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.
Breathing is the melody of life. If a pulsing heart is the drum beat that regulates life, then breathing is the symphony that plays in time with it, establishing a person’s individualized rhythm. Symbolism aside, the allure of respiration lies in its biology, which is the key focus of Dr. Neubauer’s interest. She studies how hypoxia, or low levels of oxygen in the body, can affect respiration.
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.