To examine the clinical significance of the changes in apnea sufferers' white blood cells, Dr. Lavie's team added white blood cells from sleep apnea patients to a medium containing cultured human endothelial cells, and studied the interactions between the two types of cells. After one hour, the white blood cells attached themselves firmly to the endothelial cells in the medium. Dr. Lavie attributed this to an abundance of adhesion molecules.
When white blood cells of normal controls were added to the medium, the researchers did not find comparable changes. They also found that there was no increase in the number of adhesion molecules on the white blood cells of sleep apnea sufferers who were effectively treated with continuous positive air pressure, or CPAP, which delivers air into patients' airways through specially designed nasal masks.
"If the firm binding of white blood cells to endothelial cells in the test tube is what happens in the blood of sleep apnea patients every night, then this may be significant evidence that sleep apnea is associated with an active process of atherosclerosis that inflicts damage on the endothelial cells and may lead to increased risk for cardiovascular diseases," Dr. Lavie explained.
The next step, she said, is to examine whether effective treatment of sleep apnea can abort or even reverse this process and thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases in sleep apnea patients.
Note to media: To arrange an interview with Dr. Lavie or to obtain a copy of her study, contact Martha Molnar at 212-307-2580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Martha Molnar
American Society for Technion - Israel Institute of Technology