This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 11, 2008 - SciFest 08, St. Louis' first annual International Science Festival, kicked off at high altitude on Thursday with a showing of the popular IMAX film "Everest" followed by a presentation by members of the Caudwell Xtreme Everest team.
The British medical team went to Mount Everest to study hypoxia, low levels of oxygen in the body, a condition common to patients in intensive care. The evening's speakers were Kay Mitchell, manager of Everest base camp, and Daniel Martin, one of the doctors who made it to the summit.
The audience was also treated to a sneak peak of the sequel to "Everest," a 10 minute clip from the new IMAX film (still in production) that chronicles the team's journey to the summit.
"This wasn't about climbing mountains; it was about saving lives in emergency rooms," said Science Center president Doug King in introducing the speaker. King was one of the 200 healthy volunteers who trekked to base camp and underwent medical tests.
Mitchell and Martin showed breathtaking photographs and a short video of the doctors at the summit. "I was searching through some pictures to show you and I came across a whole folder on my computer full of videos. I was so hypoxic at the time I hadn't realized I'd taken them," Martin said.
Martin described medical research at the top of the world. "The summit is a truly spectacular place to be. But, unfortunately, not the end of our journey, because once we got there we had to take blood from one another. Since we wanted arterial blood, we decided to take it from a big artery in the groin. So, we had to strip off a little bit," he said to disbelieving laughter from the audience.
They also hinted at early research results. Wading through the avalanche of data will take time, but they say they have mapped out more than 50 scientific papers and are hopeful the findings will help hospital patients.
As an indication of the novelty of this research, Martin explained, "To the best of our knowledge, these blood samples demonstrate the lowest levels of oxygen ever recorded in human beings."
Martin will talk about more details of the findings on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. at another SciFest session. They also discussed the next expedition to Everest. Planned for the spring of 2009, they hope it will answer questions raised by the results of the first trip. They are seeking volunteers.
"And if anybody's seriously interested, you should talk to Kay," said King of the trek to base camp. "It was an amazing experience. I would recommend it to anybody."
Julia Evangelou Strait is a freelance science writer based in St. Louis. She has a master's degree in biomedical engineering and works in hospital epidemiology for BJC HealthCare.