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Hypoxia, a harmful or beneficial mechanism?

Study of high altitude hypoxia - adaptations and intolerances of the organism - and of controlled hypoxia as a way to improve health

The organism's mechanisms of intolerance and adaptation to hypoxia, a term that means a lack of oxygen supply to the tissues, remain unclear. The Mountain-Altitude-Health Chair, supported by the Grenoble Alpes University Foundation, is studying both the impact of a lack of oxygen in individuals visiting and living at altitude and its use as a new therapeutic approach for certain chronic illnesses.

Hypoxia and its effects

Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen supply to the tissues of our organism. Such an imbalance between oxygen demand and supply can occur when the lungs are no longer capable of sufficiently oxygenating the blood, for example in the case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or sleep apnea syndrome. A reduced quantity of oxygen in the arteries (hypoxemia) can also be observed in certain physiological situations, for example at altitude. The Mountain-Altitude-Health Chair is working to better understand its effects in two ways: high altitude hypoxia and hypoxia as a way to improve health and performance.

Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation

High altitude hypoxia

The human body develops adaptation and intolerance mechanisms in high altitude hypoxia situations. To get a better understanding of these mechanisms and their consequences for health, the team of Dr. Samuel Vergès is determining the tolerance markers, the factors that predict intolerance and innovative countermeasures as part of Expedition 5300, a scientific and medical program in the world's highest city in Peru, La Rinconada (5,300 m). Populations living at high altitude, through the adaptation they have developed over the generations, constitute a unique model and an important source of scientific inspiration. Comprehensive genetic, epigenetic1, biological, cardiovascular and respiratory phenotyping is conducted on the population of La Rinconada, differentiating between inhabitants with or without signs of intolerance to hypoxia, and compared with populations living at lower altitude. Clinical trials of certain therapeutic interventions are conducted to try and offset the potentially harmful effects of severe, continuous hypoxia in these high altitude inhabitants.

1. Epigenetics is the study of the modification of gene expression - a process that leads to the production of molecules - depending on our immediate environment.



Hypoxia, a way to improve health?

Whereas severe and chronic hypoxia is considered primarily to be a harmful physiopathological mechanism, original results from the HP2 Laboratory in Grenoble suggest that hypoxia could also be a stimulus for inducing adaptations beneficial to health. This stimulus could, if dosed accurately and repeated appropriately over time, cause response mechanisms leading to a strengthening of the organism, making it more resistant to certain chronic pathologies. The aim is therefore to develop a preventive and therapeutic strategy, based on repeated exposure to controlled intensity hypoxia known as hypoxic conditioning. Preliminary work has been done by the team in the field of obesity and initial results demonstrate the importance for the cardiovascular health of patients of regular exposure (e.g. 3 times a week) to controlled hypoxia doses (simulating moderate altitude) at rest and during physical exertion.

How the Air Liquide Foundation is participating

The Air Liquide Foundation is contributing €150,000 over 3 years to the salary of the post-doctoral researcher.