Respiratory Sleep Disorders Research Unit

Principal Investigator: 
Award Type: 


  • John Fleetham, MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP, FRCPC
    University of British Columbia


  • Stella Atkins, PhD
    Simon Fraser University
  • Najib Ayas, MD, MPH
    University of British Columbia
  • Keith Chambers, MD
    Vancouver Coastal Health
  • Mark FitzGerald, MB BCh, MRCPI, FRCPC
    University of British Columbia
  • Jonathan Fleming, MB, FRCPC
    University of British Columbia
  • Mieke Koehoorn, PhD
    University of British Columbia
  • Alan Lowe, FCDS, PhD
    University of British Columbia
  • Carlo Marra, PhD, PharmD
    Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute
  • Ralph Mistlberger, PhD
    Simon Fraser University
  • Jeremy Road, MD, FRCPC
    University of British Columbia
  • Frank Ryan, MB BCh, MRCPI, FRCPC
    University of British Columbia
  • Andrew Sandford, PhD
    University of British Columbia
  • Pearce Wilcox, MD
    University of British Columbia

Respiratory sleep disorders affect more than 100,000 people in BC, with significant costs to the health care system and to the quality of life for those affected. A patient with a respiratory sleep disorder may stop breathing hundreds of times during the night, waking momentarily each time breathing resumes. As a result, they chronically get very little sleep.

Respiratory sleep disorders are composed of four distinct syndromes:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea is the most common disorder, caused by the obstruction and/or collapse of upper airway muscles during sleep. The condition affects four percent of men and two percent of women. The primary symptom is excessive sleepiness during the day, which leads to a variety of problems, including a higher risk of motor vehicle crashes.
  • Central sleep apnea-hypopnea occurs when the brain does not initiate breathing while asleep.
  • Cheyne-Stokes breathing is common in patients with congestive heart failures and neurological disorders. It is characterized by alternating periods of shallow and deep breathing, and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.
  • Hypoventilation occurs when there is an insufficient amount of air reaching the lungs during sleep. Obesity is the main risk factor.

In addition to the intellectual impairment and personality changes that can result from chronic sleep deprivation, respiratory sleep disorders predispose people to heart disease and premature death. However, the causes remain unclear, and the economic and occupational consequences are poorly understood.

The Respiratory Sleep Disorders Research Unit (part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute) will use MSFHR funding to investigate the causes of respiratory sleep disorders, assess the adverse health, societal and economic impacts, and develop new technologies to diagnose and treat patients. The unit will focus on five research areas:

  • Creating a provincial database to follow patients diagnosed with respiratory sleep disorders over time. The database will link with other provincial databases, including the Medical Services Plan, Pharmacare, Insurance Corporation of BC, and Workers Compensation Board to examine long term health, safety and economic consequences of respiratory sleep disorders.
  • Expanding collaborative research into the origins and consequences of respiratory sleep disorders. Researchers will use the database to analyze cardiovascular risk factors, and identify genetic markers of respiratory sleep disorders.
  • Assessing the cost-effectiveness of various diagnostic methods and treatments, as well as the economic impact of obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea in motor vehicle crashes and work-related accidents.
  • Establishing the first national, multi-centre group to conduct clinical trials that will assess and improve diagnostic and treatment methods for respiratory sleep disorders.
  • Performing studies to determine the origin of upper airway collapse in patients with respiratory sleep and neuromuscular disorders.

Award term completed September 2009.

Health Category: 
Host Institution: 
University of British Columbia
Research Location: 
Vancouver General Hospital