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Xtreme Everest is a team of bold and determined intensive care doctors, nurses, and scientists who conduct experiments on themselves and other volunteers on Mt. Everest. They chose the world’s highest mountain, a location with extreme weather patterns and very low oxygen levels, to mimic the critical conditions of patients in the ICU. They even performed experiments at the “Death Zone” where the altitude is so high there is just barely enough oxygen to support life. The daring Xtreme team hopes to further elucidate the molecular mechanisms of many diseases and change the way people treat critical patients at sea level.

Recently, a paper was published using the data this team gathered about the mechanism of insulin resistance and type II diabetes. But first, a quick background on insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is released when blood sugar levels are high. Those with insulin resistance do not respond as well to this hormone causing blood sugar levels to remain high. In type II diabetes, the levels have reached a point of toxicity.

In a 2007 diabetes experiment, half the team was placed at the Everest Base Camp and the other half trekked to the top of the mountain. At weeks 6 and 8 of their journey, measurements of glucose control, body weight, inflammation biomarkers, etc. were taken.

What they found was that several insulin resistance markers (markers of inflammation and oxidative stress) were increased after being deprived of oxygen (hypoxia) at the high altitude. Professor Mike Grocott from University of Southampton described explained the findings: “Fat tissue in obese people is believed to exist in a chronic state of mild hypoxia because the small blood vessels are unable to supply sufficient oxygen to fat tissue.” This oxidative stress contributes to insulin resistance and later on type II diabetes. They concluded that the changes in their bodies at the top of the mountain mimic the conditions of obese people at sea level. This finding could change the way diabetes is treated and prevented – with more focus on dampening oxidative stress and inflammation

Think About:

1. What kinds of diabetes treatment/prevention could come from these findings?
2. What other diseases are they currently studying or should be researching about?
3. Think about the ethics behind human experimentation at such conditions.

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