Keck Medicine of USC is the first medical center in Los Angeles to offer a unique implantable treatment for sleep apnea, a chronic disorder that affects more than 18 million sleep-deprived Americans, according to the university.

Keck Medical Center of USC patients who qualify as candidates now may consider the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation system, approved by the FDA on April 30 for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.

The Upper Airway Stimulation system monitors a patient’s breathing patterns and sends an electrical pulse to the nerve that controls the tongue to keep the airway open.

The standard treatment for sleep apnea includes use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP), which is a mask that fits over the nose or mouth and blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep. Approximately half of apnea patients, however, are unable to sleep comfortably while wearing positive airway pressure and should consider other options, said Keck Medicine of USC surgeon Eric J. Kezirian, MD, MPH, professor of clinical otolaryngology.

Other treatments include lifestyle changes such as weight loss, surgery and oral appliances. Left untreated, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to escalating health risks such as hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

All components of the Upper Airway Stimulation system are placed inside the body during a minimally-invasive two-hour surgical procedure. The implant consists of a small generator that is positioned in the upper chest like a pacemaker and electrical leads that enable the generator to stimulate the nerve that controls the tongue to keep the throat open while the patient is breathing during sleep.

People who qualify for Inspire therapy:

  • Have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea,
  • Have either failed or not tolerated CPAP treatment,
  • Have a body-mass index, or BMI, of 32 kg/m2 or less, and
  • Do not have any other active implantable devices, such as a pacemaker.

“The implant truly is a breakthrough for people who are unable to tolerate the standard treatment for sleep apnea,” said Kezirian.