What is extreme physiology, and how can studying human systems under extreme stress enhance our understanding of disease processes and treatment of patients?
Whether it’s climbing a mountain, diving the depths of the sea or hiking in the bitterly cold arctic, research is trying to develop our understanding of human physiology in these extreme environments. Here, I asked four experts more about the work they do.
Firstly I spoke to Co-Editor-in-Chief, Mike Grocott, professor of Anaesthesia and Critical Care at the University of Southampton and Consultant in Critical Care Medicine at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
Mike starts by explaining what extreme physiology is. His work has focused on studying the effects of extreme altitude on the human body and since 2006 he has been the Director of the Xtreme Everest Oxygen Research Consortium.
I asked him more about his work, including what inspired him to research this area, and what some of the challenges are that come with studying extreme environments.
“Our belief is that you can, through studying integrative physiology under different stresses, understand more about how the body responds to pathological stresses and therefore develop new diagnostics and interventions for different medical problems.”
Hugh Montgomery, also Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal, is Professor of Intensive Care Medicine and University College, London (UCL). With his work focusing on the use of genetic tools to understand human physiological responses to environmental stimuli, he is particularly interested in the human adaptive response to hypoxia.
Here I asked Hugh to tell us more about how he got into this field, what the major important advances have been and what has helped to achieve this.
“The ability to obtain vast quantities of data, not just from patients but from transcriptomes, metabolomes, genomes and proteomes, that technology is now available and it’s becoming very cheap. The big challenge now is how on earth to interpret the data.”
Lindsay Edwards is Director of Metabolism and Systems Biology at GlaxoSmithKline and has also published manuscripts with Extreme Physiology & Medicine. With qualifications in both physiology and mathematics, Lindsay’s research interests focus on human systems biology and striated muscle plasticity and utilizing novel and unusual methods to study how extreme environments affect these functions.
Lindsay talks about what roles systems biology or computational modelling has to play in overcoming challenges in extreme physiology research and what questions remain to be answered, as well as providing advice for those interested in per suing a career in this field.
“One of the great benefits of modelling a system, particularly a human-based model, is that you can do things to a model that you couldn’t do to a person, so you can endlessly manipulate things in the system.”
Lastly I spoke to Mike Tipton, Senior Editor of the journal and Professor of Human & Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth. Mike has 30 years of experience working in the areas of thermoregulation, environmental and occupational physiology and the physiological and psychological responses of humans to adverse environments.
Here he reveals more about what inspired him to study extreme cold water immersion, what individual variation is, how research has changed treatment protocols for hypothermia and what technology holds for the future of this research.
“We’ve done a small amount of work looking at cross-adaptation; we know that if you adapt somebody to cold, they do better at altitude, which is kind of intriguing.”
To read more from experts in the field, take a look at Extreme Physiology & Medicine’s Career Perspective’s series.