Giving a clinician the time for research



By Doug Dusik
Monday, June 4, 2012

Receiving a 2010 ABSM Junior Faculty Research Award from the ASMF helped clear the way for Ina Djonlagic, MD, to earn a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The ASMF grant, funded via a donation from the American Board of Sleep Medicine, allowed Dr. Djonlagic to collect preliminary data on predictors of sleep-dependent memory consolidation in obstructive sleep apnea, which led to an NIH funded Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23).

The ASMF and NIH grants helped fund the study, “Increased sleep fragmentation leads to impaired off-line consolidation of motor memories in humans,” which Dr. Djonlagic published in March in PLoS One. The results provide critical new information about the cognitive impact of obstructive sleep apnea, which could lead to a reassessment of how sleep apnea is defined and evaluated.

“The American Sleep Medicine Foundation award was a springboard to getting NIH funding,” Dr. Djonlagic said. “It bought me time to devote to research and collect data. That’s critical for clinicians.”

As a clinician, Dr. Djonlagic is the medical director of Sleep HealthCenter of Weymouth, Mass. As a scientist, her research, which is done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, focuses on the relationships between sleep, learning, memory and overall neurocognitive function. This interest was nurtured by one of her mentors, Robert Stickgold, PhD, who is the director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“I’m interested in processes that occur in our brains when we sleep,” Dr. Djonlagic said. “Not just remembering things better when you wake up in the morning, but also making new connections, which allow you to do things faster or come up with new ideas.”

In 2008, Dr. Djonlagic received an ASMF Physician Scientist Training Award to study sleep, learning and Parkinson disease. Although this subject continues to be one of her passions, she is also currently conducting important research dealing with sleep apnea, thanks in part to working under the supervision of her other mentor, Atul Malhotra, MD.

She will be presenting two abstracts from her research at SLEEP 2012 in Boston, Mass., one dealing with the impact of CPAP on neurocognitive function and the other describing the effect of aging in combination with OSA on sleep-dependent memory consolidation.