Tick-tock, tick-tock…we’ll explain your biological clock!

If, like me, you’re one of those people who wake up at exactly the same time every morning without ever setting an alarm clock you’ve no doubt had people ask how you do it? Well, now you can tell them!

According to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies it’s all in our genes.  Recently they identified a gene responsible for starting our biological clock every morning.

The biological clock ramps up our metabolism early each day, initiating important physiological functions that tell our bodies that it’s time to rise and shine. Discovery of this new gene and the mechanism by which it starts the clock everyday may help explain the genetic underpinnings of sleeplessness, aging, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.  Better still, it could eventually lead to new therapies for these illnesses.

The body is essentially a collection of clocks,” says Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory, who led the research along with Luciano DiTacchio, a post-doctoral research associate. “We roughly knew what mechanism told the clock to wind down at night, but we didn’t know what activated us again in the morning. Now that we’ve found it, we can explore more deeply how our biological clocks malfunction as we get older and develop chronic illness.”

In a report just published in Science, the Salk researchers and their collaborators at McGill University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine describe how the gene encodes a protein that serves as an activation switch in the biochemical circuit that maintains our circadian rhythm. The discovery fills in a missing link in the molecular mechanisms that control our daily wake-sleep cycle.

It turns out that the molecular bugle call for cells and organs to get back to work each morning is an enzyme known as JARID1a.

Now that scientists understand why we wake each day, they can explore the role of JARID1a in sleep disorders and chronic diseases, possibly using it as a target for new drugs.

SRxA’s Word on Health looks forward to these developments and to a good night’s sleep!

Your Life in “It’s” Hands

Videoconferences may be known for putting people to sleep, but never quite like this.

In a world first, Canadian scientists, last week treated patients undergoing thyroid surgery in Italy –  remotely from Montreal.  The approach is part of new technological advancements, known as Teleanesthesia.

The operations involved a team of engineers, researchers and anesthesiologists who controlled the administration of anesthetic agents from thousands of miles away using an automated system.

Four strategically placed video cameras monitored every aspect of patient care in Pisa, Italy, in real time.

Ventilation parameters, such as the patient’s breathing rate, vital signs (ECG, heart rate, oxygen saturation) and live images of the surgery were monitored by each camera, with the fourth used for special purposes.

A remote computer station known as the ‘anesthesia cockpit’ handled the audio-video link between the two centers. Prior to the operation, an assessment of the patient’s airway and medical history was performed via video-conferencing.

For those people concerned that computers can and do go wrong, chief investigator Dr. Thomas  Hemmerling offers the following reassurance, “Obviously, local anesthesiologists can override the process at any time.”

SRxA’s Word on Health will be monitoring all developments!

IBS – a pain in the mind?

Some health problems are pretty simple to understand. If you have a sore throat, your doctor will take a swab and run tests to see if you have a strep infection. An odd-looking lump can be biopsied to see if it is cancerous. Unfortunately, with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it’s just not that simple.

IBS is a tough disorder to understand. Estimates suggest it affects as many as 1:5 Americans.  However, studies have failed to show any structural problems in the gut that would account for the symptoms of pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, leading cynics to suggest it’s “all in the mind”.

Now researchers have found a possible connection between IBS and the brain. Using  MRI scans, scientists revealed changes in the brains of women with the disorder. They took MRI scans of 55 IBS patients and 48 healthy women for comparison. Women with IBS tended to have decreases in gray matter in parts of the brain that govern attention and areas that suppress pain.

A similar link between the brain and chronic pain has been identified in other disorders, such as lower back pain and migraine. The study on IBS suggests that, like these other conditions, the problem may be due to the brain’s inability to inhibit the pain response.

Emeran Mayer MD, co-author of the UCLA study said, “The findings remove the idea once and for all that IBS symptoms are not real and are ‘only psychological and will give us more insight into better understanding IBS.”

SRxA’s Word on Health would like to hear from you, whether you have an IBS drug to promote, or a IBS story to tell.