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Scientists Are Developing a Blood Test to Detect Drowsy Drivers

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Drowsy driving contributes to 100,000 crashes (and 80,000 injuries, 6,500 deaths) each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Despite the severity of this roadside hazard, it’s one that’s hard to detect in drivers.

Survey and results

Researchers from the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, Guildford, UK, are seeking to change that. Professor Derk-Jan Dijk led research to develop a blood test that could help diagnose sleep deprivation. The team recently published the results of the study in the academic journal Sleep. The researchers surveyed 36 participants who had been sleep-deprived for one night. After 40 hours of awakeness, the researchers took blood samples from the participants. Next, they evaluated the samples for changes in the expression of certain genes for signs of inflammation.

The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to identify a subset of 68 genes that demonstrated signs of inflammation. This algorithm proved a 92-percent accuracy in its ability to determine if an individual was well-rested or sleep-deprived.

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Implications of the study

“Identifying these biomarkers is the first step to developing a test which can accurately calculate how much sleep an individual has had,” said Simon Archer, Professor of Molecular Biology of Sleep at the University of Surrey, and co-author of the study.

This test could eventually develop into a point-of-care (POC) test that police or employers could use to test a driver for acute sleep deprivation. This would help eliminate the risk of drowsy driving, especially for truck drivers and those who drive a vehicle as a profession. It could also help boost safety for pilots and those who operate heavy machines. Additionally, the test could also help diagnose sleep disorders like sleep apnea, which are hard to identify in individuals.

We anticipate more news on this promising test as researchers continue to develop the technology.

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News Sources: Forbes, Sleep