UTSA researchers developing smaller, portable sleep apnea machine
(San Antonio) -- UTSA researchers are working on a way to miniaturize the machines that currently help sleep apnea sufferers breathe easier at night.
Sleep apnea is a chronic breathing condition that affects an estimated 22 million Americans, with many more still undiagnosed. During sleep, people with sleep apnea will suffer from disruptive pauses in breathing. Left untreated, the condition can lead to other types of health issues.
Arturo Ayón, physics professor in the UTSA College of Sciences and director of the UTSA MEMS Research Laboratory, and his team—UTSA alumna Jessica Smith ’16 and Dr. James Andry, M.D., of the Sleep Therapy and Research Center—are developing a portable sleep apnea treatment option. The team have submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation to continue the development at UTSA.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea comes in the form of continuous positive airway pressure—or CPAP—therapy machines. These bulky devices contain an external airflow generator that must be plugged into the wall, a full-face mask and hose.
“The average sleep apnea machine, though an effective treatment, can be large, cumbersome and hard to transport,” Ayón said. “There’s a great need for a new approach to these machines. We believe that miniaturization would help sleep apnea sufferers get a better night’s sleep.”
Ayón and his team designed a machine that uses a built-in air compressor to prevent obstruction of the airway in place of the average CPAP machine’s external airflow generator. The researchers’ first two portable CPAP machine prototypes, unveiled in late 2016, are smaller, less obstructive and hose-less machines with built-in compressors.
Ayón says that pressure and noise data demonstrate the first two CPAP mask prototypes were significantly quieter than the common machine. In addition, the second prototype was equipped with a pressure and feedback mechanism, providing the added capability for users to adjust airflow pressure as necessary.
The technology for the mask prototypes is based on a prior research project that resulted in a U.S. patent (application number 14/700,112), titled “Self-Contained Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Mask and Method of Use.” The aforementioned project was undertaken by Ayón and colleagues Joseph Barrios, Eliud Gutierrez, Aaron Mosqueda and Maxim Perkins.
Over the next year or two, Ayón’s current team wants to further refine the CPAP machine’s concept through this new project. They also want to introduce the masks to potential consumers. The researchers recently applied for funding to take these next steps.
“In the future, we hope to replicate and enhance the designs of our initial prototypes, and to conduct the next phase of research necessary to bring the machine to market,” Ayón said. “It is a process, but it is a process that we are hopeful will ultimately bring relief to a great many people.”
UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.
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