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Environment

Climbing Everest is So Much Like Aging That the Mayo Clinic is Headed There To Do Research

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Mount Everest is often the site of impressive physical feats, as climbers brave brutal conditions to scale the tallest peak in the world. But the extreme altitude takes quite a toll on the body, causing hypoxia, muscle loss, sleep apnea, and other ill effects. Many of the same symptoms are more commonly found in elderly patients suffering from heart conditions or other chronic ailments---meaning Everest provides a natural laboratory for researchers to gain a better understanding of these diseases. Scientists from the Mayo Clinic are making their way from Minnesota to Everest base camp, where they'll set up an ersatz lab to monitor the vital signs of nine climbers making the ascent (the scientists' 1,300 pounds of equipment will be carried to camp by yaks). The team will gather data on the mountaineers' heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep quality, as well as taking samples of their blood and urine. Among the questions the scientists will investigate are whether muscle loss, common in heart disease patients and the elderly, is related to lack of oxygen, especially during sleep, and why fluid gathers in the lungs of both some high-altitude climbers and some heart failure patients. They'll also test out a new heartrate monitor device embedded in the climbers' clothes---and, if it works well, perhaps in the clothes of patients someday soon. [via Discovery News]

Image courtesy of Luca Galuzzi / Wikimedia Commons

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