Everest trek shows how some people get type 2 diabetes

April 14, 2014
This is Dr. Sundeep Dhillon being tested on an exercise bike at Everest Base Camp. Credit: Caudwell Xtreme Everest

Scientists have gained new insights into the molecular process of how some people get type II diabetes, which could lead to new ways of preventing people from getting the condition.

The research, led by the University of Southampton and UCL, which took place on Mount Everest, assessed the mechanisms by which low oxygen levels in the body – known as hypoxia – are associated with the development of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is when cells fail to respond to insulin in the body. Insulin enables the body to regulate sugar levels. Too much sugar can be toxic and leads to type II diabetes.

The research, published in PLOS ONE, found that several markers of insulin resistance were increased following sustained exposure (6-8 weeks) to hypoxia at and that this change was related to increased blood levels of markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. The data came from a study called Caudwell Xtreme Everest, which took place in 2007 and was coordinated by the UCL Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme environment medicine (CASE Medicine).

The study was led by Mike Grocott, Professor of Anaesthesia and Critical Care at the University of Southampton, co-founder of UCL CASE Medicine, who now leads the Critical Care Research Area within the Southampton National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit. He comments: "These results have given us useful insight into the clinical problem of insulin resistance. Fat tissue in 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. Our study was unique in that it enabled us to see things in healthy people at altitude that which we might normally only see in obese people at sea level. The results suggest possible interventions to reduce progression towards full-blown diabetes, including measures to reduce and inflammation within the body."

This shows views across the Western Cwm from Camp 2 on Everest. Credit: Caudwell Xtreme Everest

During the study, 24 people travelled to Mount Everest and underwent assessments of glucose control, body weight changes and inflammation biomarkers at Everest Base Camp, which is at an altitude of 5,300m. Half the group remained at Base Camp while the other half climbed the mountain to a maximum of 8,848m. Measurements were taken in each group at week six and week eight of the trek.

The aim was to increase understanding of critically ill patients. The team also made the first ever measurement of the level of oxygen in human blood at 8400m, on the balcony of Everest. This is the centrepiece of an extensive and continuing programme of research into hypoxia and human performance at extreme altitude, aimed at improving the care of the critically ill and other patients where hypoxia is a fundamental problem. The most recent experiment by the same team, Xtreme Everest 2, took place in spring 2013.

Dr Daniel Martin, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant, UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science and Director of UCL CASE Medicine, adds: "These exciting results give us a unique insight into the possible mechanism of in diabetes and provide some clues as to where we should be thinking about focusing further research on novel treatments for this disease. It also demonstrates the value of using healthy volunteers in studies carried out at high altitude to patients at sea level. Our high altitude experimental model for investigating every day illnesses that involve tissue is a fantastic way to test hypotheses that would otherwise be very difficult to explore."

Explore further: Everest expedition suggests nitric oxide benefits for intensive care patients

More information: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094915

Related Stories

Everest expedition suggests nitric oxide benefits for intensive care patients

October 6, 2011
The latest results from an expedition to Mount Everest that looked at the body's response to low oxygen levels suggest that drugs or procedures that promote the body's production of a chemical compound called nitric oxide ...

Is travel to high altitudes more risky for people with diabetes?

September 30, 2013
Many factors can affect blood sugar control at high altitudes, and people considering a mountain journey need to understand the potential risks of the environmental extremes, extensive exercise, and dietary changes they may ...

Intermittent exercise improves blood glucose control for diabetics

February 2, 2012
Intermittent exercise with and without low oxygen concentrations (or hypoxia) can improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics, however exercise while under hypoxic conditions provides greater improvements in glycemic ...

US scientists head to Mount Everest for research

April 20, 2012
(AP) -- A team of American scientists and researchers flew to the Mount Everest region on Friday to set up a laboratory at the base of the world's highest mountain to study the effects of high altitude on humans.

Recommended for you

Post-stroke patients reach terra firma with new exosuit technology

July 26, 2017
Upright walking on two legs is a defining trait in humans, enabling them to move very efficiently throughout their environment. This can all change in the blink of an eye when a stroke occurs. In about 80% of patients post-stroke, ...

Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

July 24, 2017
Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

Researchers develop new method to generate human antibodies

July 24, 2017
An international team of scientists has developed a method to rapidly produce specific human antibodies in the laboratory. The technique, which will be described in a paper to be published July 24 in The Journal of Experimental ...

New vaccine production could improve flu shot accuracy

July 24, 2017
A new way of producing the seasonal flu vaccine could speed up the process and provide better protection against infection.

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.