NMRC Seeks to Improve Warfighter Performance during High-Altitude Operations

KISSIMMEE, Fl. – Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) scientists presented their research on the use of experimental countermeasures to reduce the negative effects of high altitude exposure to warfighters during the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) in Kissimmee, Florida, Aug 20.

They explained how NMRC’s Undersea Medicine Department (UMD) is exploring the use of 5-Hydroxymethyl-2-Furfural (5-HMF), an organic compound formed by the dehydration of certain sugars, as a potential countermeasure for high-altitude exposure.
Their research examines the impact of a simulated high-altitude exposure, with low oxygen availability, on cognitive function and exercise capacity. A reduction in these factors can negatively impact a warfighters’ decision making abilities and physical performance. The UMD researchers believe their work will lead to improved performance and safety during operations in mountainous regions.

According to Lt. Geoffrey Ciarlone, Research Physiologist, 5-HMF was recognized as a potential countermeasure for high altitude operations given its ability to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood in persons with sickle cell anemia. Additionally, 5-HMF has “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) status from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which allows it to be added to food products without additional approval.

Dr. Brian Williams, senior postdoctoral fellow, explained how 5-HMF was used in to raise blood oxygen levels, lower heart rate, and improve exercise performance during a hypoxic exposure. Williams also presented work that models cerebral vascular function and cognitive performance following simulated high-altitude exposure.

Ciarlone described how he tested 5-HMF to measure muscle force and corresponding molecular changes following a simulated high-altitude exposure. According to him, pre-treatment with 5-HMF before simulated exposures of 18,000 feet could improve muscle performance and efficiency.

“We demonstrated how 5-HMF improved blood oxygen carrying capacity and increased cardiovascular efficiency during hypoxic exercises” he said. “5-HMF also mitigated reductions in skeletal muscle function following exposure to simulated high altitude.”

Williams, Ciarlone, and their colleagues agree the studies demonstrate the potential of 5-HMF as a countermeasure for a decrease in mental and physical performance during high-altitude operations. They expect that successful outcomes from these studies can transition directly to human clinical testing.

About Naval Medical Research Center
NMRC’s eight laboratories are engaged in a broad spectrum of activity from basic science in the laboratory to field studies at sites in austere and remote areas of the world to operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint U.S. warfighters, researchers study infectious diseases, biological warfare detection and defense, combat casualty care, environmental health concerns, aerospace and undersea medicine, medical modeling, simulation and operational mission support, and epidemiology and behavioral sciences.

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub ( The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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