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However, not everyone thinks that targeting the tongue will provide a broad solution, largely because the anatomical causes of sleep apnea are not well understood. The physical obstructions–while they include the tongue–can be elsewhere and difficult to pinpoint in individual patients. “There are 16 other muscles that are possible culprits in sleep apnea,” says Lisa Shives, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, IL. “And in general, we don’t know exactly where each person’s obstruction is.”

However, other sleep specialists are interested to see what the trials show, especially given the dire need for new treatments. “I think it’s an intriguing concept and worth exploring,” says Susan Sprau, a sleep expert at the University of California at Los Angeles. “I applaud the effort of this company to work on a new and somewhat out-of-the-box treatment approach, and we’ll have to wait and see whether or not it pans out.”

Compared to the CPAP machine, ImThera’s device has better odds of reaching 100 percent compliance–once the device has been implanted, if it works, there’s little left for the patient to do. “It’s always nice to have other alternatives out there,” says neurologist Alon Avidan, associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at UCLA. “We always see patients who have failed everything. And short of putting a hole in their throat with a surgical tracheostomy, this is another alternative that may improve sleep apnea without compromising or adversely affecting the patient’s quality of life.”

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Credit: ImThera Medical

Tagged: Biomedicine, implantable device, sleep

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