September 1, 2009
A remarkably simple treatment for sleep apnea holds the promise of a good snooze.
For some sleep-apnea sufferers, the solution is worse than the problem. Though people with mild to moderate cases repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night as the soft tissues in their throats close up, the disruptions are usually not enough to leave them nodding off the next day. They often, therefore, forgo the humiliations of the CPAP, an effective but unwieldy piece of headgear that pumps in air to keep the airways open. Just imagine curling up next to your beloved in the therapeutic equivalent of a gas mask! To these weary souls—there are 44 million in the United States alone—Lunar Design offers an alternative.
Provent, a pair of discreet, disposable plastic valves fitted to the nostrils with adhesives, works simply by creating enough back pressure to keep the throat from collapsing. “When you exhale, you actually have to breathe against the device,” explains John Edson, the president of Lunar. The idea came from Rajiv Doshi, an engineer with a medical degree who advises Lunar and founded Ventus Medical in 2005 to develop Provent. Doshi had rigged up a crude prototype on his own but needed the Palo Alto–based design team to transform it into a comfortable and affordable product.
Lunar considered a range of relatively stylish options, from a bendable tube with plugs on each end to an over-the-nose piece with valves resembling earbuds. But the true challenge was to find a solution that would fit noses of all shapes and sizes. Fortunately, Lunar had 45 ethnically diverse test subjects (i.e., employees) on hand, and it ultimately realized that the form needed to be fairly simple. “This had nothing to do with making it pretty,” Edson explains. “It was about making an effective device that solves the problem so that people would be willing to use it.”
Already given the green light by the FDA, Provent is now undergoing a series of clinical trials with the aim of making it available through insurers. That, Doshi feels, is the best way to reach people who otherwise go untreated. “The ideal device is going to be consumer oriented,” Doshi emphasizes, “because the decision to treat or not treat sleep apnea is made by the patient on a nightly basis.”