Reused drugs reduce the severity of sleep apnea by 30%


In a world first discovery, researchers were able to reuse two existing drugs to reduce the severity of sleep apnea in people by at least 30%.

Affecting millions of people around the world, sleep apnea is a condition in which the upper airways from the back of the nose to the throat repeatedly close during sleep, restricting the supply of oxygen and causing alarm clocks at least 100 times per hour.

People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression, and are two to four times more likely to have a car accident than the general population.

Despite nearly thirty years of research, there is no approved drug treatment to treat the disease.

Professor Danny Eckert, principal investigator at NeuRA and professor and director of the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health at Flinders University, brought scientists together by reusing two existing drugs to test their effectiveness in people with sleep apnea.

Previous research has shown that two classes of drugs, reboxetine and butylbromide, were able to keep muscles active during sleep in people without sleep apnea and help their ability to breathe.

By reallocating the drugs, the researchers used a multitude of recording instruments to measure whether reboxetine and butylbromide could successfully target the main causes of sleep apnea.

This included balancing the electrical activity of the muscles around the airways, preventing throat collapse during sleep, and improving the regulation of carbon dioxide and breathing during sleep.

Study results showed that these drugs actually increased muscle activity around participants ‘airways, with the drugs reducing the severity of participants’ sleep apnea by up to a third.

“Almost everyone we studied had some improvement in sleep apnea,” Professor Eckert said.

“People’s oxygen supply improved, their number of respiratory stops was a third or more. We were delighted because the current treatment options for people with sleep apnea are limited and can be a painful journey for many, ”he said.

These new findings allow researchers to further refine these types of drugs so that they have even greater benefits than what has been found today.

“Next, we’ll look at the longer-term effects of these and similar drugs. We will assess whether we can harness the benefits of one drug without needing to use both.

“Likewise, we will test whether these treatments can be combined with other existing drugs to see if we can further improve their effectiveness,” Professor Eckert said.

Until now, the main therapy for sleep apnea has been wearing a mask in bed, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Therapy (CPAP), which benefits millions of people.

However, many people find it uncomfortable and half of those who try it find it difficult to tolerate it. In addition, the effectiveness of second-line therapies, such as mouthguards installed by dentists, can be unpredictable and expensive.


Lim R, Messineo L, Grunstein RR, Carberry JC, Eckert DJ. The noradrenergic agent reboxetine and antimuscarinic hyoscine butylbromide reduce the severity of sleep apnea: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. The Journal of Physiology. doi: 10.1113 / JP281912

This article has been republished from material provided by Flinders University. Note: The material may have been modified for its length and content. For more information, please contact the cited source.

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