Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common problem affecting up to 1 billion people worldwide. Current treatments for OSA include masks and mouth guards but these are often impractical, uncomfortable and poorly tolerated. Surgery to modify the airway and surrounding tissue is an option for patients but also carries risk.
Currently there is an increasing push towards a less invasive surgical option. Minimally invasive 3D-printed customised implants using smart polymers are one such method showing promise.
Clinicians and researchers at the University of Wollongong are working on an implant controlled by external magnets to prevent airways narrowing and collapsing during sleep.
“Obstructive sleep apnoea is a major health problem and cause of morbidity worldwide. It is a condition in which breathing is repeatedly paused while asleep. The body wakes partially to resume breathing, but these multiple sleep interruptions prevent a good night’s sleep. Therefore, it significantly affects patient quality of life through excess daytime sleepiness, has been associated with increased motor vehicle accident risk and comes at a major economic cost through loss of productivity. In severe cases if left untreated, it can lead to heart attacks and stroke.” Said Dr Anders Sideris, Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Registrar at Wollongong Hospital.
Due to the complex and personalised nature of the airway, establishing a ‘one-size fits all’ solution for sleep apnea patients is difficult but surgeons believe that personalised minimally invasive approaches represent the future of treating this condition.
“Our idea for customised implants came about while speaking with researchers at UOW. With their expertise in building implants we have been able to 3D print an anatomically representative benchtop model or prototype of the adult human airway. We used this model to test the magnetic implants capacity to prevent collapse of the airway. In the future we hope that we may be able to augment this response with nerve stimulation.” Said Dr Stuart MacKay, Honorary Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Wollongong Hospital.
What the clinicians and researchers eventually hope to achieve is a personalised implant for patients that can keep the airway open during sleep but turned off during the day with normal breathing and activity.
The animal study - Smart polymer implants as an emerging technology for treating airway collapse in obstructive sleep apnea: a pilot study.
The benchtop model study - Modeling the upper airway: A precursor to personalized surgical interventions for the treatment of sleep apnea.
Dr Stuart MacKay and Dr Anders Sideris