The End of the Beginning

The End of the Beginning

In just six days time, 34 students from the University of Edinburgh, accompanied by two expedition doctors, will be travelling to La Paz, Bolivia for the APEX 5 expedition.

After two and a half years of planning, this ambitious, student-led medical research expedition is finally coming to fruition. This blog will keep you updated throughout our time in South America, but before that let us tell you a little bit about the journey to now. This is not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but merely the end of a very long beginning.

In 2015, six senior medical students came together for the very first time. 28 months later, this team has planned, organised, communicated, overcome and succeeded in their original aim: to continue the APEX legacy.

Lots of late night meetings, long ethics forms and hard work have happened, but the two main events since the beginning of this journey have been our Weekend Away and Baseline Testing.

Weekend Away: Team Bonding

On a cold weekend in mid-February, the APEX 5 expedition team arrived at a frosty Bonaly Campsite. Based just on the edges of the Pentland Hills, it is a scout campsite with lots of outdoor adventurous activities on offer. The perfect location for our first full expedition meeting.

The weekend was designed to be very relaxed and give everyone the chance to get to know one another. The team was split into 3 groups, who rotated around a range of activities. Whilst one group played some team sports (ranging from rounders to rugby), another group were inside constructing spaghetti and marshmallow towers, and playing the classic ‘Mafia’ card game.

The third team were on the Jacob’s ladder. The beautiful thing about this obstacle is that teamwork is absolutely necessary to succeed. The only way to reach the top is if you help each other up there. Standing on shoulders, hauling people up a rung and getting in very awkward positions are all part of the fun.

Dinner was also a team effort. Led by volunteer co-ordinator Ellie, the team pulled together a delicious, vegetarian meal! The evening was very, very relaxed. After eating and cleaning up, the entire team collected round the campfire to relax, chat and sing the night away.

Rising early on Sunday, Chris got the water on whilst Becky and Will cooked the breakfast for the rest of us late risers. After fuelling up on some bacon and egg, we took a very relaxed stroll through the Pentland hills. Although nothing like the mountain we shall call home in South America (Chacaltaya, at 5300m), it was a lovely morning.

Baseline Testing: Research at the Core of the Expedition

This expedition has its foundations rooted in research. In fact, this expedition would not exist were it not for the many research projects studying the effects of high-altitude that are to be performed.

The main baseline testing happened over two days at QMRI, Little France. Led by Jason and Gordon, it saw volunteers consented, completing questionnaires and having blood samples taken. Neutrophils and platelets are the mainstay of their investigations, but if you want to hear more about that you can head over to the research section of our website:

But that’s not all that has been going on with pre-expedition research. Becky, Ellie and Greig held week-long baseline, including testing an additional 30 control subjects, completing personality and altitude-illness questionnaires whilst at low altitude. Chris has been busy looking at eyes: he has 3 different research projects, all looking at various changes to eye structure and function that occur at altitude.

After many months of careful planning and preparation, the research has truly begun. The next step will take place at 3,600m…in the heart of Bolivia! The team will be adorned in their fresh APEX 5 kit, surrounded by the stunning mountains of the Cordillera Real.

High altitude research could not be more exciting!



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