Exploring sleep: interview with Thanh Dang-Vu

Written by Alice Weatherston

Thanh Dang-Vu is currently an Assistant Professor at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). He holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Sleep, Neuroimaging and Cognitive Health, as well as a CIHR New Investigator Award. He is also an attending neurologist and a researcher at the Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM, Canada), a clinical professor in the department of Neurosciences at the University of Montreal, and an adjunct professor of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University.

For our Neurology Central focus on sleep we talked to Dr Dang-Vu about his research in sleep medicine, including current ‘hot topics’ and the future direction of research in the field.

Your research primarily centres on sleep and it’s interplay with neurological functioning – why do you think that this area of research is so important?

Sleep is disrupted in many neurological diseases. On the other hand, disrupted sleep has many detrimental consequences on brain health. Sleep and neurological conditions are thus naturally connected, both in terms of mechanistic pathways and therapeutic management strategies. While sleep disturbances are sometimes undervalued by neurological patients and clinicians alike, effective treatments exist for certain sleep disorders and may thus improve the quality of life and the neurological health of patients.

Why do you think the role of sleep is sometimes undervalued?

Sleep medicine is a relatively new and multidisciplinary field, encompassing neurology, psychiatry, pulmonology and internal medicine, among others. As such, it is often not considered as a main focus in neurology. Furthermore, coverage of sleep and sleep disorders throughout the medical curriculum is often quite limited, and sleep medicine remains a highly specialized subspecialty.

There is currently increasing interest in the link between sleep disturbance and cognitive decline in neurodegenerative diseases. What have been the main conclusions of work in this field to date?

Epidemiological data have shown that symptoms of sleep disturbances (e.g., short sleep duration, fragmented sleep, daytime sleepiness) are prospectively associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and thus the development of neurodegenerative diseases and dementia. Sleep disturbances have also been shown to be associated with biological markers of neurodegeneration. Collectively, these data suggest that sleep plays an important role in the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative diseases, although more research is needed to characterize the mechanisms underlying this relationship.

In your opinion, what is currently the most exciting area of research for the role of sleep?

In relation to the previous question, I think that one of the most exciting areas for future research development in that field is to study how treatments of sleep disturbances impact the cognitive well-being and the development of neurological conditions. In other words, the evaluation of sleep as a potential target for preventive interventions of neurological diseases.

Currently, what are your main plans for future projects?

My main projects will continue to investigate the brain mechanisms of sleep disorders using neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques. Projects in my lab also evaluate the relationship between these pathophysiological mechanisms and the clinical responses to therapeutic interventions, with the long-term goal of optimizing treatment strategies for sleep disorders.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Future Medicine Ltd.