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Little is known about the interrelationship between obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and cardiometabolic diseases like high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and diabetes. It is precisely this link that Dr Melissa Farnham’s new research project aims to uncover.

OSA is a significant, yet underappreciated health burden in the community, affecting up to 50 per cent of adults, and a key risk factor for high blood pressure and diabetes. Despite OSA being a relatively well-known condition, there is still a significant amount to learn about its consequences and the underlying mechanisms.

“This research will lay the foundation for future research to develop new technologies to diagnose and treat OSA and its family of conditions, with greater precision,” says Dr Farnham, leader of the Cardiovascular Neuroscience Unit at HRI.

OSA is a sleep dis­or­der where breath­ing repeat­ed­ly stops and starts, caus­ing inter­mit­tent episodes of hypox­ia (low oxy­gen) and surges in brain activity.

These surges in brain activity cause elevations of blood pressure and blood glucose. The research team hypothesise that a progressive failure in a normally protective neurochemical signalling system may explain the chronic cardiometabolic changes in OSA, suggesting that it is the missing link between OSA, and diabetes and high blood pressure, and hence a novel therapeutic target.

The $25,000 grant to launch the project was awarded by the NSW Cardiovascular Research Network (CVRN) Near Miss Grants Program, which funds selected early to mid-career researchers in their cardiovascular disease research. The research team is spearheaded by Dr Farnham and pulls in the science and clinical expertise of Dr Kristina Cook (University of Sydney) and Dr Natasha Kumar (University of New South Wales), along with Prof Peter Cistulli (University of Sydney), Associate Professor John O’Sullivan (HRI) and Professor Roland Stocker (HRI).

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