skip to primary navigationskip to content

The world's highest lab is uncovering the secrets of extreme fitness

last modified Mar 21, 2018 12:46 PM
Andrew Murray, part of the Xtreme Everest project, was interviewed by Wired Magazine on the difficulties of testing Sherpas in high altitude, low oxygen environments

Medical research team Xtreme Everest set up a lab in one of earth’s most oxygen-starved places. What they discovered could save thousands of lives around the world.

“We measured mitochondrial functions in the field,” says Andrew Murray, a University of Cambridge physiologist who researches mitochondrial function, and who was on the 2007 and 2013 Extreme Everest expeditions. They took a biopsy of muscle from the top of the volunteers’ legs, and then probed the mitochondrial pathways to see how much oxygen they use. “It’s very difficult, and only two labs in the world can do it,” Murray says. “It’s hard enough in a well-stocked lab at sea level – I can’t overstate how difficult it is in a tent at the Base Camp of Everest.”

The team’s findings were published in May 2017. The Sherpas were not only using oxygen to make ATP more efficiently than lowlanders, but also while the energy levels in the muscles of lowlanders drop at altitude as oxygen becomes scarcer, the energy levels in Sherpa muscles increases. “It is an extraordinary finding,” says Murray. “They need oxygen like we do, but in that low-oxygen environment, they produce not just more energy than us lowlanders, but they themselves have more energy than they do at sea level. In other words, as they climb upwards into the environment where they have adapted for thousands of years, they become healthier.

Read the full article here.

Filed under: