Thirty-five million Americans can’t sleep at night and their insomnia impairs their day-to-day functioning. With adults, sleepless nights cause accidents on the job and in kids, learning dysfunction. Sleep problems can also portend heart trouble. But all too few insomnia sufferers consult sleep clinics for advice.
Yet Israeli entrepreneur Amir Geva predicts that increasing numbers of red-eyed Americans will turn to clinics for help, in part because of a Newsweek cover issue on the problem in July.
Geva is banking on it, in fact. He places a great deal of hope in the $1 million contract his company, WideMed, signed this year with SleepMed, which runs a chain of 100 sleep labs throughout the United States.
WideMed, located in the Negev Desert town of Omer, will be supplying SleepMed with servers that collate, process and analyze data flowing in from the sleep clinics.
Seattle-based SleepMed, the leading provider of diagnostic and treatment services for sleep disorders and epilepsy in the United States, runs about 40,000 of the 1.5 million tests conducted in the United States each year.
Each sleep test costs about $1,000. It requires the patient to spend a night at the clinic, attached through electrodes, tubes and a microphone to WideMed’s system, which measures brain waves, eyeball movements, muscular motion and pressure on the thoracic cavity, as well as the oxygen level in the bloodstream.
WideMed’s data functions help doctors diagnose the patient’s problem, at a significant saving of time for both doctor and technicians. According to the company, in test cases WideMed’s system has measured the sleep disorders of obstructive apnea, central apnea, mixed apnea and hypopnea with over 90 percent agreement with the diagnosis of a group of experts. The system detects and records such as actions as eye movements, periodic leg movements, EMG bursts, changes in heart rate and other events that show the quality of a patients’ sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the inability to breathe properly during sleep, a disorder that effectively prevents sleep by causing the sufferer to wake up as many as a hundred or more times a night. The dangers of sleep apnea go far beyond causing sufferers to feel tired. In fact, the disorder has been linked to coronary heart disease and sleep apnea sufferers have significantly lower life expectancies than non-sufferers.
Geva, an engineering professor at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, specializes in biomedical signal analysis. He claims WideMed’s system can also provide early warning of heart trouble and epilepsy, leading to preventative treatment.
Geva isn’t building WideMed’s future entirely on SleepMed, however, which boasts sales of $46 million a year. Geva is working on creating strategic alliances with other companies, and is involved in establishing operations in the United States that will provide services to all sleep clinics, based on WideMed’s technology. He is also discussing introduction of the company’s technology to Japan with the Marubeni Corp.
Geva, who launched WideMed in 2000, estimates that the potential of its technology will help the startup raise $1.5 million through a private placement by the end of this year.