KITE trainee honoured with RSI Research Excellence Award for novel sleep apnea treatment

This award recognizes research which shows the potential or realized significant impact on disciplines, practice, and society.

KITE trainee Reeman Marzouqah has received the 2023 Research Excellence Award from the University of Toronto’s Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI). 

This award, which was announced at RSI Research Day, recognizes research that shows the potential or realized significant impact on disciplines, practice, and society. 

 “I'm honored to receive the Research Excellence Award as it is a validation of all the hard work and dedication I've put into my research,” said Marzouqah, who is a member of KITE’s Communications Team and is a fourth year PhD candidate in RSI’s Speech-Language Pathology program.

“It's a strong motivator for me to continue to push the boundaries in order to improve patient care.”

Marzouqah was recognized for her PhD project where she developed an exercise program to treat post-stroke patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

OSA is a condition that causes breathing to repeatedly stop or to be reduced during sleep due to the intermittent collapse of the upper airway. Currently, the most effective treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). 

In CPAP therapy patients receive a steady flow of pressurized air through a mask worn over the nose or both the nose and mouth during sleep from a CPAP machine. The CPAP keeps the upper airway open during sleep allowing the patient to breathe.

Unfortunately, more than half of post stroke patients with OSA are unable to receive CPAP treatment due to various reasons. such as claustrophobia, discomfort, or difficulty adapting to the machine.  

As a result their OSA is left untreated which doubles the mortality rate and increases the chances of suffering another stroke. 

To address this issue, Marzouqah developed an exercise program specifically designed to strengthen the muscles at the back of the tongue and throat.  These exercises aim to enhance the function of the muscles involved in the upper airway collapse, ultimately improving the patency and airflow of the upper airway during sleep. 

This program is based on exercises speech-language pathologists use to increase strength of muscles involved in swallowing and speech. 

“Reeman’s research is highly novel and clinically significant,” said Dr. Yana Yunusova, a senior scientist at KITE, leader of the Communications Team, and Marzouqah’s PhD supervisor. “This work has a great potential to expand the current scope of practice of speech language pathologists to include management of sleep-breathing disorders.” 

As part of her project Marzouqah created an app called OPEX to assist in the delivery of this treatment. She also conducted feasibility trial to demonstrate the feasibility and early efficacy of the approach. 

In the future, Marzouqah hopes to conduct a large-scale randomized controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention.

“I am excited to see how my work can not only improve patient outcomes but also open the door for other speech language pathologists to provide their expertise in managing OSA,” Marzouqah said.