For many years Western Australia has been a leader in Australia in sleep medicine - this new facility provides a unique opportunity for Western Australia to now be at the forefront of sleep research and sleep education.
Many of you will be aware of the rapid growth in the number of sleep clinics all over the world in the past 10 years. In the main, these clinics have dealt with patients who have sleep apnoea, a very common sleep disorder characterised by collapse of the throat, loss of airflow to the lungs, and decreased blood and brain oxygen levels. In individuals with severe disease these events occur hundreds of times each night and are only reversed by the person waking to a lighter stage of sleep. Often the sufferer is unaware that they have the disease but studies have shown repeatedly that untreated sleep apnoea results in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and fatigue-related traffic accidents - all of which represent a huge cost to the Australian economy.
The treatment of sleep apnoea is an Australian success story, as the primary treatment used today all over the world was developed by an Australian named Colin Sullivan (his biography can be found on the back wall of this seminar room). His discovery, that sleep apnea can be treated with Continuous Positive Airways Pressure led to the development of ResMed, which today remains Australia's most successful medical technology company. Now based in San Diego, ResMed exports its products to over 70 countries and has an annual revenue approaching $1billion.
To date, the focus of our sleep research in WA has been on respiratory sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. This research program has a collaborative one between UWA and SCGH. It has been well funded by the NHMRC and ARC, has resulted in many publications in international scientific and medical journals (some of which are listed on the back wall), and approaches by international start-up companies to help develop new therapies (such as poster which can be seen on the side wall, and which was presented in Denver three weeks ago). So far, these activities have been undertaken by squeezing research studies in between patients in the setting of a very busy clinic sleep unit at SCGH.
The facility that you are about to walk through has been built with all of the state-of-the art acquisition and analysis equipment necessary to comprehensively assess human sleep. It represents a unique opportunity to broaden the existing program of sleep research to other important areas. For example, the School of Psychology is the obvious partner to undertake research into Insomnia. The School of Sports Science, to examine the effect of sleep on performance of elite athletes. The School of Physiology to assess fundamental mechanisms underlying the genesis of sleep itself. And the School of Engineering to develop new ways to measure human sleep behaviour. By collaborating with the Raine Study we hope over the next 3 years to define the prevalence and natural history of sleep disorders in young adults. The facility will maintain its strong translational clinical focus by formally recognising the West Australian Sleep Disorders Research Institute at SCGH as its clinical partner.
Many collaborative studies are already underway and some are listed on the side wall. I encourage you to have a look at these projects as they provide an overview of the current and potential breadth of sleep research, not just only at this University but also across WA.
Underpinning these research activities will be a strong teaching program. Several successful postgraduate level courses have already been developed. Aimed at individuals working in the sleep industry, these courses are currently run out of this facility using its computer facilities which permit online access and storage of large amounts of data, as is necessary for overnight sleep studies. We have recently been approached by the University of Adelaide to jointly develop a Postgraduate Diploma in Dental Sleep Medicine. This approach is in response to the increasing role of Dentists in sleep medicine, as they are being asked to make mouthguard-type devices that, when worn at night, pull the jaw forward in order to make the throat less collapsible, and thereby treat sleep apnoea. Such dental treatment might be of particular interest to Minister Day, who, before embarking on a political career, was a dentist in private practice, having studied Science and Dentistry at the University of Western Australia.
To create a facility such as this and have it sited on the main campus of a GO8 University requires the shared vision of many people. In this regard I would like to acknowledge the strong support over many years of Alan Robson (VC), George Stewart (past Dean of LPS), Tony O'Donnell (Current Dean of Science), Brendan Waddell, Linc Schmitt and Ron Swann (School of ANHB) and Garth Ilett (OFM). I would also like to recognise the support of Harpreet kaur, Rhonda Flottman and Judi Giddings from the Science Futures Foundation, particularly in organising this event. Professionally I would like to acknowledge the support and guidance of David Hillman, my long-term friend and collaborator, and also of WA's respiratory and sleep physicians, many of whom are here tonight. Members of the sleep industry have also been generous in their support of this facility and I would like to thank ResMed, Compumedics, F&P and Philips Respironics. Finally, on a personal level, I would thank my parents, my wife, Esther and my children, Patrick and Dominique, without whose unwavering support I would possibly have left science may years ago.
I'd like to finish by suggesting that the funding and commissioning of this facility is recognition that sleep disorders are now a major problem in today's society. My hope is that the Centre for Sleep Science will serve as a focal point for innovative sleep research in WA. To do this we will need to continue to work on growing the already substantial collaborations between academics, researchers, clinicians, industry, government and the community. You will see when you walk through the facility that the infrastructure is now in place to achieve these goals. The challenge now is to find innovative ways to fund the research personnel to achieve them. If we can do that, who knows, perhaps the next ResMed will come from an idea that starts in this facility - not a bad goal to aim for!
Winthrop Professor Peter Eastwood
Centre for Sleep Science