The effects of jet lag and shift work could be combatted by drugs, research from the University of Manchester has found.
In a study led by research fellow Dr David Bechtold, scientists discovered that if a certain enzyme is inhibited, we can adapt faster to metabolic disturbances caused by time shift.
Disruption to a natural body clock has been attributed helping to cause diseases like diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.
The enzyme – casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon) – controls how easily the body’s clockwork can be adjusted or reset, based on our surroundings (such as how light or dark it is).
It means that if you inhibit this enzyme, it becomes easier to adapt to a new light-dark environment.
The research, which compared mice that had their CK1epsilon inhibited with those that did not clearly found that the mice could respond a lot quicker to a change in surroundings (such as light) if they had their CK1epsilon inhibited.
The implications could be huge: disturbing the body clock can be very harmful for one’s health and a cure would go a long way to reduce the risks of several connected diseases.
Dr Bechtold said: “We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and well-being – things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift work, sleep deprivation and jet lag disrupt our body’s clocks.
“It is now becoming clear that clock disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of diseases including obesity and diabetes.”
However, speaking to MM, he warned: “We’re not talking about a pill off the shelf in the near future. It is a rapidly expanding area of research and in the next decade we’ll see more strategies emerging.”
“Generally speaking, we’ll start to see the development of drugs to treat patients.”
The body clock is vital for maintaining normal sleep patterns – it tells us when we feel tired and what time we should rise and go to bed each day.
But when this body clock is disturbed, it can pose an acute threat a person’s health. The risk of heart attacks and strokes increases by more than 40 per cent.
Scientists also believe that women who work night shifts – which can seriously disrupt the body clock – are at risk with around 500 deaths from breast cancer each year attributed to unusual working hours.
A new drug would radically reduce the time we would need to recover from jet lag or the stresses of working night shifts.
Asked whether the positive results from the mice would be replicated when humans were tested, Dr Bechtold said: “It is yet to be seen. It still needs a lot of research but I hope people will see that, as a field, it is growing.”
This is not the first time that scientists have tested for a cure.
In October of last year, Japanese scientists at Kyoto University claimed they had found a ‘reset button’ inside the brain which could effectively make the body clock flexible to new time zones after a long flight.
Image courtesy of Gene Hunt with thanks