This is a technique gene remedy may change the way forward for mountaineering


Whether jetpacks, augmented reality or gene therapy – the future of mountaineering could look very different. In terms of gene therapy, this technology could have the potential to make the mountains more accessible and much safer.

Through years of research into a sometimes fatal condition commonly known as “altitude sickness,” scientists have determined that the symptoms of the condition, also known as chronic mountain sickness (CMS), are most likely the result of a population-specific “mismatch” that affects it has up to half of humanity. In other words, some groups of people are genetically prone to experience severe symptoms of altitude sickness because their genes limit their ability to adapt to high-altitude environments. The basis for this assumption is that some populations that have traditionally lived at higher elevations around the globe, such as those in the Himalayas, tend to be less susceptible to the condition.

If altitude sickness is indeed the result of genetics developed over time, it could mean that the condition could be treated with gene therapy. Research has already found several “candidate genes” that could be the underlying cause of the mismatch, meaning that successfully treating these genes can help limit the effects of the condition.

As you might expect, gene therapy is very complicated. The Cleveland Clinic describes the process as a doctor delivering a healthy copy of a gene via injection or infusion to cells in the body in the hopes that the healthy gene will “replace a damaged (mutated) gene, inactivate a mutated gene, or inactivate a gene completely.” introduces new gene.” Of course, a lot of research and development also needs to go into creating this healthy gene first, but that could mean that if scientists are able to fully determine which aspect of the genetic code causes altitude sickness, can change it in a way that eliminates the mismatch.

As gene therapy technology advances in relation to altitude sickness, it could add another tool that some people could use to improve their mountaineering potential. Another option to combat altitude sickness would be of great benefit as few drugs are available to prevent altitude sickness (dexamethasone and acetazolamide, 2021) and only one drug is recommended as a truly effective treatment (dexamethasone).

A gene therapy option would not only make mountain exploration safer for many of those already doing it, but also make high-altitude landscapes more accessible to those who might avoid it due to CMS concerns. While many people don’t feel the effects of altitude until they’ve spent several hours above 8,000 feet, others may experience symptoms of a devastating magnitude at a much lower altitude in a much shorter amount of time — during a layover at Denver International Airport, for example. For those who regularly struggle with altitude sickness, this technology could be life-changing, and for the rest of us, it could make the mountains a lot more fun.

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