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US researchers scoop Nobel Prize for body clock findings

This year’s Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine has been given to three American researchers for making important discoveries about the body clock.
Dr Jeffrey Hall, Dr Michael Rosbash and Dr Michael Young will share the prize money for their findings regarding “molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”, the organisers said.
The body clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm, helps control certain bodily functions such as hormone levels and metabolism. It is also the reason why people get tired or suffer from jet lag if it is disrupted.
Nearly every cell within a human body, animal and plant has a ticking clock. Previous research has shown the pancreas also has its own clock, meaning the circadian rhythm also regulates insulin production. If the body clock is disrupted on a long-term basis other studies have shown it can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Dr Rosbash, a professor at Brandeis University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said: “You recognise the circadian rhythm by the fact that you get sleepy by 10 or 11 at night, you wake up automatically at 7 in the morning, you have a dip in your alertness in the mid-day, or maybe at 3 or 4 in the afternoon when you need a cup of coffee. So that is the circadian clock which is manipulating your sleep, your wake, your alertness and your tiredness cycle.”
The trio began their work in 1984 when they found a protein called PER built up in fruit flies overnight and during the day it would gradually disappear. Having figured out that PER helped control the insects’ body clock, they then found the period gene which encodes PER. Blocking the period gene disrupted the fruit flies’ internal clock which confirmed their theory.
Dr Young, professor of genetics at Rockefeller University in New York, said: “I don’t think we ever really thought a beautiful mechanism would emerge in our lifetime, but then in those days we didn’t realise how fast the tools were developing and how fast science would proceed.
“Just like puzzle pieces the genes fell out and the way they work together provided this beautiful mechanism that we all now appreciate.”
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said: “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.”

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