The National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) yesterday unveiled a sleep apnea risk assessment platform, which it said offers faster and more accurate diagnoses at a lower cost than conventional methods.
NARL assistant research fellow and project leader Hsiao Hung-ta (蕭宏達) said the new service employs cone beam computed tomography as its core technology, which can be used to build a computer model of a patient’s airway, as well as produce 3D exploded views showing the space inside different segments along the airway.
The data is then used in computational fluid dynamics to calculate the pressure required while breathing to obtain information on the degree of the airway’s narrowing, which helps doctors determine whether a patient has sleep apnea and, if so, how serious it is, Hsiao said.
Tests using polysomnorgaphy — a conventional device used for analyzing sleep apnea — usually takes two days to one week, and the waiting list for patients can be as long as a year, Hsiao said.
However, with the new platform, people only need to wait 15 minutes to obtain the results, he said.
It also boasts an accuracy rate of 85 percent — compared with 50 percent for conventional methods in other countries that only assess a subject’s condition based on the airways’ outline, he said.
The institute yesterday signed a technology transfer agreement with Horien International Co (海昌國際), which plans to start marketing the technology overseas next year, company vice president Kent Fang (方建民) said.
There are about 50 sleep centers in Taiwan, with each center providing test services to 800 to 1,000 people a year, Fang said at a press conference.
Horien plans to set up 10 sites in Taiwan by March for the new examination service, with the first being installed at a sleep center in China Medical University Hospital in Greater Taichung.
The company is also in talks with partners in China, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and Germany, and is hopeful that its partners can launch the service by the end of next year, he said.
Fang said that current sleep apnea tests costs about NT$8,000 to NT$20,000 around the world, but the new service would only cost about NT$4,000 in Taiwan.
China Medical University Hospital sleep disorders center director Hang Liang-wen (杭良文) said the new platform, which has been patented in Taiwan and in the US, is much more time-efficient and safer.
Patients in Taiwan need to wear detection devices and stay overnight in a sleep center to be tested, with each scan costing about NT$4,000 to NT$5,000 if covered by medical insurance, or about NT$9,000 without insurance, Hang said.
However, due to a scarcity of facilities, people in Taiwan have to wait as long as six months for an examination, he said.
“Although it is not 100 percent accurate, it can still help us diagnose patients with more severe conditions,” Hang said.
About 450,000 people in Taiwan suffer from sleep apnea — a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts because of a narrowed or blocked airway — which could lead to complications, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, irregular heartbeat and stroke, Hang said.
Children aged three to 12, as well as adults aged 40 to 55, are at a higher risk of contracting the disorder, since growing children could develop abnormally large tonsils that obstruct air flow, while middle-aged people are likelier to develop cardiovascular diseases, he said.
People with weight issues, smaller oral cavities and those who snore or wear dental braces may also be diagnosed with the condition, he added.
To provide the new service, Horien will use machines manufactured by Taiwan CareTech Corp (台灣騰協) to take images of a patient’s respiratory tract and send the image to the NARL for analysis, Fang said.
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