-strong team hopes to help millions of people.

These include people with conditions including lung disease, as well as patients in intensive care.

Research has shown that oxygen deficiency  – known as hypoxia – causes some blood cells to stick together, a key step in forming blood clots.

Patient risk

The APEX 5 expedition, which begins on 19 June, could reveal why patients with hypoxia are more at risk of strokes and heart attacks. 

Patients with hypoxia have a worse prognosis following infection, with an increased risk of death. The study will seek to uncover how low oxygen influences the immune system.

The study could also inform treatment of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and shed light on how altitude affects the vision and brain function of climbers, skier and pilots.

The celebrated mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington is among those who have welcomed the initiative.

This is vital research, relevant not only to high altitude dwellers and visitors, but also to patients worldwide with low blood oxygen. The expedition team has my full support.

Sir Chris BoningtonMountaineer

We’re really looking forward to this trip and what it might uncover. We hope that our findings will help to improve the health and wellbeing of countless people around the world.

Chris GrahamExpedition organiser

All images © Neil Hanna