Congratulations to American Scientists Hall, Rosbash, and Young

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young’s Genetic Discovery

Three American scientists, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young, jointly won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. They earned the prestigious award for discovering the genes that control circadian rhythms.

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute issued a press release that reads, “Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.” In other words, we’ve long known that human beings have biological clocks that are necessary for our good health and survival, but Hall, Rosbash, and Young were able to precisely identify the mechanisms of the “control center” for our internal clock.

Understanding Circadian Rhythm

Their discovery may have far-reaching implications and should help us better understand how the circadian rhythm can affect diseases and healing. Ultimately, understanding this relationship could enable us to provide more personalized therapies.

Ignoring the circadian rhythm could be detrimental to one’s health. Most notably, when we are sleep deprived, stress can increase, and that can affect most of our endocrine functions. That, in turn, affects our risk of diseases. As I wrote in a recent blog post, prolonged sleep deprivation can affect memory and cognition, and contributes to the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and mental health disorders. Ultimately, it can be fatal. Recently, the Guardian reported that a Japanese journalist died of sleep deprivation.

Some people have atypical work schedules that require them to sleep during the day instead of at night. This may require the sleep environment to be significantly adapted, so one does not fight against the normal biological rhythm that is governed by daylight.

Most of us think about circadian rhythm in connection with sleep, but it’s much more than that. Every function of our body has a circadian rhythm that is determined by the rotation of the earth around the sun. The gastrointestinal tract contracts and moves food through the system in response to a healthy, synchronized rhythm. When its circadian rhythm is out of synch, we can develop constipation or diarrhea.

Blood pressure, respiratory rate, and muscle strength are also influenced by our circadian rhythm. In fact, each cell throughout our bodies has a circadian rhythm that affects its function and level of efficiency. Our circadian rhythm can be easily disturbed by our behavior. These disturbances can, in turn, affect our well-being.

Circadian Rhythm Affects Pain

Because of the circadian rhythm, certain types of pain will increase during various times of the day. Musculoskeletal pain is generally worse in the mornings, while neuropathic pain is usually worse at night. Some research suggests that endocrine changes due to the circadian rhythm may be a factor in the diurnal changes of some pain conditions. Therefore, understanding an individual’s circadian pattern of pain can help doctors match a patient’s activity with their pain therapy.

Currently, delivery systems of medications usually do not take into account how circadian rhythm affects pain symptoms, but this genetic discovery could change that entirely. The greater understanding of circadian rhythms could lead to discovering therapies that are aligned with each person’s biological clock.

Thanks to Brilliant Researchers

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute’s press release concludes, “Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and wellbeing.”

These are brilliant researchers who deserve the recognition. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young are representative of the many (and often unlauded) scientists whose work has significantly contributed to improving our wellbeing and health. I extend my gratitude and congratulations to Hall, Rosbash, and Young on their incredible work that is recognized with this (usually) once-in-a-lifetime award from the Nobel Assembly.

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