APEX 5 Bolivia 2017 was a high altitude medical research expedition to Huayna Potosi (4,700m) near La Paz, Bolivia successfully completed in June 2017.
The expedition was led by a group of medical students at the University of Edinburgh. Following in the footsteps of previous APEX expeditions, APEX 5 carried out scientific research exploring the impact of altitude and hypoxia (low oxygen) on coagulation, immunology, genetics, cognitive function and vision. This research has the potential to affect millions worldwide.
Our expedition gave 30 Edinburgh University students a unique cultural and professional experience, whilst experiencing exciting research in the beautiful Bolivian Andes.
See our expedition blog for expedition tales!
Every year, 100 million individuals go above 2500m: high altitude dwellers, pilgrims, travellers, and climbers. People are susceptible to altitude illness above 2500m.
High altitude is particularly stressful for lowlanders. At high altitude, there is less oxygen available for the body, and rapid physiological adjustments are needed to prevent harm. This proc ess of adjustment, known as acclimatisation, is highly variable.
During an acute exposure to altitude, some individuals adjust sufficiently while others can develop altitude illnesses. These include acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE; swelling of the brain tissue), and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE; fluid build-up in the lungs). You can find out more about altitude illness here.
A greater knowledge of the mechanisms that lead to altitude illness is needed to improve the wellbeing of the millions of individuals who ascend to high-altitude each year.
Importantly, knowledge gained from high-altitude research can also be applied much more widely, as many patients who are extremely unwell due to acute trauma or severe disease will also have low blood oxygen concentration. Therefore, our exciting research has the potential to improve our understanding of conditions that affect millions of people around the world.
Our expedition will follow in the footsteps of four previous successful APEX expeditions to Chacaltaya, Bolivia. Our ascent profile will match that of previous APEX expeditions. The expedition is led by six senior medical students at Edinburgh University, with the support of University clinicians and researchers.
Aims & Objectives
The main scientific aims of our expedition are to investigate the impact of altitude and low oxygen (hypoxia) on blood clotting, the immune system, cognitive function, the eye and vision, and genetics.
Alongside our scientific aims, we aim more broadly to inspire our volunteers, allowing them to get involved in exciting research. We hope APEX 6 will develop from our volunteers.
Around 30 volunteers may take part in research studies involving:
Blood samples investigating white blood cells (the immune system), blood clotting, and genetic changes at altitude
Altitude illness questionnaires
Jason, Gordon, and Chris are research leads for this expedition. More information on their research is detailed below.
The APEX 5 expedition started in La Paz on the 19th June 2017 where the team spent four days acclimatising in La Paz (3,700m) before ascending to Huayna Potosi (4,700m) for a further eight days.
Throughout the expedition we collected blood samples, performed vision tests and fillout symptom questionnaires.
APEX 5 is delighted to be endorsed by leading figures in both mountaineering and altitude medicine circles.
THE ORGANISING COMMITTEE
The team of Medical Students from the University of Edinburgh who organised the APEX 5 Expedition.
THE VOLUNTEER LIFE
Following a round of interviews and medical checks - the final APEX 5 crew has been confirmed! We will meet a number of times to chat through all things APEX as well as fundraising, an awesome weekend away and baseline testing. This will ensure we are all one big happy family by the time we isolate ourselves up a mountain for 10 days for the sake of altitude medicine...
Seriously though, APEX is incredible and on this page we will try and give you a bit of insight into what it's like up there. Our South America experience starts off with a few days in the capital of La Paz. It's a great place to wander around, eat and acclimatise. The city has a real buzz and the cable car ride allows you to see the epic backdrop of many South American cities for the first time.
On day 4 we will then take mini buses up to our home at Chaclataya. This is a stunning ride and climbs almost 2000m. At this point there is a great mix of excitement and nerves, then you arrive to an incredible view.
Day-to-day life consists of chilling with friends, taking part in research and taking in the amazing scenery all around you.Some of us also became extremely talented at cards and many used this down time to plan their up coming South America travel adventures. APEX 5 is the perfect gateway to exploring South America. It combines a genuine interest in medical research with a love for travel and adventure. You will not be short of travel companions and incredible bucket-list places to see!
It's a pretty simple life up the mountain and with being at such high altitude you'll need to be taking things slow. With a great group, come great ideas with how to keep our minds occupied. THIS for example was filmed and edited in its entirety whilst at Chaclataya..
APEX 5 has recruited a fantastic team of volunteers! Here is a bit about life as an APEX volunteer and favourite Chaclataya memories shared by the committee.