Dr. Adam Williamson. Credit: Adam Williamson / FNUSA.

Wearable Device Developed In Brno Could Revolutionise The Treatment Of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the second most common sleep disorder in the world. A potential revolution in treatment for the condition could be brought about by a wearable electronic device being developed in Brno, by Canadian scientist Adam Williamson, working at the International Clinical Research Center (ICRC), a joint project of Masaryk University Faculty of Medicine and St. Anne’s University Hospital (FNUSA).

According to the latest studies, obstructive sleep apnea, or sleep apnea syndrome, affects up to one billion people between the ages of 30 and 69 worldwide. About half of them suffer from a moderate to severe form of the disease, classified by five or more respiratory interruptions per hour.

A large number of patients are not aware of their diagnosis at all, and many others underestimate its consequences. The disorder, which often affects people with high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes, can lead to increased fatigue, further worsening of cardiovascular problems, and a worsening of the overall quality of life. 

The standard therapy aims to relax the upper airways in the pharynx area, which can narrow due to obesity or congenital disposition. Unfortunately, however, the existing options are not very comfortable.

“The most widespread are the so-called CPAP masks, i.e. full-face masks that prevent the airways from closing by creating excess pressure. For many patients, however, they are not comfortable, and they may consider them humiliating,” explained Dr. Williamson. Every other patient eventually stops wearing the mask.

“The latest solution is the sublingual nerve stimulators that release the airways through the arching of the tongue. Although it is effective, it is not very widespread, as it requires a procedure in which an electrode is inserted into the patient’s face and a battery is inserted into the chest,” said Williamson. The procedure is also very expensive.

Williamson is developing a solution that combines the advantages of both of these methods – the effectiveness of electronic nerve stimulation and the cost-effectiveness of CPAP masks. Compared to those options, the new device, called FitSleep, should also be more comfortable. 

“Currently, there is no other device or technology capable of non-invasively stimulating the sublingual nerve. We are the first to do this,” said Dr Williamson. At the age of 43, he holds five prestigious grants from the European Research Council (ERC). The most recent of these is also the first for the MUNI Faculty of Medicine in the ERC’s “Proof of Concept” category.

ERC Proof of Concept grants include significant financial support, and are intended to develop the knowledge gained and evaluate the commercial potential of projects in progress. The project is currently in the phase of clinical tests, but it is still premature to estimate a timeframe for a commercial launch 

“Dr. Williamson needs cooperation with doctors and access to patients for his research, which St. Anne’s University Hospital can provide,” said Professor Irena Rektorová, head of ICRC. “He has a laboratory with a Faraday cage at his disposal here, so he has ideal conditions. In addition, research with the help of various non-invasive stimulation methods is already well established in Brno.” 

Wearable Device Developed In Brno Could Revolutionise The Treatment Of Sleep Apnea
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