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CU researchers explore ways to cure altitude sickness

Claire Trageser
The Denver Post
Special to the Daily/The Denver PostThe chamber at the center mimics the low atmospheric pressure people experience at higher altitudes so researchers can observe its effects.
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Martin Kohn was on his way up.

At 6:30 a.m., he entered the altitude chamber in the University of Colorado’s Altitude Research Center. Within 10 minutes, researchers changed the pressure inside the chamber to take him from Denver’s mile-high altitude to a simulated elevation of 16,000 feet.

At that altitude, the 19-year-old test subject suffered a headache, nausea and muscle fatigue, all symptoms of “acute mountain sickness,” said center director Dr. Ben Honigman.

But Kohn endured the pain for a good cause: His experience in the chamber is helping Honigman develop drugs that lessen the time it takes for people to adjust to high altitudes, including soldiers battling at the extreme elevations of Afghanistan.

Honigman has applied to the Army’s research wing – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – for $20 million in grants to further the research.

He declined to elaborate on how the drugs work because of the competitive nature of his research.

In the chamber, the low atmospheric pressure at simulated high elevations made it harder for Kohn’s body to take in oxygen, which caused his altitude sickness symptoms.

Though he felt weak, he hopped on an exercise bike and rode for the next two hours, stopping twice for 15-minute breaks. The exercise is meant to exaggerate the effects of the altitude, and it worked. After the riding session and a series of cognitive tests and breathing exercises, the fit college student could not hold his head up.

By 11:30 a.m., he was still inside the chamber, leaning forward in his seat, resting his head between his knees for 10 minutes at a time.

“I got really dizzy,” he said. “Then I took a nice long nap.”

Although this procedure might sound like a strange form of torture, it serves an important purpose.

Honigman and his team of 14 researchers use subjects such as Kohn to test the effectiveness of new drugs that they hope will provide a cure for altitude sickness.

Read the rest of this story at http://www.denverpost.com/ci_12759564


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