Medicine Nobel awarded for work on circadian clocks

Oct 4, 2017

By Ewen Callaway & Heidi Ledford

Three scientists who studied the workings of organisms’ inner circadian clocks have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, both at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, will split the award of 9 million Swedish kronor (US$1.1 million) with Michael Young at Rockefeller University in New York City.

Beginning in the 1980s, the three researchers isolated and characterized a gene in fruit flies, period, that encodes a protein that builds up each night, only to be broken down the following day. In subsequent work, the trio, as well as other scientists, unpicked the molecular regulation of theperiod gene (and the protein that it encodes, called PER) and identified additional components of the circadian clock.

All multicellular organisms possess circadian clocks, and human versions of the genes that comprise their clocks have been implicated in sleeping disorders and other medical conditions.

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2 comments on “Medicine Nobel awarded for work on circadian clocks

  • Great work!

    On a related issue:

    Open heart surgery appears to be safer in the afternoon because of the body’s internal clock, scientists have said.

    The body clock – or circadian rhythm – is the reason we want to sleep at night, but it also drives huge changes in the way our bodies work.

    The research, published in the Lancet, suggests the heart is stronger and better able to withstand surgery in the afternoon than the morning.

    And it says the difference is not down to surgeons being tired in the morning.

    Doctors need to stop the heart to perform operations including heart valve replacements. This puts the organ under stress as the flow of oxygen to the heart tissue is reduced.

    The doctors and researchers looked for complications including heart attacks, heart failure or death after surgery.
    They found:

    54 out of 298 morning patients had adverse events
    28 out of 298 afternoon patients had adverse events
    Afternoon patients had around half the risk of complications
    One major event would be avoided
    for every 11 patients operated on in the afternoon

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  • A similar study looks at burns and wounds.

    Wounds heal more quickly if they occur during the day rather than after dark, a study suggests.

    It found burns sustained at night took an average of 28 days to heal, but just 17 for those that happened in daytime.

    The team, at the UK’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said they were astounded by the difference they saw in 118 burns patients they studied.

    The effect was explained by the way body clock ticks inside nearly every human cell across a 24-hour cycle.

    The research, published in Science Translational Medicine, examined 118 patients at NHS burns units.

    It showed the average 11-day difference in healing times between people hurt at night and during the day.

    Detailed lab work showed skin cells called fibroblasts were changing their abilities in a 24-hour pattern.

    Fibroblasts are the body’s first responders, rushing to the site of injury to close a wound.

    During the day they are primed to react, but they lose this ability at night.

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