Harvard Biomarkers of Sleepiness Conference

Finding a Research Path for the Identification of Biomarkers of Sleepiness

Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are significant threats to public health and productivity in the United States, and no signs of abatement are emerging. One barrier to reducing their impact is the failure to recognize on a societal and personal level the major consequence of sleep deprivation, sleepiness. A second, critical barrier is the lack of any practical tools for the objective measurement of sleepiness.

To begin to overcome these barriers, the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine convened a panel of 10 experts in assessing sleepiness, genomics, proteomics and molecular biology from across the U.S. and Europe for a conference to discuss the research path for the identification of biomarkers for sleepiness. This free one and a half day conference was held on September 21-22, 2010 at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, and was open to the research community.

The objectives of this conference were to:

  1. Provide an overview of the utility of current instruments to detect and quantify levels of sleepiness including both subjective and objective tools or techniques;
  2. Present current research on the use of genomic, proteomic and molecular approaches to assess sleepiness with the emphasis on how such techniques might be used clinically or for clinical research; and
  3. Stimulate research into the development of clinically useful biomarkers of sleepiness by formulating a research pathway to for investigators to follow.

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Conference Logistics and Registration

Rationale for the Conference

Although sleep and circadian science have made extraordinary progress in recent years, one challenge that remains is the assessment of sleepiness. Currently, objective markers of sleepiness are based on difficult to interpret and frequently cumbersome electrophysiologic and/or behavioral tests such as the multiple sleep latency test, psychomotor vigilance test and pupillometry. Although these tests have proven useful for scientific investigations, they are difficult to use in field studies and would have little practical application in occupational and personal safety scenarios. Unfortunately, notwithstanding considerable effort, to date no reliable, easy to perform biomarkers of sleepiness have been developed. 

There is an important need for this technology: 1) in research especially as previously mentioned in field studies of both small and large size cohorts; 2) in clinical and occupational settings where assessment of sleepiness would be considerably useful to objectively validate symptoms of sleepiness and in determining fitness for duty; and 3) for personal use where such testing might ultimately provide a means for an individual to determine his/her level of sleepiness and allow self adjustment of medication, analogous to the manner that home glucose testing is used today. 

This conference focused on exploring potential investigational pathways that might be developed ultimately into simpler and more efficient methods to assess sleepiness. A diverse group of experts convened to discuss amongst themselves and participants in the audience how various genomic, proteomic and other approaches could prove useful in identifying biomarkers for sleepiness.

This conference was made possible with the support of:
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Grant #HL104874
Philips Healthcare

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