Wollongong man to trial tiny implant to treat sleep apnoea

Groundbreaking: Wollongong surgeon Professor Stuart MacKay is trialling the implantation of a tiny device to treat obstructive sleep apnoea. Picture: Robert Peet

Groundbreaking: Wollongong surgeon Professor Stuart MacKay is trialling the implantation of a tiny device to treat obstructive sleep apnoea. Picture: Robert Peet

A Wollongong man will be the fourth Australian to trial a high-tech solution for severe sleep apnoea.

On Saturday he will be surgically implanted with a tiny pacemaker-like device known as a hypoglossal nerve stimulator, which is designed to open up the airways.

Renowned Wollongong ENT surgeon Professor Stuart MacKay will conduct the surgery as part of an international trial of the new technology, a potential future alternative to the cumbersome masks for sleep apnoea.

‘’The device stimulates the hypoglossal nerve, which is the main nerve that supplies muscular activity to the tongue and mouth,’’ Prof MacKay said.

‘’The device is implanted under the chin and at night an activation chip is stuck onto it via a disposable patch.

‘’It works like a pacemaker but instead of being paced off chest muscles, it’s paced off repeated sleep studies of the patient which show pauses and/or stoppages in breathing.

‘’When it triggers, it causes the mouth to open which controls snoring, stops the airway collapsing and breathing stoppages.’’

Prof MacKay – of the Illawarra ENT Head and Neck Clinic –  said up to nine per cent of women, and 24 per cent of men, suffered with some form of sleep apnoea.

Obstructive sleep apnoea involves numerous episodes of airway obstruction during sleep – due to relaxation of the tongue and airway muscles –  and is commonly associated with snoring and repeated waking.

‘’There’s a variety of causes including soft or hard tissue problems and obesity,’’ Prof MacKay, vice president of the International Surgical Sleep Society, said.

‘’The main treatments are a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask, a mouth guard or jaw splint or contemporary airway surgery.

‘’Supplementary treatment may include weight loss and optimising lifestyle factors.’’

However the masks are often not tolerated by patients, with claustrophobia, air leaks and facial discomfort among the complaints.

‘’This new implantable device is far less intrusive than wearing something on your face,’’ Prof MacKay said.

‘’It possibly avoids the risk of any intra-oral surgery and doesn’t disrupt patients during the day, as the activation chip only goes on at night.’’

The international trial is being funded by a global medical device company. The Australian trial started this month after promising results from a pre-trial of patients in Germany and Belgium.

‘’The first Illawarra patient is due for surgery on Saturday at Wollongong Private Hospital – he’ll be the fourth to get the implant after surgeries in Perth and Sydney,’’ Prof MacKay said. 

For details contact Sgmackay@ozemail.com.au

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop