By John Jeffay, NoCamels -
Millions of people endure sleepless nights, even though help is at hand. They suffer a whole range of disorders, from insomnia, narcolepsy and breathing problems (apnea), to teeth-grinding and restless legs syndrome.
But to get a proper diagnosis they need to spend the night in an unfamiliar bed at a special sleep clinic, wearing a cluster of sensors and hooked up to monitoring equipment. Many can’t face that prospect and remain untreated as a result.
Abed Nassir, a biomedical engineer with an MBA in finance and big data, has developed a patient-friendly solution that addresses the problem.
It’s a wireless mask, worn in the patient’s own bed, in the comfort of their own home.
It collects exactly same data as the equipment at a sleep clinic – monitoring eye movements, blood oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, snoring, body movements and more – and delivers an immediate diagnosis.
Nassir recalls how his own father, Ahmad Nassir, was sent for an overnight stay at the Sleep Disorders Diagnosis Unit at Lowenstein Hospital in Ra’anana, central Israel.
“Ten minutes later he was heading back home in a taxi,” he says. “He told me they wanted him to sleep there, connected to hundreds of wires. He said he could sleep badly in his own bed, he didn’t need to go to hospital.”
Most patients react the same way. Forty percent of us suffer a sleep problem at some point in our lives, yet 85 percent of them remain undiagnosed.
Being able to monitor their sleep at home will be a game changer, says Nassir, CEO of the digital health company DormoTech Medical, based in the northern Israeli city of Afula.
DormoTech’s mask, known as Vlab, has patents pending and has been submitted for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). which will allow it to be used in the US.
It’s been successfully tested in Israel on patients who agreed to undergo sleep assessments with both the Vlab and with traditional sleep clinic equipment.
Full clinical tests are due to begin within weeks at Emek Medical Center in Afula and at Shamir Medical Center near Tel Aviv.
Mass production of the Vlab is due to start next month and Nassir plans to launch it commercially first in the US and Israel, and then in Europe.
For the patient, it couldn’t be simpler, Nassir says.
“The doctor contacts us and we send a package directly to the patient.
“All they need to do is take it off the charging unit, put it on their head and go to sleep. There are no buttons for them to press, nothing to do.
“The data goes directly from the from the device to a web application as they sleep. The technician from the other side can monitor all the signals.
“He says good night to the patient, and in the morning our system prepares a report for the doctor, who will read and approve it.”
That’s a huge benefit not only to patients, but to doctors as well.
“Each sleep clinic has a maximum of maybe six or seven beds,” says Nassir. “By using our device they can expand their capability to hundreds of patients, with the same staff that they have already in the clinic.
“The waiting list for adults in Israel is four months and for children it’s even longer, about six months.”
The Vlab mask is designed to be used more than once by the same patient. Three nights of sleep assessment is ideal. The first night is often spent getting used to wearing it, and data from subsequent nights is of better quality.
So what was the technological breakthrough that allowed Nassir and his team to develop the mask? It’s all about data – the way they compress and encrypt huge quantities of it and upload it to the cloud using BLE, a low-energy version of Bluetooth.
The advances they’ve made mean the mask can transmit all 25 physiological channels that clinics use for full sleep diagnosis.
Home sleep tests are available, aside from Vlab, but they are very much slimmed-down versions that measure only breathing and provide only a partial diagnosis.
DormoTech now need to persuade hospitals to embrace their innovation.
“The medical sector is a traditional sector and to move physicians from using a device that they’ve been using for a long time to a new one is a challenge, but we’ll figure it out,” says Nassir.
Meanwhile, the company is researching an important new use for its technology – the early diagnosis of other diseases.
Sleep data can help identify early-stage neurological and cardiovascular diseases, including dementia and psychiatric diseases, even in people not suffering a sleep disorder.
DormoTech is working with the Shamir Medical Center and with Kineret, the Israeli government’s medical database, on how best to use hidden sleep data.