Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

The effect of altitude on evolution and health to be investigated at RCSI MiniMed lecture

26 February 2014

Targeting of tumour blood vessels in cancer treatment also on the agenda
The 2013/2014 RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) MiniMed Open Lecture Series continues tomorrow night, Wednesday 26th February. Two lectures will be given on the subjects of human evolution and cancer therapies. These lectures are free of charge to the public and will be held in RCSI, 123 St. Stephen's Green, from 7-9pm.

Tibetans are among those indigenous populations that live at high altitude
Dr Gianpiero Cavalleri, Senior Lecturer in RCSI's Department of Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics (MCT) will give the opening talk on the night. In his lecture, called ‘Health, Evolution and History', Gianpiero will illustrate how indigenous high altitude populations, such as Tibetans, the Oromo (of Ethiopian plateau) and the Quecha (of the Andes mountains in South America), who have been living at high altitude for many generations, have evolved in distinct ways, to adapt to the low levels of oxygen. He will discuss the role of natural selection in this process.

Fresh from a recent research expedition to the Himalayas, Dr Cavalleri will discuss how this adaptation has impacted on the health on these populations and explore why these people suffer less from illness associated with high altitude. Speaking ahead of the lecture, Dr Cavalleri said ‘Indigenous populations such as the Tibetans have adapted to low oxygen levels in the body over generations which allows todays population to thrive in areas of high altitude where most of us would suffer from a variety of conditions including chronic mountain sickness. Most people who travel to a high altitude respond to the lack of oxygen by making more haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of human blood. This is why athletes like to train at altitude, but long term this can cause chronic mountain sickness. However, indigenous Tibetan people have evolved in a manner that maintains low haemoglobin concentrations, despite living at high altitude'

The second lecture of the evening will be given by Dr David Murray, a Senior Research Scientist in the RCSI Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, in association with Dr Annette Byrne, Head of the Laboratory of Tumour Biology & Molecular Imaging & Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, and is entitled ‘Tackling Cancer by Targeting Tumour Blood Vessels'. The Talk is entitled ‘Tackling Cancer by Targeting Tumour Blood Vessels'. The process of 'angiogenesis' is a unifying hallmark of all cancers where blood vessels are provided to tumours to supply nutrients and oxygen, thus allowing them to develop from a few cells to a life-threatening mass that can grow and spread. Dr Murray will discuss how a better understanding of angiogenesis has allowed the development of targeted therapies (anti-angiogenics) to knock out tumour blood vessels, and in so doing, starve and shrink the tumour.

Speaking ahead of the RCSI MiniMed lecture, Dr Byrne said, ‘The team at RCSI's Laboratory of Tumour Biology and Molecular Imaging are focused on developing and improving anti-angiogenic therapies for the treatment of human cancers. This work has in particular, been funded by large EU project grants such as the Angiopredict ( and AngioTox ( initiatives. During this talk, we will present an overview of angiogenesis and give an update on our research which is largely focused on improving patient treatment response. We will also highlight recent exciting data that supports the use of a new ‘nanoparticle' treatment approach to improve response to anti-angiogenics for patients bearing untreatable malignant brain tumours.'

The RCSI MiniMed Open Lecture Series is free of charge; however registration is essential in order to guarantee a place. Previous lecture series have attracted widespread public interest with demand for places far outstripping availability. Register online at and you can join the conversation online, on the night, on Twitter at #RCSIMiniMed. To view previous RCSI MiniMed lectures from the last series on the RCSI YouTube channel at

Founded in 1784, RCSI's mission is to develop healthcare leaders who make a difference worldwide. RCSI is a not-for-profit health sciences organisation which focuses on education and research to drive positive change in all areas of human health worldwide. RCSI is headquartered in Dublin and is a recognised College of the National University of Ireland.