February 28, 2002

UCSD’s John West, M.D., Ph.D. Receives Top Award
From American Thoracic Society

John B. West, M.D., Ph.D.

John B. West, M.D., Ph.D., UCSD professor of medicine, has been chosen to receive the Edward Livingston Trudeau Medal, the highest award of the American Thoracic Society, for his scientific contributions to the control, prevention and treatment of lung disease.

The award will be presented at the 98th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in May 2002 in Atlanta. More than 16,000 individuals from 80 countries are expected to attend.

One of the foremost world authorities on respiratory physiology, West has performed extensive research on pulmonary circulation and gas exchange. He led the team that discovered the effects of gravity on the distribution of pulmonary blood flow. A related interest has been the effects of oxygen deprivation on the body at high altitude.

West was a member of Sir Edmund Hillary's Silver Hut expedition to the Himalayas in 1960-1961 living for several months at an altitude of 19,000 feet (5800 meters). In 1981 he led the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest during which the first physiological measurements were made on the summit at 29,028 feet (8848 meters). West's work on the effects of gravity in the lung led him to conduct a study of weightlessness as it affects astronauts in space. Several experiments have been carried out in Spacelab on the Space Shuttle, and on the International Space Station.

Currently, West is investigating a highly promising technique to alleviate hypoxia in Cal Tech astronomers who work above 16,000 feet in northern Chile. This technique, in which the oxygen concentration of the rooms and laboratories is enriched with additional oxygen, is based on studies first conducted at the White Mountain Research Station by West.

“The Cal Tech astronomers are breathing 27% oxygen at an altitude of 5,000m (16,500 feet), in effect, lowering their altitude to a less-adverse 3,100 m (10,000 feet),” West said. “The results are outstandingly good. Before, they had problems with memory, concentration and errors. Now, their work is almost as efficient as that at sea level.”

Oxygen-enriched air may also be an option for a group of Chilean miners studied by West. They live at sea level and commute to copper mines located above 15,000 feet. The high altitude exposure has impaired the miners’ sleep quality, mental performance, productivity and general well-being.

West has a strong commitment to teaching and his book "Respiratory Physiology - The Essentials" has been translated into 13 languages and is used all over the world. He also has a keen interest in the history of physiology, with his book "High Life: A History of High-Altitude Medicine and Physiology" a standard text. He has spearheaded the development of an archival collection in high-altitude medicine and physiology in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at UCSD.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, West is on the editorial boards of several scientific journals, and is the editor-in-chief of the new journal High Altitude Medicine & Biology. He has served on numerous national committees including those of the National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health and NASA. He has published 20 books and almost 400 articles. Among his many honors are an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Barcelona, Spain, foreign membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences, a term as president of the American Physiological Society, and the Ernst Jung prize for medicine.

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Sue Pondrom
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spondrom@ucsd.edu

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