Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that develops when a person's breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The most common form of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite the effort to breathe. Currently, treatment options include lifestyle modifications, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, and surgery.
In its first human research, scientists from Flinders University demonstrated promising results.
The aim of the medication is to avoid the upper airways from narrowing or collapsing during sleep, a major reason for OSA. It might be an alternative therapy for people with OSA who cannot tolerate continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy because only about half of OSA sufferers are capable of using it.
Professor Danny Eckeart, the director of Flinders' sleep lab FHMRI: Sleep Health, believes this is a fantastic first step and should give hope to the many individuals around the world who suffer from sleep apnoea.
"OSA is one of the most common sleep-related breathing disorders, with an estimated one billion sufferers, and when left untreated, it can have serious health and safety hazards. While CPAP machines are effective, tolerance remains a major issue for many, other treatments such as dental splints and upper airway surgery don't always work. This is why we need new treatment solutions for OSA.
“At the moment, there are no approved medication treatments for OSA.”
The study was published in the journal Chest, and involved 12 patients with OSA who were administered either nasal drops or a nasal spray, or by a direct application using an endoscope.
Despite the delivery technique used, the team found consistent and sustained improvements in the patient's airways staying open throughout the night.
"Our findings represent the first thorough investigation of this novel treatment in patients with OSA," according to FHMRI: Sleep Health's lead author.
"Our study demonstrated that targeting specific receptors that are expressed on the surface of the upper airways is feasible."
Amal M. Osman, Sutapa Mukherjee, Martina Delbeck, Michael Hahn, Tina Lang, Charles Xing, Thomas Muller, Gerrit Weimann, and Danny J. Eckert, Chest. DOI: 10.1016/j.chest.2022.11.024
Professor Eckert is a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia Leadership Fellowship.
DJE reports grants from Bayer, Invicta Medical, Mosanna, and Apnimed; TJA serves on a scientific advisory board for Jazz Pharmaceuticals. MD, DG, MH, TL, CX, TM, and GW are employees (including stock options) of the study sponsor.