This week, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three American researchers for their work on internal clocks. The Nobel Foundation announcement praised the trio for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms. MSU psychology professor Dr. Antonio Nuñez says that a single cell can be a circadian clock.
While circadian rhythms are most often associated with sleep patterns like jet lag, Dr. Nuñez says that these advancements could lead to greater knowledge of how our internal clocks affect other aspects of life. "Even though sleep is the most obvious circadian rhythm, it's just one of many," Dr. Nuñez states. Others, he continues, include "the best time of day to learn something, best time of day to provide cancer therapy, best time of day to have your meals. Every phase of a 24 hour rhythm is associated with optimization of a particular function."
Nobel recognition could lead to a renewed focus on circadian rhythms. Dr. Nuñez hopes the news will influence funding decisions from the National Institutes of Health. "Nobel Prizes tend to attract attention from the public and from funding agencies," he says, "and it might help."