Face exploration in pursuit of a good night’s sleep

24 July, 2018

A three-dimensional scan of the face could soon replace expensive time-consuming sleep studies as a means of diagnosing the most common type of sleep disorder thanks to WA research being supported by Department of Health funding.

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital sleep physiologist Professor Peter Eastwood is leading a team of researchers who are analysing the facial contours of more than 5000 Western Australians to identify measurements at various points on the face, head and neck that could be indicative of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

OSA is a serious health condition, usually accompanied by snoring, that occurs when the upper airway collapses, breathing stops and the body is starved of oxygen.

The research team aims to develop a simple, convenient and, non-invasive means of diagnosing serious sleep apnoea using a three-dimensional image of a person’s face.

Using a Medical and Health Research Infrastructure Fund (MHRIF) grant, the team has developed computer software which can map the face and ‘morph’ structural variations, providing a way of predicting the severity of sleep apnoea.

Serious sleep apnoea leads to increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. It can also result in road and work accidents.

While obesity is a well-known risk factor for the condition, it can also be the result of a person’s facial anatomy. Despite being readily treatable, current definitive diagnosis requires an overnight stay in a customised sleep laboratory which is costly and labour intensive.

Faces being mapped for the study are of hospital sleep clinic patients and participants in WA’s landmark Raine Study. They provide the team with a strong mix of people with and without sleep apnoea, in a range of ages.

Sleep apnoea affects about nine per cent of Australians but 75 per cent of people with the debilitating condition don’t know they have it.

Professor Eastwood is one of 127 high-performing researchers to share in more than $6 million of MHRIF grants, which help researchers meet essential day-to-day infrastructure costs associated with their projects.

Only researchers who have secured funding for their research from the National Health and Medical Research Council or a funding body of similar standing are eligible for MHRIF.

In addition to the MHRIF, close to $2.4 million in State Government funding will be shared by six medical research institutes as part of the Research Institute Support program.

This program provides financial support to institutes to enable them to buy resources essential for supporting quality research.

Source: Department of Health - Western Australia