West Virginia University researchers awarded prestigious national grant to advance sleep apnea technology

West Virginia University researchers awarded prestigious national grant to advance sleep apnea technology

Sunil Sharma, M.D., and a team of researchers from West Virginia University Department of Medicine's Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine have been selected for the highly competitive National I-Corps Program and awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation. Their innovative work on developing artificial intelligence-augmented technology for detecting sleep apnea caught the program's attention.

Sleep apnea is a common yet often undiagnosed condition affecting a large part of the population. It can lead to serious cardiovascular issues like heart failure, atrial fibrillation and stroke if left untreated. Sharma's team recognized the need for an accurate, low-cost and easy-to-use technology that could help identify sleep apnea cases early on, allowing for timely treatment.

"A staggering 80% of sleep apnea cases remain undetected in our community," said Sharma. "Our goal was to create a technology that could bridge this gap and enable people to more easily detect this condition.”

The team developed an artificial intelligence-powered algorithm integrated with user-friendly hardware that shows promise in accurately detecting sleep apnea and its severity level. After securing a patent for their technology, they turned their focus to bringing the product to more patients nationally.

Enter the National I-Corps Program, which supports researchers in translating their discoveries into marketable products with real-world impact. Only 15-20% of applicants are selected for this prestigious program and its associated grant.

"We are thrilled and grateful for this incredible opportunity," said Sharma. "As researchers, we excel at scientific discovery and innovation, but we often lack the resources and expertise to translate our work into technologies that directly benefit people's lives. The National I-Corps program will provide us with invaluable entrepreneurial training, guidance and a national platform to test our product with industry leaders, scientific experts, sleep lab managers, hospital administrators and patient advocates."

Through intensive workshops, national meetings and customer discovery processes, the I-Corps program will equip Sharma's team with the tools to align their vision with market needs, attract investors and navigate the challenges of commercialization.

This achievement aligns with the WVU Department of Medicine's broader commitment to advancing research. By supporting faculty clinician-scientists like Sharma, the Department aims to translate research into real-world solutions that improve patient outcomes and address healthcare disparities in rural and underserved communities.

"Our mission is not just to treat patients but to continually strive for better ways to improve their health," stated Sharma. "This technology has the potential to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots by providing early and accurate detection of sleep apnea through an affordable and accessible means."

With the support of the National I-Corps Program, Sharma and his team are well-positioned to navigate the journey from lab to marketplace, bringing their innovative sleep apnea detection technology to the people who need it most.

For more information about the Department of Medicine, visit medicine.wvu.edu/medicine.