Volunteer with Woolcock

PhD candidate Julia Chapman is devising a lifestyle modification program for sufferers of sleep apnea. She explained how volunteers assisting with medical research help society as a whole.

By Tim Groenendyk

Julia Chapman

“The more people who understand that they are a necessary part of the progression of medicine, and participating in a clinical trial is such a valuable aspect of that, I think the better off we’ll be.” PhD candidate Julia Chapman

Chapman has worked at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research since 2008 as a trial coordinator across a wide range of different studies.

Last year she began working only one day a week in her previous role and finishing up some of her old clinical trials to focus on her PhD.

“My PhD project is working with patients who have obstructive sleep apnea and aren’t able to use treatment for that.”

Chapman explained that the gold standard treatment for people sleep apnea is the continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine, but around half of the sufferers are unable to use this treatment, which is a mask worn over the nose during sleep.

“There’s not a great deal out there for those people. They get disillusioned by this treatment that they’re not able to use.

“That’s primarily the project that I’m working on at the moment that requires volunteers. We’re looking for an alternative for those people.”

That alternative is investigating the effectiveness of a diet, exercise and a medication to help combat symptoms of daytime sleepiness. A pilot study of the medication, Armodafinil, has shown that it helps people stay alert.

“People with sleep apnea often get tired during the day, they fall into a bit of a heap, can’t concentrate.

“So we are trialling Armodafinil, which you take in the morning to help combat those symptoms of daytime sleepiness that you might suffer.

“We test this using a driving simulator and reaction time test and seeing if the medication helps people with those things
Chapman said that Armodafinil is very similar to Modafinil which is available on the market.

“This is sort of like the more refined version of Modafinil. It’s basically it’s in a class of its own called wakefulness promoters. It’s a not a stimulant medication but it has some similar properties and should have a reduced side-effects profile.

“It’s also been shown in previous studies that diet and exercise can help reduce the level of sleep apnea. So we’re sort of combining the two approaches in this study.

“So while we don’t have any results of this study ‘in’, a lot of our patients are losing weight and that’s really good. But we’ll see as the study continues how well that goes.”

Her study involves a 12 month long lifestyle modification program where people’s diet and exercise are monitored seven times in the first six months, followed by once more at nine months and finally again at 12 months.

“It’s intensive but they see a dietitian and get a general health check every visit.”

Finding participants for this study is a big undertaking, but the Woolcock’s database of some 10,000 volunteers who have shown interest in either sleep or airways research will greatly facilitate the task. The database also includes healthy volunteers.

“Often the first step when we’re starting up a new study is we go straight to the database. It’s really important to keep in good contact with people on this database because without them we couldn’t do anything. They’re invaluable.

When talking about the study to volunteers Chapman believes that it’s important explain not only the research but how it will help the greater community.

“People who understand that this is something that’s going to be good for society as a whole- they’re probably the best participants, I think.

“We’re always reliant on volunteers to help us out with our clinical trials.

“The more people who understand that they are a necessary part of the progression of medicine, and participating in a clinical trial is such a valuable aspect of that, I think the better off we’ll be.”