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A good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep

Khosrow Behbehani, bioengineering chair

Shakespeare wrote a lot about sleep, but his contemporary, dramatist Thomas Dekker, perhaps said it best: Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.

Break that chain and all kinds of problems can ensue, from drowsy workdays to dozing while driving. Keep it connected and your outlook improves.

UT Arlington bioengineering researchers have designed an ultrasonic sensor system that can detect whether a person suffers from sleep apnea without the inconvenience or cost associated with an overnight stay in a sleep center. Sleep apnea is a chronic interruption of breathing that can lead to hypertension, heart failure, and even brain injury. It affects an estimated 15 percent of adults nationwide.

The system promises a speedier path to diagnosis and relief.

“Making detection of this disease more affordable will allow more people to be diagnosed,” says Khosrow Behbehani, professor and chair of the Bioengineering Department. “Conventional diagnostic testing can cost as much as $2,000 per patient per test. For some people, the cost is such a barrier that they may choose to continue to suffer rather than be diagnosed.”

Dr. Behbehani teamed with doctoral graduate Mohammad Al-Abed and colleagues from UT Southwestern Medical Center and Sleep Consultants Inc. to develop the device, which employs ultrasonic sensors attached to a patient’s neck during sleep. Non-audible sound waves are sent across the neck to detect whether the patient’s airway is open.

The process is less cumbersome and less expensive than current detection methods that require one or more nights in a sleep laboratory attached to a large array of electrodes and sensors. A medical technician typically observes the patient through the night.

Behbehani, who has approached several companies about bringing his invention to market, understands the problem from personal experience.

“My own mother had a lot of symptoms of sleep apnea, and I took her for tests. Two nights in a row she did not sleep well enough for the technicians to tell anything. She had light sleep, then would wake up, sleep some, then wake again.”

He says patients would be able to attach the device themselves for overnight monitoring from the convenience of their own bed. “In its final form, it could be as simple as a collar wrapped around the patient’s neck.”

Behbehani developed the apparatus at the prompting of Sleep Consultants physicians. Sleep Consultants medical director John Burk, a physician with Texas Pulmonary and Critical Care Consultants, says the system provides much more data than technicians can assemble through monitoring patients at a sleep center.

“The technologies that Dr. Behbehani is developing will allow us to take a better look at our patients diagnostically,” Dr. Burk says. “In addition, the technologies may be a very significant step in monitoring the adequacy of treatment.”