Sleep and Stem Cells: Can You Diagnose Sleep Apnea by Taking a Selfie?

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sleep and stem cells

Sleep is incredibly important as we spend about 1/3 of our lives horizontal. Several studies have been performed in animal models on sleep and stem cells and the results are unusual. Perhaps more interesting is a recent study that shows that you can accurately diagnose sleep apnea through a selfie!

Sleep apnea is when you stop breathing while you’re sleeping. It’s commonly associated with snoring and also regrettably associated with heart disease, chronic inflammation, and cognitive decline. Obstructive sleep apnea is when you can’t breathe because a part of the airway collapses as you sleep. The later can be diagnosed in a sleep study or an MRI. Can it also be diagnosed via a picture of your face?

In a recent study on sleep apnea and selfies, the Icelandic authors looked at photos of patient’s faces with sophisticated facial measurement software. Believe it or not, they were able to “profile” (phenotype in science speak) several types of faces that were correlated with MRI findings of likely obstructive sleep apnea. As a result, it’s not too hard to imagine a new phone with a front facing camera that greets you by name, analyzes your facial features, and then tells you that you may want to get a sleep study!

How can sleep impact your stem cells? Sleep apnea is actually a two edged sword when it comes to stem cell health. On the one hand, stem cells like hypoxia (low oxygen environments). Several studies have confirmed that initially stem cells get better and excrete more helpful things when researchers simulate sleep apnea in rats. However, these are short-term investigations. What happens in the long-run when someone has chronic sleep apnea? It’s likely their stem cells get worse as this causes more chronic inflammation and weight gain, two things stem cells don’t like.

The upshot? First, our phone may one day be able to diagnose us with a glance-which is likely a good thing! Second, while stem cells love hypoxia, too much of a good thing is usually a bad idea, so get some sleep if you want better stem cells!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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