A computer program that can detect potentially fatal episodes of sleep apnea may soon offer
physicians an easier and cheaper way to diagnose their patients, according to a recent report in the Albany Times Union.
Michael I. Savic, a sound specialist and engineering professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is working to perfect the program, which was created by recording real cases
of the nighttime breathing disorder.
Sleep apnea tends to affect people who snore and is characterized by brief periods of being unable to breathe. The condition afflicts some 18 million Americans and is very common among truck drivers.
If successful, Savic's invention would allow physicians to diagnose their patients without expensive stays in hospital-based sleep centers.
"If it's suspected that someone has sleep apnea, instead of taking him to the hospital you send him home with a microphone and let him sleep," Savic told the Times Union.
Such a concept has a lot of potential, according to Dr. Douglas Phelps, the director of the Sleep Disorders Program at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany, NY which has been helping Savic collect data.
The project is a cooperative effort among physicians at the Albany Medical Center, the Stratton VA and Savic.
Sleep studies currently cost as much as $1,800, Phelps said.
"I think a lot of people who might have sleep apnea aren't being tested either because it's too expensive or too complicated," he said. "If there were something more portable ... there would be more testing and more cases found, and ultimately, our highways would be safer."
Savic's solution is a tiny microphone attached to a patient's pajamas.
The sound of snoring then gets recorded. The information is later plugged into a computer that can identify sound wave patterns associated with sleep apnea. Armed with this information, physicians could then quickly diagnose the condition and refer patients for appropriate care.
Savic's latest project draws on years of sound research and a long list of other successful machines, including a device used by Walt Disney to transform voices and a system used by the Texaco oil company to detect pipeline leaks.
Savic has six patents in his name and another 50 based on his work in sound and engineering. One of his latest projects, a device that can separate sounds, was sold to the Canadian government.