A V Hill Lecture - Kings and Queens of the Mountain: Studies of Extreme Physiology in Himalayan Sherpas

Dr Andrew Murray, Reader in Metabolic Physiology from the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience discusses the body’s responses to altitude and considers the different evolutionary strategies adopted by Sherpas and other high-altitude dwelling people.

As we ascend to high altitude, our bodies experience low oxygen availability - a condition known as hypoxia. In response, our heart rate and breathing rate are adjusted in an attempt to maintain oxygen supply to our vital organs, whilst levels of oxygen-carrying red cells increase in our blood. Despite this, we are limited by the low oxygen available to us, and this impacts on our ability to think and exercise. In human populations that have spent thousands of years residing at altitude, such as the Himalayan Sherpas, there has been a selection of genetic variations which enable them to live, work and reproduce in this environment.

In this talk, Andrew Murray will discuss work that he has carried out for more than 15 years and across two major research expeditions in collaboration with the Xtreme Everest Research Group. Andrew will look at some of the paradoxes of our own bodies' responses to altitude, and consider the different evolutionary strategies adopted by Sherpas and other high-altitude dwelling people.

Finally, Andrew will describe how this research is beginning to help in the treatment of patients who are experiencing hypoxia in other life-threatening contexts, such as the intensive care unit.

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