Why Stanford and Prometheus Are Exploring the Genomics of Sleep Disorders

They are building a research registry of data from 30,000 patients. The goal: help scientists advance sleep medicine.

Image has been resized. Courtesy of US Air Force, Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony.

Without a good night of sleep, not much gets done the next day. In a way, the same is true of data; without enough of the right kind, researchers are hamstrung. That problem, it turns out, has plagued sleep medicine for years. But now, Stanford University investigators are working to provide the field with a trove of data and analytical tools to study sleep disorders, pushing the world closer to a better slumber.

The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine is in the early stages of launching the Stanford Technology Analytics and Genomics in Sleep Study (STAGES), which is poised to collect “clinical, objective sleep data” and biological samples from 30,000 patients at 20 sleep clinics, according to the investigators, led by Emmanuel Mignot, MD, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Ultimately, the effort aims to explore genetics and technology to “develop and disseminate essential tools and data to the scientific community to advance the field of sleep medicine,” according to Stanford.

Before recruiting begins, however, STAGES requires somewhere to store all that information. That led Stanford to ink a deal with Prometheus Research, a Connecticut-based firm that will build the data registry. The contractor is gearing up to merge “highly disparate data from multiple sources and modalities,” including third-party research information, genetic data, images, and data collected from sensors.

“We’re excited to work with Dr. Mignot and his team on this multidisciplinary and collaborative research,” Leon Rozenblit, founder and CEO of Prometheus, said in a statement announcing the union. “Our research informatics expertise and research data management experience with complex, multi-modal data acquisition makes Prometheus a great fit for the Stanford STAGES study.”

Over the course of the study, data will stem from an online sleep and medical history questionnaire, in-lab nocturnal polysomnography data, computerized neurocognitive battery, actigraphy, genomics, biological samples like DNA and plasma, and 3-D facial imaging, according to Stanford.

Along the way, researchers plan to use machine learning and “new statistical methods” to analyze and interpret the flood of information.

“Access to these data and tools will spark new research opportunities and genetic analysis, which will result in new diagnostic biomarkers for sleep disorders and a better molecular understanding of sleep regulation,” Mignot and his team wrote.

Until this point, researchers noted, sleep has been a “biological black box” despite the medical, psychological, and societal effects of sleep disorders, which are often baked into a person’s genes. A study like STAGES, which is slated to study “all major sleep disorders,” could reveal previously hidden insights, the team added.

Indeed, though research has centered on genetics and sleep disorders, much remains unknown about the biological processes—and the flawed ones—controlling sleep. Insomnia, for instance, appears to be in part related to an individual’s genes, but researchers must continue to explore the matter. The effort to better understand the science of sleep disorders is important, of course, judging by the unprecedented commitment by Stanford—and it may even be a matter of life and death.