Toughbook-Equipped Expedition Ascends Everest for Heart Disease Research

In April 2012, a team of American scientists, researchers and adventurers flew to Mount Everest to study the effects of high altitude on humans; specifically on their heart, lungs and cognitive function. The extreme altitude on Everest provided an ideal environment to monitor the body’s function under extreme conditions, as experienced by patients of one of the most widespread diseases around the world: heart disease.The team consisted of researchers from the Mayo Clinic, North Face, National Geographic and Montana State University.

[pullquote]A computer failure at the basecamp would have been a disaster.[/pullquote]

The Mayo Clinic has a longstanding technology relationship with Panasonic and has taken Panasonic Toughbook mobile computers on previous research projects to remote locations, such as South America and Antarctica, so the team of researchers knew they could rely on rugged devices to perform under the extreme conditions they would encounter on Everest. The expedition, led by Dr. Bruce Johnson, head of the Human Integrative and Physiology Research Laboratory at Mayo Clinic, took five fully-rugged Toughbook 31s and one fully-rugged Toughbook 19 convertible tablet with them.

Mayo2“We transformed ourselves into ‘heart failure patients’ by hiking up to Mount Everest Base Camp (17,598.4 ft), where we set up our remote testing laboratory to conduct experiments normally done at the Mayo Clinic,” said Amine Issa, Ph.D, Mayo Clinic researcher and expedition member. “Once you reach higher elevations, you realize what it’s like to be in a patient’s shoes. Each set of steps forces you to pause to catch your breath and lacing your boots becomes the hardest thing you have ever done. Although there are techniques to emulate similar conditions in the lab, such as a hypobaric chamber, which controls pressure to simulate high altitude, the sheer scope of the experimental protocol made Nepal and Everest a more effective testing location.”

The team set up a mobile physiology lab at basecamp where they spent a month monitoring a core group of nine expedition members with cutting-edge tests developed specifically for measuring physiological metrics, including heart rate, cognitive function, sleep quality, gas exchange and body composition. A remainder of the group, nine elite climbers, received similar treatment, and the results were compared to understand how the human body adapts differently to handle possible deadly changes seen in both the high altitude ascender and the heart failure patient. These parallels allow research findings from high altitude studies to be transferred to research in heart failure.

Due to the extreme conditions on Mount Everest and the importance of this research,the research team required rugged and reliable computer hardware that would enable them to continue working, despite extreme the weather conditions and odds of accidental drops.

Mayo3“A computer failure at the basecamp would have been a disaster,” said Issa. “If the technology would have failed, we would not have been able to complete our research, making the trip a near waste of time and resources. Knowing that our Toughbook computers weren’t going to fail gave us an extra sense of security and one less item to worry about on Everest.”

Issa and the rest of the team deemed the expedition a resounding success.

“The data obtained through continuous monitoring of the human body throughout this expedition will allow us to detect trends and develop algorithms to use in home [heart] patient monitoring,” said Issa. “The information can be used to design advance warning systems for cardiac events, potentially pushing the fields of tele-health and remote monitoring forward. If people can be monitored with high medical accuracy in the world’s harshest environments, it is conceivable that they can be reliably monitored in the comfort of their own home.”