Dunedin invention goes up in world

Researcher Dr Sam Lucas, with the PowerLab, in the University of Otago physiology department this...
Researcher Dr Sam Lucas, with the PowerLab, in the University of Otago physiology department this week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A Dunedin invention has scaled new scientific heights on Mt Everest.

University of Otago researchers recently conducted experiments with the ADInstruments PowerLab on the world's highest peak, to measure the effects of altitude on human health.

The international scientific expedition involved researchers from six countries spending six weeks at the Pyramid Laboratory, near the Everest south base camp, at an altitude of 5400m, University of Otago research fellow Dr Sam Lucas said yesterday.

The scientific and medical experiments were designed to mimic the symptoms and outcomes that occur in respiratory disease and chronic heart failure, as well as for people suffering from sleep apnoea.

"We were looking at the role of brain blood flow in breathing stability and how improved brain blood flow may prevent sleep apnoea," he said.

Untreated sleep apnoea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.

"It took two years of planning and eight days to walk in to where the lab is, so you have to make the most of it while you're there. You work slower because you're hypoxic, having only half the oxygen in your blood as you do at sea level."

The results were logged on a device created in Dunedin, called the PowerLab data acquisition system, which converts electrical signals from living matter into digital data.

The $10,000 PowerLab was developed in the University of Otago physiology department to supersede old paper chart recorders and is now used worldwide in universities, hospitals, research institutes, pharmaceutical companies and private industry research sectors.

"It was developed in Dunedin and the headquarters is still in Dunedin," Dr Lucas said.

"It allows you to do so much and records all the information, like how the different systems in the body work together when dealing with physical stress. Then it converts the information into digital signals and you can look at it all together in real time.

"It's a global company and you see their [ADInstruments'] equipment all around the world. I've seen one in every lab I've visited and worked in. It's great to see something that was born out of the physiology department in Dunedin."

The researchers were "still in the early stages of presenting and publishing the work", Dr Lucas said.

- nigel.benson@odt.co.nz


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