Health Scan: Israeli device keeps tabs on breathing difficulties

Also this week: New study shows short naps - even six minutes long - can improve memory.

March 8, 2008 23:42
4 minute read.
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A novel, non-invasive device invented in Israel to detect respiratory problems at an early stage in premature babies, children and adults in intensive care units (ICU) is due to go on the market in about 15 months. The start-up company, called Pneumedicare, evolved from an award-winning project carried out by undergraduates at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The company opened here five months ago, and clinical trials are now underway at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa. The first device will cost about $5,000. Pneumedicare maintains that the device can immediately detect deterioration in lung ventilation and partial blockage of air passages, ventilation from only one lung and other common problems in ICU patients. It also detects less-common but still life-threatening complications such as the accumulation of air between the lungs and chest cavity walls. Early detection of such problems reduces the risks of complications, damage to vital organs and irreversible brain damage. Current respirators and supportive devices do not directly monitor chest cavity mechanics, so up to six hours can elapse before medical personnel detect problems. "Our device monitors respiration mechanics," explains CEO Dr. Carmit Levy, a lecturer at the Technion. "We place sensors on the sides of the chest and the upper part of the stomach of a premature baby who is attached to a respirator. By doing so, we can monitor lack of symmetry between the two lungs and the development of mechanical disturbances in lung ventilation." The market potential is significant. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 245,000 American babies per year are put on respirators, and estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics put the cost of ICU care for such babies at more than $15 billion annually. When combined with the totals for children and adults, the cost of annual ICU care rises to more than $35 billion. With hospital costs for a premature baby there estimated at $2,000 a day, the device also carries long-range financial implications. Early detection of problems will reduce the length of hospital stays, as well as long-term costs associated with treating those disabled as a result of respiratory problems as premature babies. Pneumedicare was founded by Technion Faculty of Biomedical Engineering Professor Amir Landesberg and Dr. Dan Waisman of the Technion faculty of medicine and Carmel hospital. The pair conceived the idea for the undergraduate project - carried out by Technion students Hagay Weisbrod and Nitai Hanani - from which the company was born. The company's biomedical engineer Anna Feingersh conducts research and development of the clinical product. CATNAPS IMPROVE RECALL Taking just a brief daytime nap - even for as little as six minutes - is enough to enhance memory, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany. Dr. Olaf Lahl, Christiane Wispel, Bernadette Willigens and Reinhard Pietrowsky of the university's Institute of Experimental Psychology have reported this finding in the latest issue of the Journal of Sleep Research. While not certain exactly how this ultra-short sleep enhances memory, the researchers suggest that the mere onset of sleep may initiate active processes of consolidation that remain effective even if a person wakes up soon afterwards. They note that the findings of three previous studies linking napping and memory enhancement, all published since 2005, were contradictory. Thus the German researchers conducted two different experiments of their own on healthy, non-smoking university students who reported having no sleep-related problems. In the first experiment, which included 26 students (19 women and seven men) aged 20 to 29, the subjects were given lists of 30 adjectives and allocated two minutes to memorize as many as they could. An hour later, their recall was tested. The subjects were observed in both wake and nap conditions on two different occasions a week apart and with different word lists. In the wake condition, they tried to memorize the words in two minutes, were given simple computer games to play, and then asked to recall the words. In the nap condition, they were also given two minutes to memorize the list but then taken to a quiet sleep chamber, attached to electrodes to determine when they fell asleep and awakened 50 minutes later. Napping resulted in significantly better recall. In the second experiment, which comprised a completely different test group of 18 students (10 women and eight men) aged 21 to 29, the same procedures were followed, but subjects were awakened after only six minutes - not enough time even to start deep sleep. Their recall of the words was much better than when they had no nap at all. While those who slept for 50 minutes recalled more words than those who had napped for only six, even the ultra-short nap had a clearly beneficial effect. The sooner the two groups fell asleep, the better their recall, leading researchers to conclude that falling asleep quickly may be a critical factor in memory retention during a very short nap. Only a handful of sleep researchers today deny the connection between sleep and memory. It is not yet clear whether the role of sleep in memory consolidation is a passive or fundamentally active one. Further research using more complex memory tasks is needed to confirm and extend knowledge about napping and declarative memory.

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