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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2008, 07:01 GMT

Team to test for altitude illness

Mount Elbrus
The students will climb Mount Elbrus as part of the project

Students from Cardiff and Swansea will scan their own brains before climbing a mountain in Russia as part of a project investigating acute altitude sickness.

The 18-strong team of medical students are trying to determine whether individuals who are at risk of the condition can be spotted in advance.

Their project will use MRI scans and check for physical characteristics which could affect individuals.

Between 15-25% of Britons exposed to moderate altitudes become affected.

Jon Bailey, one of the students organising the project, told BBC Wales' news website: "At present there is no way of being able to look at someone and say if they'll get acute mountain sickness (AMS).

"So what we're hoping to do is use the MRI scan to look at the size of someone's brain to see if they're at risk of mountain sickness."


The first part of the project will see the group scanned at the University of Glamorgan and Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) and be assessed for physiological factors which could predispose a person to AMS.

This will be followed by a trip to climb Mount Elbrus in southern Russia where the students will be assessed by questionnaire.

The final stage will see the students return to CUBRIC for a second MRI scan to investigate any changes to the brain structure.

Mr Bailey said mountain sickness cost insurance companies and health services tens of thousands of pounds as well as creating "a significant burden of illness".

"As future doctors, we have a responsibility to educate individuals to the risks of altitude illness, as well as treat those acutely affected," he added.

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