New paper highlights treatment for sleep apnea

June 5, 2020
Sam Findlay

Researchers at ACES and the University of Wollongong (UOW) have contributed to new research highlighting modeling the upper airway through digital imaging for the treatment of sleep apnea.


Pictured (from left to right): Gordon Wallace, Ed Weaver and Stuart MacKay

Titled ‘Modeling the upper airway: A precursor to personalized surgical interventions for the treatment of sleep apnea’, the paper has been published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research, in collaboration with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District, the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Royal Perth Hospital.


We caught up with contributing author Prof Stuart MacKay from the Illawarra ENT Head and Neck Clinic to find out more about it – as well as how the collaboration with ACES Director Prof Gordon Wallace was formed.


How did the paper come about and who was involved?

The collaboration and project came about via a Garnett Passe Rodney Williams Foundation (GPRWF) Conjoint Grant obtained by the two chief investigators, myself and Prof Gordon Wallace.


This followed a chance meeting between myself and Gordon at a Charity Fundraiser several years ago. Additional collaborators with airway expertise, including Prof Peter Eastwood from UWA, Dr Richard Lewis from Royal Perth Hospital and Dr Andrew Jones from UOW, joined our group with Gordon’s team of Dr Ali Jeiranikhameneh, A/Prof Steve Beirne and Dr Sepidar Sayyar.


Ultimately, Lachy Hingley, a PhD student under the supervision of UOW physiologist, Dr Gregory Peoples, helped finalise the execution of the experiment on the materials built by Gordon’s team and based on our clinical input.


What does this paper highlight?  

First and foremost, this publication represents a good collaboration between local clinicians and renowned UOW university scientists.


From an outcomes perspective, the paper highlights an untapped area of intelligent polymer investigation – that is, can such technology help solve problems related to dynamic collapsible structures, such as the human upper airway?


The experiments executed certainly suggest promise for use of 3D printed human upper airway analogues of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, and applying smart polymers to them to prevent airway collapse.


What are the future implications for this research?

We have already travelled to the Large Animal Research and Imaging Facility (LARIF) in Adelaide to trial some of the smart polymer technology on anaesthetized pigs – and we plan to publish this soon (with the manuscript being currently edited by my MPhil student & ENT Registrars Matt Lam and Anders Sideris).


Furthermore, as a result of the LARIF visit, Gordon and I are also looking into possible miniaturization of 3D printed polymer neurostimulators as a future project with a US-based researcher.


To find out more about the paper, access it here.

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