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Joseph Donelly — a 3rd year PhD student in Clinical Neurosciences at Churchill is currently part of an exciting multi-national research trip in the Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalaya, investigating the physiological mechanisms of human adaptation to high-altitude.
Joseph is part of the University of British Columbia expedition led by the Canadian Chair of Cerebrovascular physiology — Professor Philip Ainslie. The trip involves 37 expert physiologists, clinicians and trainees from 11 different institutions in six different countries, including the UK, USA, and Canada. The expedition involved an 8 day trek to near the Everest base camp where they will stay for 3 weeks at high altitude to conduct experiments.
The researchers are undertaking a variety of studies to test the physiological differences between peoples native to high altitude environments and those from lowlands. Particular focus will be given to brain vessel function at high altitude but also to the functioning of the lungs, heart, and muscles.
Based in Namche Bazaar — 3500m above sea level, the design of the expedition has allowed for experiments on human volunteers to take place at sea level (in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada) and also at high altitude (5050m) in the Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalaya. In addition to taking physiological measurements from lowlander populations before and after ascent to altitude, Joseph and his colleagues will have the unique opportunity to compare and contrast these measurements with the native high altitude population — the Sherpa.
As a 3rd year PhD student in Clinical Neuroscience, Joseph studies the role that the pressure within the skull (intracranial pressure) has on the course of acute traumatic brain injury. This expedition will allow him to study the role of intracranial pressure in another form of acute brain illness — acute mountain sickness. Joseph hopes to use ultrasound of the eye (specifically the optic nerve) to non-invasively assess intracranial pressure as we ascend to high altitude (in the region of Everest Base Camp).
You can follow Joseph and clinical trial coordinator at Papworth Hospital Lisa Wong's research trip on instagram.