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This article was published 26/9/2017 (1584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg digital health technology company is positioning itself to be a leader in the tricky business of sleep disorder diagnosis.
Cerebra Health Inc. has recently raised about $2.5 million, mostly from Manitoba investors through the provincial Small Business Venture Capital Tax Credit Program, allowing it to acquire proprietary technology already developed by respirologist and sleep physician, Dr. Magdy Younes.
Younes, a world-renowned Winnipeg research doctor (for years his inventions have generated the most royalties to the University of Manitoba’s technology transfer office) who has invented breakthrough diagnostic technologies for sleep disorders, has been working with the company for some time and will continue to support the progress of the technology as Cerebra’s chief scientific officer.
Earl Gardiner, the CEO of Cerebra, is also the CEO and founder of Winnipeg-based RANA Respiratory Care Group. RANA is a significant regional player in the sleep-care scene, running sleep labs in Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina and Calgary, and providing equipment.
"We get orders from physicians to do home sleep studies but we are looking only for sleep apnea," he said.
RANA has funded Cerebra for the first year and half of its existence.
"As RANA, we got the importance of the technology from the very first meeting we had with Dr. Younes," Gardiner said. "We did it on the strong belief that this technology would revolutionize the sleep world."
Dawson Reimer, president of Cerebra, said the company will use the new funding to develop a newer version of the in-home sleep disorder diagnostic device, called Prodigy, that the company hopes to have Health Canada approval for by next summer.
Cerebra believes its small EEG scanner (electroencephalogram, that plots electrical activity in the brain) and its proprietary software that can analyze more data quicker and more efficiently than current procedures, will allow more people to have access to better diagnosis of sleep disorders.
"This allows us to look way beyond sleep apnea," Gardiner said. "It measures brain activity in the conventional way. But also, using digital analysis that Dr. Younes has developed, it can look at the impacts of people who suffer from insomnia and other things like restless leg syndrome."
As well, Cerebra’s technology addresses one of the conundrums of treating and diagnosing sleep disorders like apnea. Currently that process involves the patient — who already has trouble sleeping — to enter a sleep lab, be hooked up to intrusive equipment and then told to have a normal sleep in a foreign environment with a technician watching through a window.
"It’s such a problem that lots of people are entirely abandoning EEGs in general because the environment in which the EEG data is collected is so disruptive to those who are easily aroused from their sleep," Reimer said. "They find they can’t sleep and it becomes a wasted effort."
Cerebra’s technology makes it easy to conduct the diagnosis at home. Its EEG device will stream data wirelessly to the doctor’s office and Cerebra’s algorithms can crunch the EEG data much quicker than doctors are currently able to do manually.
Sleep disorders can cause all sorts of negative health outcomes. Sleep apnea, for instance, can cause heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues, and restorative sleep is considered one of the important elements of proper health — along with exercise and nutrition. But, to date, there has not been adequate means to measure the sleep states accurately.
Cerebra has grown from three to 20 employees in the last couple of years, and Reimer believes that there is tremendous demand from people suffering from sleep disorders.
"We are developing our technology at a time when awareness of sleep issues is really ramping up," he said. "We are in a nice environment to be doing this kind of work. Digital health technology in the sleep sector is a sweet spot right now."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.