Up to a quarter of Illawarra men suffer from mild to severe sleep apnoea, and nine per cent of women, but a new collaboration between a surgeon and a scientist in Wollongong may help them rest easy.
Ear, nose and throat surgeon, Associate Professor Stuart MacKay, and leading scientist Professor Gordon Wallace will work together to solve this common sleep disorder.
The pair this week won a prestigious Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation Conjoint Grant worth $375,000 over three years.
Dr MacKay said he was thrilled to be working on the project with Prof Wallace, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at Wollongong university.
‘’We plan to use a combination of smart materials, 3D printing and existing biomaterials to develop a model of an upper airway that’s as similar to a human’s airway as possible,’’ he said.
‘’We then will try and make it collapse like it does in a sleep apnoea patient, and then use new and emerging materials and technologies to try and prevent the collapse of that airway.
‘’Eventually we hope this model will be of help to people who stop breathing in their sleep, or drop oxygen levels in their sleep.’’
One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnoea is snoring, but the condition can be life-threatening.
‘’As well as causing snoring, the drop in oxygen levels at night can impact on a person’s neuro-cognitive performance the next day and can increase cardiovascular risks like blood pressure and stroke,’’ Dr MacKay said.
In children, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are often to blame for the condition, but for adults factors can include family history, cranio-facial problems and obesity.
Common treatment for kids is removal of tonsils and adenoids while for adults a mask is often used.
‘’However a large proportion of adult patients cannot wear or tolerate the mask and so we need to find alternative treatment options,’’ Dr MacKay said.