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Innovative Therapy for Sleep Apnea Developped at SIP Biel/Bienne

Author: Swiss HealthTech Center at the Switzerland Innovation Park Biel/Bienne

Obstructive sleep apnea affects over 35 million people worldwide. To combat this harmful nocturnal syndrome, the Swiss HealthTech Center at the Switzerland Innovation Park Biel/Bienne and start-up Rekonas are working together to develop an innovative device that is far less intrusive than conventional therapies. 

Exhaustion, headaches, difficulty concentrating - obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be a real ordeal for patients and those around them. Characterized by alternating loud snoring and repeated pauses in breathing lasting at least 10 seconds, OSA significantly increases the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and neurological disorders. "In a quarter of the cases, this pathology is entirely due to the sleeping position," explains Jimmy Bron, Deputy Director of the Swiss HeathTech Center (SHTC). He continues: "OSA is currently treated mainly by respiratory therapy or positional therapy. We are focusing on the latter."

Innovative therapy

While respiratory therapy involves wearing a ventilation device covering all or part of the face, positional therapy uses a chest belt that vibrates in the event of an unhealthy bed position. "Positional therapy is less invasive and less expensive, but it is under-utilized due to a lack of precision. You need to know the exact positions in which apnea occurs. It's not always on your back," explains Jimmy Bron.

That's why, in collaboration with Swiss start-up Rekonas, the SHTC is developing a medical device for home use that is more precise and less restrictive than its current alternatives. It takes the form of a night mask fitted with small electrodes and a chest belt. Initially, the mask will enable patients to measure their brain activity at home during sleep. "In the event of apnea, the brain, which no longer receives sufficient oxygen, sends a distress signal that wakes the individual up to restore normal breathing. The mask records these fluctuations", explains the deputy director of the Biel/Bienne-based research center.

Analyzed using artificial intelligence on a secure cloud, the data is made available to the attending physician to diagnose precisely the type of apnea from which the patient suffers, and to offer personalized positional therapy. "It will be possible to know the exact positions to avoid and program our chest belt accordingly. A quarter of cases of obstructive sleep apnea could thus be completely normalized, and the rest significantly improved," concludes Jimmy Bron. 

Image Credit: Rekonas GmbH