Monitors play growing role in treating sleep disorders

Medical devices are converging with IT to create new products that will help both patients and doctors

Dr Conor Hanley, co-founder and chief executive of BiancaMed, with the SleepMinder product, which Irish Times sleep champions are using for The Sleep Challenge. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography

Dr Conor Hanley, co-founder and chief executive of BiancaMed, with the SleepMinder product, which Irish Times sleep champions are using for The Sleep Challenge. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography


The interface between information technology and medical devices is bringing a whole new range of innovative products to patients and clinicians around the world.

One such device is the sleep monitor that The Irish Times sleep champions are using for our sleep study.

The non-contact bio-motion sensor, called SleepMinder, is plugged in beside the bed and from there, monitors the person’s sleep quality and pattern via low-power reflected radio-
frequency waves that pick up on the person’s movement and breathing patterns in bed.

It is currently undergoing research in St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, for various respiratory conditions, including sleep apnoea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“The beauty of this device is its simplicity for the patient. It is non-contact so you don’t have to wear sensors or send texts.

“The data on sleep quality and sleeping patterns is generated and stored in the device or sent wirelessly to a central monitoring [depot],” explains Prof Seamas Donnelly, consultant physician at St Vincent’s hospital.

Early warning
Prof Donnelly says sleep monitors like SleepMinder have future potential as an early warning system in the home before deterioration in a condition like COPD occurs.

“Patients sent home from hospital after treatment for COPD have a 30 per cent risk of deterioration within eight to 10 weeks of discharge.

“If we could analyse sleep wave patterns with this type of sleep monitor, we could detect early deterioration and treat the person in their home before further deterioration of their health,” explains Prof Donnelly.

Prof Walter McNicholas, director of the sleep disorders unit at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, has also been researching the sleep monitor as a potential tool in the diagnosis of sleep apnoea.

“If you consider that 90 per cent of sleep apnoea sufferers remain undiagnosed, this sleep monitor – which can analyse how well the person has slept and how often they have woken up during the night – could be an early form of diagnosis and help reduce waiting lists,” says Prof McNicholas.

One 2010 study found the portable sleep monitor to have 78 per cent accuracy, compared with the gold standard overnight sleep study, polysomnography. Home sleep testing is an approved form of diagnosis for sleep apnoea in some countries.

The back story of the development of SleepMinder is interesting in itself. The medical device was developed in Dublin by a small UCD start-up company, BiancaMed, which was subsequently bought by ResMed, one of the world’s largest developers, manufacturers and distributors of medical devices to manage sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions.

ResMed acquired Bianca-
Med in 2011 and the company got FDA approval for SleepMinder the same year.

Conor Hanley, one of the founders of BiancaMed and now senior vice-president of ventures and initiatives at ResMed, is an enthusiastic advocate of Ireland as a base for medical device development, a point echoed recently by Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

“Ireland can compete anywhere in the world regarding medical devices. The big development is the convergence of medical technology – medical devices with information technology – and in Ireland, we have close collaborations between clinicians and academics and users to test the sensors in people’s homes,” says Hanley.

ResMed now employs 50 people in its Dublin office and, according to Hanley, plans are afoot to move more of the company’s research and development work to Dublin.

The company also recently launched new sleep monitors in pharmacies in Japan with Japanese company, Omron.

Conor Hanley believes sleep monitoring in people’s homes will become much more commonplace in the future.

“In many countries, home sleep testing has become a standard approach, whereas in the past, all diagnoses for sleep disorders were done in hospitals.

“As people live longer with chronic disease, sleep monitors will help them monitor and manage their conditions in the home,” says Hanley.

Follow the progre ss of our four sleep champions at irishtimes. com/sleep

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