Flinders researchers aim to enhance sleep quality and alleviate breathlessness for patients with widespread sleep conditions through the support of a Clinician PhD Scholarship co-funded by the Flinders Foundation and Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute (FHMRI).
Dr. Thomas Altree is conducting four separate research studies to examine the potential of repurposing drugs reboxetine and morphine for patients with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“The conventional treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway therapy (CPAP), but it is frequently poorly tolerated,” says Dr. Altree. “COPD symptoms also interrupt sleep, so we need to come up with new ways to improve sleep quality in these groups.”
The studies on OSA will focus on whether reboxetine reduces the intensity of sleep apnoea and if it can help with reducing post-operative OSA after upper airway surgery. OSA is caused by the recurrent narrowing or collapse of the upper airway during sleep, leading to low oxygen levels, high carbon dioxide levels, and frequent awakenings.
Dr. Altree will also examine the effects of low-dose morphine on sleep efficiency and next-day breathlessness for patients with COPD, which is typically caused by cigarette smoking.
“Clinicians usually focus on how diseases affect patients during the day, but we often overlook the fact that common conditions like COPD can also affect sleep,” says Dr. Altree.
“Bad sleep can have a significant impact on symptoms and quality of life, and there is still so much to learn about how diseases and treatments behave during sleep. My ultimate goal is to improve our understanding of these common conditions and develop new treatments for OSA and COPD to improve sleep quality.”
Dr. Altree is one of two recipients of the Clinician PhD Scholarship in 2022, with the scholarships being offered for three years to encourage clinicians to pursue careers in research. The other recipient, Dr. Melissa Wee, a Surgical Service Registrar at FMC, will concentrate on creating a comprehensive account of enteric neurons in the human stomach to advance our understanding of disease and potential modification strategies.
“Melissa and Thomas are exceptional examples of future leaders in health and medicine,” says Professor Peter Eastwood, Director of FHMRI.
“Supporting them is a key focus of the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute, and we are grateful to Flinders Foundation and its donors for joining us in this vision.”