Sleep: Can this new drug finally cure sleep apnea?

In a new study, researchers from the University of Gothenburg explore the possibility of effective drug treatment for sleep apnoea.

Slaap apnea
© Axel Bueckert
Slaap apnea

Is there finally an effective treatment for sleep apnea? In a new study from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers, for the first time, opened the door to a drug treatment that could overcome this disorder. Characterized by a cessation of respiratory flow (apnoea) or a decrease in respiratory flow (hypopnoea). It is a sleeping disorder.

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Until now, the best-known treatment for sleep apnoea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). It involves wearing a pressure mask during sleep to open the airway by gently blowing air into the nose. CPAP therapy is the first and only effective choice of treatment for sleep apnea and its severe forms.

The latest discovery

The treatment being tested is carbonic anhydrase (CA) inhibition. CA is an enzyme that serves to maintain a balance between carbonic acid and carbon dioxide in the body. For observational purposes, a clinical trial of this treatment was conducted for four weeks on 59 patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea. These patients were divided into three groups, one receiving 400 mg of the CA inhibitor, another receiving 200 mg, and a third group receiving a placebo.

The results reveal that the inhibitor reduced the number of pauses in breathing during sleep and improved oxygenation during the night. However, some patients experienced side effects, such as headaches and shortness of breath. These were more prevalent in those who received the higher dose of the treatment.

According to Jan Hedner, professor of pulmonary medicine and author of the study:

Among patients who received the highest dose of the drug, the number of respiratory pauses decreased by about 20 per hour. For just over a third of the patients in the study, only half of their breathing pauses remained, and in one in five the number dropped by at least 60%

Is this an easy development?

This development is highly significant as it isn't that complicated to develop. A treatment based on carbonic anhydrase inhibition is considerably easy if its effectiveness is confirmed.

As a matter of fact, several drugs with CA inhibiting properties are already on the market and are used to treat glaucoma, epilepsy, and other disorders. In this clinical trial, one of the drugs used is called sultiam. It is used as an anticonvulsant in the treatment of epilepsy in children.

In the long run, such treatment could avoid the need for particularly intrusive CPAP therapy. Ludger Grote, senior lecturer at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg explains:

These treatment options take time to adapt and are often perceived as intrusive or cumbersome. Insufficient time in use is therefore common. If we develop an effective drug, it will therefore make life easier for many patients and, in the long term, may also potentially save more lives

This article was translated from Gentside FR.

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