A new study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine has explored the link between lack of oxygen, called hypoxia, and the inflammation that can injure or kill some athletes who undergo surgery.
Lack of oxygen during a surgery can injure kidneys, lungs or heart muscles and this can lead to inflammation. However, athletes deliberately train at high altitude so as to adapt their bodies to the reduced oxygen.
"Understanding how hypoxia is linked to inflammation may help save lives of people who have survived a major surgery only to be faced with potential harm to major organs," said Holger K Eltzschig.
To deal with low-oxygen conditions, the body uses what's called hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), a protein that sends complex signals to help the body defend itself.
"By focusing on the molecular pathways the body uses to battle hypoxia, we may be able help patients who undergo organ transplants, who suffer from infections or who have cancer," he said.
"We know the body can do this. Our research goal now is to find out exactly how."
The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.