In early 1977 Prof A R Bradwell conceived the idea of a Himalayan trek, coupled with medical research on the effects of altitude, and set about collecting some like-minded individuals. During that spring and summer evening meetings were held in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham to assemble the team, design research projects, make contact with a trekking company and airline, and get ideas for raising money.
Eventually, it all came together and on September 2nd, 1977 a party of 17 set out for Nepal. The group was mostly medics of various grades, including some consultants, but in addition there was a chemist, a nuclear physicist, a photographer, a physical educationalist, a mountain equipment supplier, and an industrial engineer. The trek reached the Thorong La, north of Annapurna, and was a modest research success. The following autumn the Society established its scientific credentials with a symposium to report the research findings and hear visiting speakers.
Since then the Society has prospered and always has between twenty-five and thirty subscribing members. New members are recruited by word-of-mouth and consensus of existing members. Research funds have been raised from many sources including the Wellcome Trust, pharmaceutical companies, local research funds and Trust monies from the School of Medicine, University of Birmingham to support the inclusion of medical students. The cohesion of the Society is promoted by monthly evening meetings to discuss projects and publications, coupled with a summer and a winter training weekend for hill walking in the U.K.
There have been 13 major expeditions so far, to the Himalayas, Kenya, and South America. On each occasion the team of 17-24 subjects has been taken to high altitude sufficiently fast to produce symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) in a significant proportion of the subjects, without running serious risks. The location chosen has been the highest altitude which could be reached with the whole group and the scientific equipment and where experiments could be carried out over several days. Six to ten projects have been run simultaneously. All members of the team act as subjects, each project has a lead investigator and an assistant, while other duties such as medical officer and baggage master are allocated as appropriate. Trekking companies are employed to make the flight and ground arrangements. Also, there have been six minor expeditions of shorter duration using Alpine huts. Details of the expeditions are given on another page.
Many different research projects have been completed with the major interests being clinical features and assessment of AMS, trials of drugs for prevention and treatment of AMS, measurement of blood gases, cerebral blood flow, cerebral oxygenation, the effect of exercise and the inhalation of various gas mixtures. The numerous publications that have stemmed from these studies are listed on another page. Several national conferences have been held in Birmingham In addition, the Society has sent delegations and has presented at many national and international medical meetings.
A number of successful mountain climbs have been achieved by members. Adam Booth climbed Everest in May 2013 and became the third member of the society to reach the summit (Chris Imray and Ginette Harrison).