24.11.2020

Jab for weak muscles may also silence snoring


An injection that is commonly used to stop muscle weakness could put an end to snoring.

The jab contains a drug that causes muscles to contract. The theory is that injecting it into the roof of the mouth just above the throat will tighten the tissues in the throat that collapse, causing snoring as air squeezes through the obstructed airway.

In a new trial in the U.S., snorers are being given five jabs of the drug. The researchers say it could also be made into a gel that’s directly applied to the roof of the mouth before bed.

An injection that is commonly used to stop muscle weakness could put an end to snoring

The treatment is being tested in people with sleep apnoea, a condition that affects one in five adults in Britain. It occurs when throat tissue collapses repeatedly during sleep, blocking the airway for up to ten seconds at a time.

This means that patients temporarily stop breathing – a drop in blood oxygen levels then triggers signals to the brain, which instruct muscles in the throat to contract in order to reopen the airways.

Left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to long-term problems, such as heart disease. The standard treatment is with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices – masks worn by patients while they sleep. These deliver pressurised air to keep the airway open. Though effective, up to half of users find the masks cumbersome and stop using them.

The injections, being trialled at Emory University in the U.S., contain a drug called neostigmine methylsulphate. This is currently used for myasthenia gravis, a rare, long-term condition where the immune system mistakenly damages the signals between nerves and muscles, leading to muscle weakness.

Pointing a handheld device at joints could help to detect rheumatoid arthritis (RA) faster (stock photo)

Pointing a handheld device at joints could help to detect rheumatoid arthritis (RA) faster (stock photo)

The drug works by boosting levels of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which, in turn, increases the nerve signals to the muscles telling them to contract.

In myasthenia gravis, this reduces such symptoms as droopy eyelids, difficulty swallowing and weak arms and legs.

In sleep apnoea, the theory is that this will make muscles around the throat contract which will pull back the tissues so they don’t obstruct the airways, causing snoring.

In the new trial, 20 snorers will be monitored in a laboratory during induced sleep – when they snore, they will be given the jabs.

The number and volume of the snoring sounds will be monitored immediately after and then again 30 days later using an endoscopy (where a camera on a long, thin tube is inserted through the mouth to examine the throat tissue) and with sound and video recordings while they are asleep.

If successful, the researchers say they plan to make a rub-on version of the drug, so that patients can apply it before bedtime.

Commenting on the treatment, Professor Jaydip Ray, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospital, says: ‘Most snoring treatments are invasive, painful or cumbersome. Hence uptake and compliance are low.

‘This simple, non-invasive option, if successful, offers tremendous hope to these patients whose lives are blighted with this problem.’

■ MEANWHILE, a vibrating device worn on the arm may also tackle snoring and sleep apnoea.

The device has a sensor that detects snoring sounds – it then vibrates in three-second bursts to rouse the sleeper enough to stop snoring.

In a recent study at Ataturk University in Turkey, reported in the journal Sensors, when patients used the device – known as Snorap – they snored less often and less noisily.

Cancer treatment without side-effects 

Using high temperatures to kill cancer cells – a treatment known as thermotherapy – can be effective, but its use has been restricted as it also carries a greater risk of damage to healthy tissue.

However, scientists from the University of Surrey and Dalian University of Technology in China have devised a new form of thermotherapy that reduces the damage to healthy cells.

The researchers have developed tiny particles (nanoparticles) that can regulate their own temperature. These ‘intelligent’ particles are placed into the tumour and heat up to 45c – hot enough to weaken or kill cancer cells without disturbing healthy ones. At that point, they then stop heating.

Implant in buttocks to stop constipation

Placing a pacemaker in the buttocks is being tested as a treatment for slow transit constipation (STC), where poor communication between the nerves in the large intestine and the muscular layer of the intestinal walls leads to slow bowel movements.

Scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands are running a trial with 60 patients. The patients will have an electrode placed next to the sacral nerves (in the back); the electrode is attached to a matchbox-sized, pacemaker-like generator in the buttocks.

It’s thought electrically stimulating the nerves will start communication between the bowel and brain and, therefore, get the muscles moving more effectively.

Why garlic may keep antibiotics working

A compound in garlic can make antibiotic-resistant superbugs respond to the treatment again.

In lab studies, scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that the compound ajoene was able to suppress a gene that allows Staphylococcus aureus bacteria – which cause sepsis – to stick to human tissue and multiply.

The findings suggest that the compound could be an effective drug when used with antibiotics.

The researchers are now planning to work with a manufacturer to develop an ajoene drug and test it on patients.

Handheld laser that helps detect arthritis in seconds

Pointing a handheld device at joints could help to detect rheumatoid arthritis (RA) faster.

RA is caused by the immune system attacking the joints, leading to pain and swelling.

The gadget, developed at the University of Twente in Belgium, fires soundwaves and a laser beam into joints such as the wrists, fingers and knees. The way the soundwaves bounce back and the reflections of the laser are converted by a computer program into an image that reveals the amount of inflammation.

This could speed up diagnosis. Early treatment can limit the condition and even put it in remission.

Could endometriosis raise risk of depression?

Women with endometriosis may be more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

This was the suggestion from a recent study of mice at Yale University in the U.S. In endometriosis, cells that are normally found in the womb occur in other parts of the body, causing pain.

The researchers implanted endometriosis cells in mice and then put them through examinations used to test their mental health, such as picking them up by their tails – depressed mice flop, but healthy mice squirm.

The mice given the endometriosis cells were more anxious and depressed. The researchers say that endometriosis reprogrammes the brain, though it’s not clear how.

■ Drink cherry juice for insomnia, says a Louisiana State University study. Participants who drank it two hours before bed for two weeks spent an average of 84 minutes longer asleep compared to people who had a placebo. It contains compounds thought to boost serotonin, a brain chemical linked to relaxation and sleepiness.  

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