Nepal also has a long history of research in mountain medicine starting with the Silver Hut studies in the early 1960s, one of the first to look at the effect of high altitude on the human physiology. The Sherpa people are probably the most studied, breath-analysed and blood-taken community in the world, as scientists try to find out how their bodies have evolved to high altitude.
Even today, many Himalayan expeditions have medical research components, like the study of two mountaineers who were on Mt Everest this spring, while their twins stayed at sea level. The goal was to study possible changes in their gene expression.
Local organisers of the Kathmandu conference this week are mostly young Nepali doctors of the Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal (MMSN) which is dedicated to keeping the Himalaya safe by researching and increasing awareness of mountain medicine. They will be presenting findings on altitude illness, cold, avalanche hazards, search and rescue, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, etc. The conference has offered 80 scholarships for young Nepali doctors to attend the meeting with support from Maniraj Neupane, an internal medicine intern in Pittsburgh.
The Himalayan Rescue Association has been a pioneer in mountain medicine in the Himalaya for almost 40 years, with its clinics in Pheriche and other popular trekking and mountaineering routes.
Among the speakers at the conference are Peter Hackett who has done pioneering research into mountain medicine as medical director at the HRA, and David Shlim who has studied traveller’s diarrhoea.