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Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: 2017

  Nov 02, 2017

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: 2017

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: 2017
Three Americans have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for their discoveries about the body's daily rhythms.  Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young won the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize for isolating a gene that controls the body’s normal daily biological rhythm.

The discovery has opened up new fields of research and raised awareness about the importance of getting proper sleep. Circadian rhythms adapt the workings of the body to different phases of the day, influencing sleep, behaviour, hormone levels, body temperature and metabolism. Circadian dysfunction has been linked to sleep disorders, as well as depression, bipolar disorder, cognitive function, memory formation and some neurological diseases.

During their research they were able to peek inside the biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. The discovery has raised awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene. During his previous research, Mr. Young had isolated the “period gene” in fruit flies. Mr. Hall and Mr. Rosbash found that a protein encoded by the gene accumulated during the night and degraded during daytime. A decade later, Mr. Young discovered another "clock gene." The paradigm-shifting discoveries established key mechanisms for the biological clock.

Significance of the discovery
Our wellbeing is affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock, for example when we travel across several time zones and experience 'jet lag,'. There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner time keeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases. The misalignment may be associated with diseases, including cancer and degenerative neurological conditions.