Sleep Disorders Center receives $2.35 million in federal support

The Sleep Disorders Center in the Department of Neurology has recently received three separate grants totaling $2.35 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Donald L. Bliwise, associate professor of neurology and center director, says that this funding will lead to discoveries regarding the basis of age-related changes in sleep.

Age effects of sleep, often associated with a variety of sleep-related symptoms, have been documented in studies by Bliwise and others. Changes in deep sleep, alterations in circadian rhythms and development of disturbed breathing in sleep, commonly called sleep apnea, have all been noted in the elderly. These findings serve as the basis for the center's current work, which will study not only healthy elderly subjects, but also those with diseases particularly affecting the aged including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and stroke. "For years, we have had some rudimentary descriptive studies suggesting that sleep is altered in these diseases," said Bliwise. "What these grants will allow us to do is to probe the mechanisms underlying the observed changes in far greater detail than ever before."

Bliwise came to Emory four years ago from Stanford University to direct the Sleep Disorders Center, which is located at the Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital. It is the only sleep disorders center located in a geriatric facility in the United States.

One of the NIH grants, funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), will examine circadian rhythms of body temperature and sleep in aging by having subjects sleep according to an unusual pattern of being asleep for 30 minutes and then awake for 60 minutes over a period of 84 hours. Another grant, funded by the National Institute of Neurologic Disease and Stroke, will examine motor activity during sleep in Parkinson's disease in both humans and animals. The animal studies will be headed by Robert Turner, instructor of neurology, and David Rye, assistant professor of neurology. The third grant, an epidemiological study also funded by NIA, is a continuation of a follow-up study of health and sleep in a healthy elderly group in northern California which Bliwise was involved with during his work at Stanford. The study is being conducted as part of a subcontract with SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif.

Bliwise, who is the principal investigator on two of the grants and co-principal investigator on the third, said this infusion of funds will help Emory achieve national prominence in the growing field of sleep disorders. "Sleep studies are extraordinarily labor-intensive to perform and analyze," he said, "and it takes a critical mass of personnel and resources to carry these out. This funding will allow further development of our program at Emory and at Wesley Woods."

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