High-altitude Environments and Spleen Function in Humans

Tom Brutsaert (EXE) PI, NSF. 9/1/22-8/31/25

Sherpa highland natives in Nepal are known worldwide for their extraordinary physical abilities at high altitude. They are derived from Tibetan populations that may have experienced natural selection over thousands of years in response to hypobaric hypoxia (i.e., low oxygen environments). This project seeks to understand the role of the spleen and natural selection in determining the exercise capacity and hypoxia tolerance of Sherpa at altitude. The spleen is a small organ that in many species dynamically regulates circulating red-blood cells in response to physiological stress. The study is field-based and involves a multinational research team collecting exercise, hematological, and genomic data on Sherpa and controls in both Kathmandu (1,400m), Nepal, and in the village of Pheriche (4,300m), Nepal, near Mount Everest base camp.