Improving the treatment of patients suffering from sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects nearly 10 % of the French population. This syndrome occurs when there are repeated episodes of paused breathing during sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can have health repercussions and may have severe impacts on patients’ social and professional life. INSERM* has initiated a research program in partnership with Bichat hospital in Paris to improve the care currently provided to patients.

Understanding respiratory inflammation associated with OSA

As part of Bichat hospital’s “Sleep” project in Paris, INSERM launched a four-year research program in 2009. This program includes a clinical part and a fundamental research part to better understand obstructive sleep apnea. The fundamental research phase, which is supported by the Air Liquide Foundation, was overseen by Professor Marie-Pia d’Ortho at the department of physiology and functional explorations at Bichat hospital: “There are a variety of consequences of OSA and poor oxygenation. Not all of these consequences are well understood. Patients often suffer from symptoms of sleepiness, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular complications, but most patients don’t even know that sleep apnea exists.”

The response of airways cells to poor oxygenation

Sleep apnea results in a drop in blood oxygen levels (hypoxia) followed by a re-oxygenation of the blood when the patient starts breathing again. The goal of the research project was to determine the consequences that intermittent hypoxia may have on respiratory and vascular cells. “Using a series of tests and simulations of intermittent hypoxia on pulmonary cells in vitro, our physicians demonstrated that intermittent hypoxia results in a particular inflammatory reaction in lung epithelial cells,” explained Professor d’Ortho. “This inflammatory profile may explain the frequency of asthmatic symptoms, which is shockingly high among patients with this syndrome. This may also explain some specific traits of asthma in patients who also suffer from sleep apnea.” This research increases the prospect of using new specific anti-inflammatory drugs to complement the use of breathing devices at night as an adjuvant treatment for OSA.

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To find out more

INSERM’s Website: www.inserm.fr

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* National Institute for Health and Medical Research (France)

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