Altigene, a research group of young scientists of the University of Tartu is developing a gene test, which can warn mountaineers of predisposition to altitude sickness. The test can also help livestock farmers save millions of dollars.
Altigene is a group of young researchers of the University of Tartu who believe that their gene test enables to diagnose altitude sickness and thereby prevent its serious consequences. Altitude sickness causes flu-like symptoms and at worst may develop into life-threatening cerebral or pulmonary oedema.
As passionate mountaineers, members of the Altigene team have witnessed several cases of the disease and they are convinced that better awareness can help prevent cases that end in death.
About 45 million people all over the world engage in mountain climbing, and the global adventure tourism market is valued at 650 million dollars. According to a study conducted in Nepal, eight people per 100,000 trekkers die from complications caused by altitude sickness.
Amateur mountaineer Indrek Koemets was struck by altitude sickness in 2019 on the ascent to Mount Kazbek. He said that very few people are known to develop severe symptoms of mountain sickness at such a low altitude – 3,800 metres – but he got a fever and chills. “I actually don’t remember the last night; I woke up on a drip in the tent of Polish medics,” he said. Koemets was lucky to recover without complications.
Allan Tobi, a doctoral student at the University of Tartu and the CEO of Altigene, explained that Altigene intends to provide three services: gene tests, genetic consultations and blood tests. The aim is to determine the predisposition to altitude sickness and other conditions associated with high altitude.
According to Tobi, the main target groups of the gene test are mountain climbers, guides, athletes, but also the military who carry out missions in high mountains. Namely, it would be useful for the military if they could select soldiers for the mission who do best in the mountains.
Allan Tobi says that a possible target group of the gene test are cattle animals who can also get altitude sickness. A centain number of the animals who are taken seasonally to graze on high-altitude pastures die and, as a result, livestock farmers suffer millions of dollars of loss.
Altigene wants to take the test to the market in 2023. The team invites mountaineers who have already had altitude sickness or who would like to know more about it to participate in their research. Also new, enterprising members are welcome to join the research team. If you want to be involved in Altigene’s activities, please contact Allan Tobi (allan.tobi [ät] ut.ee).