Raanan Arens, MD, has been awarded a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study and develop tools for combatting obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Arens is chief of the Division of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, (CHAM), and professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine,

Arens will lead a team of investigators from different institutions and fields, including pediatricians, radiologists, image processing and analysis experts, and biomechanical engineers. Together they will build a computer simulation model of the upper respiratory tract and surrounding tissues to better understand the causes of OSA and discover ways to improve children’s health outcomes.

“By using this multidisciplinary comprehensive approach we can identify why children suffering from obesity are prone to experiencing OSAS [obstructive sleep apnea syndrome] and recommend treatments that can help decrease the prevalence of associated complications like learning difficulties and serious health risks such as high blood pressure and diabetes,” says Arens, principal investigator on the study, in a release.

Jayaram K. Udupa, PhD, professor of Radiologic Science in Radiology, Perelman School of Medicine, The University of Pennsylvania, and David M. Wootton, PhD, professor of Mechanical Engineering, C. V. Starr Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and associate director, Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering, Albert Nerken School of Engineering at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, will bring their unique expertise in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis and bioengineering to take a novel approach to understanding the complexities of this sleep disorder.

Using biomarkers such as oxygen saturation and heart rate obtained during sleep studies, multi-dimensional airway images from MRI, and complex computer modeling to simulate air flow and pressure through the respiratory cycle, the team will create a biomechanical model that will enable them to study the mechanics of the upper airway during periods of both wakefulness and sleep in obese teenage children at risk for OSAS.

The 5-year observational study will enroll 140 adolescents between 12 and 17-years-old. Over a 2- year period researchers will analyze patients’ breathing while both awake and asleep. They will also evaluate the various treatment options for OSA to better understand why some obese children have OSA, while others do not, and examine the reasons why only some patients have success with certain OSAS therapies.

Arens directs the Sleep Center at CHAM, a full-service sleep laboratory and evaluation center with a multidisciplinary team providing diagnosis and treatment of each child’s sleep problems; working closely with parents and caregivers in a family-centered environment to deliver better results for patients. He has been funded for the past 18 years by the NIH for his research in the field of sleep apnea in children.