Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Trio win Nobel medicine prize for body rhythm work


A Sept. 24, 2013, photo provided by the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows Jeffrey Hall, left, Michael Rosbash, center, and Michael Young during a lecture at the university’s Shaw College in Hong Kong. The three Americans yesterday won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Photo: The Chinese University of Hong Kong via AP

Three US nationals yesterday won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries about the body’s daily rhythms, opening up whole new fields of research and raising awareness about the importance of getting proper sleep.

Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young won 9 million kronor (US$1.1 million) for isolating a gene that controls the body’s normal daily biological rhythm.

Circadian rhythms adapt the workings of the body to different phases of the day, influencing sleep, behavior, hormone levels, body temperature and metabolism.

Rosbash is on the faculty at Brandeis University in New York, Young is at Rockefeller University in Massachusetts and Hall has been associated with the University of Maine.

The winners have raised “awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene,” said Juleen Zierath of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine.

The discoveries had opened up a whole new field of study for biology and medicine, UK Medical Research Council scientist Michael Hastings said.

“Until then, the body clock was viewed as a sort of black box,” Hastings said. “We knew nothing about its operation, but what they did was get the genes that made the body clock, and once you’ve got the genes, you can take the field wherever you want to.”

“It’s a field that has exploded massively, propelled by the discoveries by these guys,” he said.

The awardees’ work stems back to 1984, when Rosbash and Hall, who was then also at Brandeis, along with Young, isolated the “period gene” in fruit flies. Hall and Rosbash found that a protein encoded by the gene accumulated during the night and degraded during daytime.

A decade later, Young discovered another “clock gene.”

“The paradigm-shifting discoveries by the laureates established key mechanisms for the biological clock,” the Nobel Assembly said in its prize statement.

“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,’” the statement said. “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.”

That misalignment may be associated with diseases, such as cancer and degenerative neurological conditions.

Swedish news agency TT quoted Rosbash as saying he got the call about the award just after 5am.

“I’m still shocked. I’m sitting here in my pajamas with my wife. I hadn’t even had a thought about this,” he said. “I haven’t spoken with my colleagues yet. I haven’t even had time to have a cup of coffee.”

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