2. Mountains make excellent laboratories
I work as a clinical researcher in patient monitoring for Philips Research. Surprisingly little is still known about what happens to our bodies when they are continuously exposed to low oxygen levels, similar to those experienced by patients suffering from heart failure or obstructive sleep apnea, during which our Sp02 drops and breathing rate spikes or becomes erratic. In principle, the research team of Mayo Clinic could have used a hypobaric chamber to simulate those conditions in one person over a few hours. But going up a mountain like Kilimanjaro is even better. The high altitude naturally induced similar responses. For example, a typical person's Sp02 is normally in the high 90%. For some people on the hike, that dropped to 70% or even lower, which gave a unique insight into their body's coping mechanisms. Climbing up Kilimanjaro also made it possible to observe a whole group of healthy people of varying ages (from 25 to 65) at the same time. This was key as the goal was to track how these conditions affect hearts and lungs differently as people age.
3. The data could herald new treatments for cardiac and respiratory illnesses
Ultrasound screenings and continuous monitoring have provided clues about how our bodies compensate for the lack of oxygen. By analyzing the collected data, the aim is to uncover new ways to treat cardiac and respiratory illnesses in hospitalized patients by inducing the body's natural processes. I can also see potential applications for mountaineering. Until recently, high quality ultrasound could only be delivered by large devices (mostly in hospitals). But new portable ultrasounds, might be used in the future to track the lung edema of climbers. This could help to spot potential problems earlier on, which would then enable them to descend a mountain safely, for example.