Montefiore & Einstein Receive $3.7M NIH Grant Studying Link Between Sleep Apnea & Childhood Obesity

Grant Will Fund Multi-Center and Multi-Field Collaboration Between Montefiore-Einstein, The Cooper Union and the University of Pennsylvania

Raanan Arens, MD, 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, 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 syndrome (OSAS). The disorder, which interrupts normal breathing during sleep, affects almost half of obese youth, yet few effective treatments are available because the precise mechanism leading to the disorder remains unknown.

Dr. 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 OSAS 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 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,” said Dr. Arens, principal investigator on the study.

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

Dr. 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.