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Sleep Apnea: Medtech's High-Growth Sleeper

Executive Summary

(Please see Start-Up, March 2008, for an expanded version of this article). Although the patient population is woefully undiagnosed, approximately 38 million in the US alone suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. There are a number of new technologies in development to improve on surgery and CPAP--traditional treatments for this silent killer--and device makers are casting about for wider markets in which to sell their goods. At its current rate of penetration, OSA will create close to a $3 billion worldwide market within two years.

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Apnex Medical is developing a tiny device that it thinks could become an enormous game changer in the bid to better treat obstructive sleep apnea. The technology is similar to a pacemaker in both size and concept. But instead of the heart, the device stimulates the musculature of the upper airway at the base of the tongue - the genioglossus - via the hypoglossal nerve. In obstructive sleep apnea, the muscle doesn't always activate sufficiently, which can lead to a collapsed airway.

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