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March 8, 2005

The circadian clock: Understanding nature's timepiece

Topics: Health Issues

In many cases cancer therapy can be enhanced by taking advantage of your biological clock when undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery. Today's article on nature's timepiece in Medical News Today offers a brief perspective of the importance of your circadian clock to your body's functions, albeit the article addresses the issue of sleep and alertness. But chronobiological considerations go far beyond the issue of alertness, and in many cases should be taken into account  when mapping out a cancer treatment plan.

A cluster of brain cells less than half the size of a pencil eraser tells you when to wake up, when to be hungry and when it's time to go to sleep. The same cells also cause you to be disoriented after you've flown across multiple time zones.

The human circadian clock, comprised of about 20,000 time-keeping cells, has mystified scientists since it was pinpointed in the brain about 30 years ago. Now, a researcher at the University of Calgary is getting a little bit closer to understanding how it ticks.

Dr. Michael Antle, a neuroscientist in the U of C's Department of Psychology, has conclusively shown that the 20,000 cells are organized in a complex network of groups that perform different functions - contrary to the previously held belief that each cell did the same thing. Antle, an emerging leader in the field, has two new papers on the subject: one is featured on the March cover of the prestigious Trends in Neurosciences, and another is due out in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Neurosciences.

"There are enormous health, safety and economic benefits to figuring out how the circadian clock works," Antle says. "We are probably still at least 10 years away from developing a pill that could reset your circadian clock to eliminate jet lag, but this new perspective in how the cells are organized definitely improves our understanding."

We may be ten years away from developing a pill to reset our circadian clocks (unless you want to try melatonin in the mean time), but there are already very practical reasons and methods for taking into account chronobiological applications in cancer therapy.

Abstracts of interest in circadian-related effects in Cancer:

Time for chronotherapy? Clock genes dictate sensitivity to cyclophosphamide.

Circadian timing in cancer treatment: the biological foundation for an integrative approach.

Circadian sensitivity to the chemotherapeutic agent cyclophosphamide depends on the functional status of the CLOCK/BMAL1 transactivation complex.

Exercise as a Time-conditioning Effector in Chronic Disease: a Complementary Treatment Strategy.

Melatonin and cancer risk: does light at night compromise physiologic cancer protection by lowering serum melatonin levels?

Chronotherapy for cancer.

Posted by Hyscience at March 8, 2005 2:18 PM

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