PhD Opportunity - Biomarkers and Motor Vehicle Accident Risk

Developing a new clinical tool to assess fitness to drive in patients with obstructive sleep apnea


Background: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder linked with increased daytime sleepiness, impaired driving performance and increased motor vehicle accident risk. However, not all patients are impaired by OSA and identifying which patients are affected is a daily clinical challenge for sleep specialists.

The current gold standard clinical test for daytime sleepiness is the maintenance of wakefulness test (MWT), which assesses the patient’s ability to stay awake in a controlled sleep laboratory soporific environment. The problem with this test is that it is an all-day, labour intensive and expensive test, limiting its utility to only in a small portion of OSA patients where excessive sleepiness is clear or work regulations require the test (professional drivers). Furthermore the MWT is inconsistently related to driving impairment and accident risk in patients with OSA. This leaves most patients with OSA untested in regards to the risk of alertness failure while driving. Previous research by our group has identified some initial promising biomarkers of alertness failure and driving risk in OSA patients. Additional independent validation is now necessary to confirm that our biomarkers can consistently identify OSA patients at high driving risk.


Aim: The main aim of this NHMRC funded project is to validate biomarkers of alertness failure and driving impairment in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) towards developing a clinically deployable, simplified and cost effect fitness to drive assessment. Specifically this project will

  • Test the performance of biomarkers to predict diving impairment in OSA
  • Compare performance of biomarkers with MWT to predict driving impairment in OSA
  • Explore the utility additional biological (blood and saliva), biomarkers to further improve the prediction of driving impairment in OSA

There is an opportunity to discuss and tailor a PhD projects around these broad aims and themes of this large project.


Anticipated outputs: PhD Thesis, journal articles, conference presentations and potential for commercially valuable intellectual property


Other Important Information

 Host University: Flinders University

 Host Departments: Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health: A Flinders Centre of Research Excellence, College of Medicine and Public Health


Desired candidate: We are seeking a bright and enthusiastic 1st class honours graduate with an interest in research into sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, neurobiology and/or psychology to join the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health at Flinders University to undertake PhD research under the supervision of Dr Andrew Vakulin. A PhD scholarship is available for outstanding 1st class honours candidates.


Period of study: This scholarship is available to eligible candidates to undertake a direct entry into a 3-year PhD program.


Value and tenure of the scholarship: The full-time stipend rate is $27,082 per annum (in 2018) tax exempt, for up to 3 years (indexed annually).


Contact name: Dr Andrew Vakulin

Contact email (phone): (+61 8 7221 8308)