More than 12 million people in the U.S. stop breathing periodically at night due to a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Even more concerning, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that 80 to 90 percent of adults with OSA are currently undiagnosed. Rutgers-based scientist Dr. Judith Neubauer and her team are working tirelessly to solve the mysteries of OSA and develop a treatment for this potentially life-threatening condition.
SIDS is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. Diagnosed by a process of elimination, often after an autopsy, SIDS shows no apparent pattern between victims. Dr. Neubauer has dedicated the better part of her professional life to researching the neurobiology of respiratory control, particularly as it relates to SIDS. Her team has focused on the ability of the rat nervous system to regulate hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen in body tissues, which is one possible cause of SIDS.
In order to gain more information about sleep apnea, Dr. Neubauer uses mice as animal models, controlling the amount of oxygen they intake to induce localized hypoxia, or areas of low oxygen. Through this process, she found that the enzyme heme oxygenase, which can sense and alert the body of low oxygen areas, is induced by hypoxia only in the pacemaker areas. This enzyme will help scientists understand the effects of sleep apnea, because it can be specifically targeted to identify how key signals change during hypoxic conditions.
The naked mole rat, a blind, nearly hairless rodent about the size of a mouse that lives underground, might provide the secret to reducing brain damage caused during a stroke. Thanks to these rodents, scientists know a lot more about how neurons survive in low-oxygen conditions. Armed with this new knowledge, they are working to find a way to prevent or minimize the impact of stroke, not only on seniors but also the 34% of people hospitalized for stroke who are under the age of 65.