Skip to main content
Image relating to UHCW professor leads gruelling medical research expedition to the South Pole

UHCW professor leads gruelling medical research expedition to the South Pole

Surgeon and explorer Chris Imray has completed an epic adventure after leading a medical research expedition to the South Pole.

Chris, a Professor in Vascular and Renal Transplantation Surgery at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust and Warwick Medical School and Coventry University, was co-leader of  Inspire22, the largest human physiology study to take place in Antarctica.

A military/civilian team of six men and three women crossed the polar plateau from the Messner Start on the Ross Ice Shelf.

It took 47 days to cover 950 kms – skiing seven hours a day with just two days off – in temperatures dipping to -50C.

The aim was to collect data, which will now take six to 12 months to analyse, on human metabolism during sustained polar activity.

“Despite taking in around 5,500 calories a day – at least twice the normal amount – there was a weight loss of between four and 13 kilos,” said Professor Imray.

“One of the things we were testing is whether or not brown fat was ‘switched on’. Brown fat is very metabolically active and normally only seen in newborn babies when they are trying to keep warm.

“We weighed ourselves every five days, so we recorded when the weight loss occurs. You lose quite a bit to begin with, then it seems to steady out, but it seems to go quicker again when you are at higher altitudes.”

The team, who used the Human Metabolism Unit at University Hospital to carry out tests both before and after the trip, each needed to pull a pouk (sledge) of food and supplies weighing between 60kg and 79kg.

With 24 hours sunlight, sleeping was difficult. And the explorers were also away from family over Christmas.

“It was an amazing trip and very satisfying to see it all come together,” said 63-year-old Professor Imray, who got to meet grandson Zac for the first time on his return.

“I’ve climbed some of the highest mountains in the world but never done anything like this. There were some minor cold injuries but everyone made it.”

It took almost three years to plan the trip, which cost about £1miilion and was funded by sponsors. Patrons included Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Professor Mike Stroud OBE, Major General Tim Hodgetts CBE and Professor Mike Grocott.

Professor Imray, who completed a 30-year odyssey to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents in 2019 and has had more than 100 papers published in this area of research, hopes UHCW patients will one day reap the benefits.

“Travelling to remote places with hostile environments is my passion but I’m hoping we get translational benefits,” he added.

“Our medical research expedition to the summit of Everest in 2007 gave us insights that helped us to significantly reduce our mortality rate from open aortic surgery.

“Hopefully this research may change the way we manage our patients. But until you do the research, you just don’t know.”

Share this story

Latest stories