Sleep Apnea Drug in Development

Feb 11, 2015, by Dr. Becky Coats

New Sleep Apnea DrugIn the past, attempting to treat sleep apnea with medications has proven to be a failure. Part of the problem has been that most drugs tried for sleep apnea have been spin-off applications. That is, people notice a drug, like an antidepressant, seems to help a few patients with sleep apnea, so they try it out for sleep apnea. Thus, although 25 drugs have been tried for sleep apnea, none have been found to be effective.

However, that might change with the invention of a new drug actually intended to treat sleep apnea, as opposed to trying to opportunistically apply drugs intended for other conditions. This drug is in the early stages of development, and it’s likely many years off, but if it is developed, it might provide a new treatment option for many sleep apnea sufferers.

Your Blood Vessels Help You Breathe

Researchers at the University of Chicago recently received a grant of $1.7 million a year for up to five years to fund the development of their new sleep apnea drug. It focuses on an aspect of sleep apnea that has in the past received little attention.

Our body has several mechanisms that are supposed to help us keep breathing. With a function as crucial as this, it makes sense we would have multiple backup systems and not always need to be calling in the brain to constantly make sure we’re breathing. One of these systems is the carotid bodies, clusters of cells in the carotid arteries that are extremely sensitive to changes in oxygen levels. They are our body’s primary oxygen level sensors, and they’re supposed to stimulate the brain to keep us breathing.

But in people with sleep apnea they stop working for some reason. Researchers discovered an enzyme that was responsible for that malfunction and speculated a drug might be developed to target it, which they have. In test animals (sleep apneic mice, probably fodder for an entire blog in themselves), the drug reduced apneas from 60 an hour to “very few at all.”

A Limited Treatment?

It’s hard to know, but based on the description of the cause of sleep apnea they’re targeting makes us think this might only be a treatment that’s applicable to central sleep apnea. This is good, because there are currently no CPAP alternatives for central sleep apnea, even though CPAP itself can cause central sleep apnea. However, we will be interested to see if this drug ends up being effective, and, if so, for how much of the population.

We are happy to be giving people sleep apnea relief without drugs, but if in the future a medication can be developed, it might improve our ability to help some patients.

If you are looking for a comfortable, convenient sleep apnea treatment in Dallas, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment at Grapevine Dental Care today.