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Dr Melissa Farnham has been awarded a Project Grant by the Rebecca L Cooper Foundation for her research investigating the role of the brain in the development of cardiometabolic diseases in people with obstructive sleep apnoea.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a highly prevalent condition characterised by intermittent episodes of hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen to the brain) during sleep.

People with OSA are extremely likely to also have high blood pressure and diabetes, both major risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Dr Farnham states.

“Only some patients with OSA benefit from current treatments and many are at risk of life-threatening heart attacks or stroke.”

Dr Farnham’s project ‘Is a brain peptide sympathetically driving cardio-metabolic dysfunction following intermittent hypoxia?’ focuses on how intermittent stimulation of brain circuits regulate blood glucose and blood pressure.

The neurotransmitter PACAP (pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide) is a central regulator of blood glucose. In lab models, PACAP and its receptors are present in areas of the brain activated by hypoxia; these areas control both blood pressure and blood glucose.

Dr Farnham’s research will address how PACAP affects blood glucose, as well as the role of PACAP and its receptors in the development of OSA-induced conditions such as high blood pressure.

“Establishing the role of PACAP and the potential for PACAP antagonists to reduce cardiometabolic complications in lab models of OSA, represents a paradigm shift in understanding this disease,” says Dr Farnham.

It would open the exciting possibility of complementing current treatment with a new therapeutic strategy to manage disease progression.”

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