Scholarship shines spotlight on sleep conditions

Posted 14 Sep 2022

Flinders researchers hope to improve sleep quality and breathlessness among patients with highly prevalent sleep conditions, with the help of a Clinician PhD Scholarship co-funded by Flinders Foundation and Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute (FHMRI).  

Through four separate research studies, Dr Thomas Altree is looking at whether repurposing common drugs reboxetine and morphine during sleep, offers promise for patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“The gold-standard treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway therapy (CPAP) but it is often poorly tolerated, whilst COPD symptoms often interrupt sleep, so we need new approaches to target sleep quality in these groups.” Dr Altree explains.

The OSA studies will focus on whether reboxetine reduces the severity of sleep apnoea, and if it can also assist with reducing post-operative OSA following upper airway surgery.

OSA is caused by repetitive narrowing or collapse of the upper airway during sleep, leading to low oxygen, high carbon dioxide and frequent awakenings. Patients diagnosed with sleep apnoea tend to have disrupted sleep, be excessively sleepy in the daytime, and lack concentration.

Dr Altree will also investigate whether low-dose morphine improves sleep efficiency and next-day breathlessness in patients diagnosed with COPD – which is usually caused by cigarette smoking.

“As clinicians, we tend to focus on how diseases affect people during the day, but we often forget that very common conditions like COPD affect people’s sleep, and that bad sleep can have major impacts on day-to-day symptoms and quality of life,” Dr Altree says.

“So much remains to be discovered about how diseases and treatments behave during sleep, and ultimately, through this research I aim to improve our understanding of how these common conditions affect sleep quality and develop new ways to treat OSA and COPD…because who doesn’t feel better after a good night’s sleep?!”

Dr Altree is one of two recipients awarded a Clinician PhD Scholarship in 2022 thanks to your generous support, with the three-year scholarships offered to enable clinicians from all disciplines to develop a career in research.

Fellow scholarship recipient Dr Melissa Wee, who works as a Surgical Service Registrar at FMC, will focus on developing a comprehensive account of enteric neurons in the human stomach in the hopes of advancing our understanding of how it goes wrong in disease and what strategies may be used to modify it.

Professor Peter Eastwood, Director of FHMRI, said he was pleased to support the latest Clinician PhD Scholarships:

“Melissa and Thomas are two outstanding examples of future research leaders in health and medicine – providing such support is a major focus of the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute and we thank Flinders Foundation and their donors for partnering with us and sharing this vision.”


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