In 1981, Dr. John West, professor of medicine and physiology at the University of California-San Diego, led an expedition to the summit of Mount Everest to record the first measurements of human physiology at the peak.
Though many have made it to the top since, no research group, before or after Westâ??s, has made the 29,000-foot climb to better understand how people, who live at sea-level, tolerate extremely low levels of oxygen.
â??We believe that by studying people under these extreme conditions, we can understand more about the way patients with COPD, for example, an extremely common disease, how they tolerate their low oxygen,â?? explained West.
West said numerous scientific analyses have concluded that the top of Everest seems to be the very limit of human tolerance to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. His team was able to record and analyze how oneâ??s breathing changed at various heights.
â??The extent to which you increase your breathing, ventilation, the rate and depth of breathing,â?? West said. â??Unless you are able to do that to an extremely large extent, thereâ??s no way you can tolerate these very low levels of oxygen.â??
Many students came to the presentation, sponsored by the American Physiological Society, because they study physiology for their degree.
â??I actually read a book a few years ago about deep sea diving and how the effects of changes in blood concentration, and things like that, affect that,â?? said graduate student, Oly Khowash. â??So, this is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum.â??
But for others, it was to hear about the trek riddled with incredible tales of success and a few close calls.
â??Well, he was extremely inspirational, and anyone who has climbed Mount Everest obviously has a lot of passion and perseverance in life and in their endeavors and their passions, so that was very inspirational,â?? said future graduate student, Lydia Patch.
West said he hopes to encourage students to pursue research in any field.
â??Iâ??ve spent my career doing research, and Iâ??ve had an enormous amount of satisfaction from it, and Iâ??m hoping that other students will have the same experience,â?? he said.