Snoring treatment is found to sharpen memory and focus

Treating the common snoring condition obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve memory, focus and thinking skills. A study by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research found that patients treated with the ‘gold standard’ OSA therapy can improve not just their sleep, but also their brain function.

The study by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney people found OSA patients who are treated with the gold standard therapy, CPAP, improve not just their sleep but their brain function when awake.

Largest study of its kind

The research, published in the prestigious international journal, Sleep, is the largest of its kind to confirm the brain benefits of the treatment.

“We were able to show improvements to multiple aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, sustained attention and executive function, not to mention improved sleep, mood and quality of life.”

Dr Angela D’Rozario, Lead researcher

More than 775,000 Australians have OSA, a breathing disorder in which the airway repeatedly closes during sleep. Many sufferers wake dozens of times each night as their breathing gets very shallow or even stops. During the day they’re left feeling sleepy and unable to concentrate, and have a higher risk of depression, cardiovascular problems and vehicle accidents.

Symptoms can be reduced with CPAP, or continuous positive airways pressure, which works by holding the airways open while patients’ sleep. However, patients can be reluctant to use CPAP nightly, or stick with the treatment long term.

The Woolcock team enlisted 167 people with OSA to test the impact of CPAP on brain functioning.

“We know that the repeated pauses in breathing that occur during the night in OSA can disrupt sleep patterns and specifically alter different types of brain wave activity that are important for optimal cognitive functions,” Dr D’Rozario explains. “So we thought we’d see whether the main treatment available can reverse this problem.”

Tracking treatment

Volunteers underwent a series of neurocognitive tests at the start and end of the six-month trial, and sleep patterns and brain wave activity were also tracked in two overnight lab stays.

“Excitingly, we found that brain wave patterns during sleep were boosted and performance improved in all areas of cognitive function we tested,” the sleep neurophysiologist says.

“On top of that, self-reported mood, daytime sleepiness, and quality of life relating to sleep also improved after six months of CPAP.”

A driving test simulation

By the end of the trial, patients were getting more deep slow wave sleep and REM sleep, which are important for learning and memory, and more of their in-bed time was spent sleeping. There were also fewer breathing pauses and wake-ups in the night, Dr D’Rozario says.

Impacting brain health

“This shows CPAP can reverse brain wave activity abnormalities during sleep and restore healthy sleep patterns,” she says. “We’re thrilled to see CPAP clearly has a positive impact on brain health. Hopefully this encourages more Australians to use it.”

The team plan to test whether these short term benefits translate to a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in the longer term.

The study also involved researchers from Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health at Flinders University and Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney.

Read the paper: Improvements in Cognitive Function and Quantitative Sleep EEG in OSA after Six Months of CPAP Treatment.

Ground breaking world-first trial offers new hope to stroke sufferers

Some of the country’s top stroke experts are leading a world-first trial which could be a game-changer when it comes to debilitating strokes.

Australian researchers have been working on a new anti-clotting drug that has the potential to improve blood flow to the brain and prevent brain injury, reducing death and disability from stroke.

The need for a new treatment

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability globally. Sixteen million people will suffer strokes annually, including around 50,000 here in Australia alone.

Many stroke victims are never able to return to their normal life. Some are unable to work while others end up in nursing homes, no matter their age.

Lead researcher, Professor Shaun Jackson from the Heart Research Institute, says administering treatment within the first several hours after a stroke is crucial.

The Thrombosis Group with Professor Jackson at the Heart Research Institute

“We are talking about the acute phase of the stroke. There is currently only one drug that is available for the treatment of strokes, a clot dissolving drug called tPA,” Professor Jackson says.

Unfortunately, tPA has many limitations and doesn’t work effectively in many stroke patients, and there is a need to identify new anti-clotting approaches that can improve the function of tPA and reduce stroke injury.

Promising preclinical models

“In our preclinical models, we have shown that our anti-clotting drug, when combined with tPA, not only dissolves a blood clot from a stroke more effectively than tPA alone but it can stop the clot from reforming.”

“It has the ability to attack different components of the blood clot than tPA alone, and the new combination therapy looks very promising in experimental models.”

Professor Jackson

“It does this without an added risk of bleeding, and we know bleeding leads to more strokes so this drug may help reduce risk of another stroke,” he says.

The move to clinical trials

Thanks to a $2.7 million Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant, this research can move into phase IIa trials in humans, with an academic-led clinical trial planned to be carried out at leading stroke units at the Royal Prince Alfred and Prince of Wales Hospitals in Sydney, John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, Royal Adelaide and Royal Melbourne Hospitals, and managed by The George Institute.

Professor Jackson says their focus is improving a person’s quality of life.

“We know from phase I trials in healthy people that this antiplatelet drug is safe and well tolerated. We now need to test it to see if it has a positive impact on people who have suffered a stroke.

“The limitations of tPA mean that the majority of people who present with a stroke may not be offered any therapy. We can basically only offer them supportive care.”

Professor Jackson

During the study, patients who suffer an acute ischaemic stroke – the most common form of a stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked – will be given the anti-clotting drug in addition to other medications during those first critical hours.

Preclinical models have shown the drug to be safe and highly effective in improving recovery from an ischaemic stroke.

Approximately 85 per cent of strokes in Australia are ischaemic, caused by a blockage of an artery within the brain, reducing cerebral blood flow. If not resolved within a few hours, there can be irreversible brain damage.

In the first stage of this trial, the researchers will assess how well the drug is tolerated in eligible stroke patients receiving standard therapy plus our drug. More patients will be added to the trial and the dose of the anti-clotting drug incrementally increased in a controlled manner.