Researchers find way to reduce sleep apnoea severity

Despite years of research, up until now, there have been no approved drug therapies to treat sleep apnoea, a condition that reportedly affects more than one million Australians and if left untreated can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression.

Now, in an Australian first, researchers have been successful in repurposing two existing medications to reduce the severity of sleep apnoea in people by at least 30%.

Professor Danny Eckert, Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA and Professor and Director of Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health at Flinders University, has brought scientists one step closer by repurposing these two existing medications to test their efficacy in people in sleep apnoea.

Previous research has shown that two classes of medication, reboxetine and butylbromide, are able to keep muscles active during sleep in people without sleep apnoea and assist their ability to breathe.

By repurposing the medications, researchers used a multitude of recording instruments to measure whether reboxetine and butylbromide could successfully target the main causes of sleep apnoea.

This includes balancing the electrical activity of muscles around the airway, preventing the throat from collapsing while people are sleeping, and improving the regulation of carbon dioxide and breathing during sleep.

Results from the study have shown that these medications did in fact increase the muscle activity around participants’ airways, with the drugs reducing the severity of participants’ sleep apnoea by up to one-third.

“Almost everyone we studied had some improvement in sleep apnoea,” says Professor Eckert.

“People’s oxygen intake improved, their number of breathing stoppages was a third or less. We were thrilled because the current treatment options for people with sleep apnoea are limited and can be a painful journey for many.”

These new findings allow researchers to further refine these types of medications so that they have an even greater benefit than what has currently been found.

For more information and to read the study, visit: physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/JP281912

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