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The prestigious Nobel Prize in Medicine 2017 was awarded to three scientists, Jeffrey C. Hall, Micheal Rosbash and Michael W. Young, for their contributions to discovering molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythm that acts as our biological clock.

What is circadian rhythm?

Life is controlled by the movements of our planet. Human beings, animals and vegetables are dominated by a biological clock that runs on a non-stop basis over 24 hours in accordance with the circle of the sun. How exactly does this biological clock perform? Scientists have been searching for the answer for hundreds of years.

Recently, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Roshbash and Michael W. Young decoded key regulations inside the circadian rhythm. Their discoveries explain the way human beings, animals and plants can adapt to their own biological clock to keep in line with the orbitary movements of the Earth.

In human beings, circadian rhythm dictates the activities in a day, from waking up to sleeping and eating. Circadian rhythm is strongly linked to the health status of an individual. Our health is impacted by incongruent synergy between the external environment and our biological clock inside, for instance, when we fly across different time zones our circadian rhythm is messed up. There are also signs showing that prolonged discrepancies between our lifestyle and the circadian rhythm within us are linked to risks of many different diseases.

Determination of the clock gene

By digging into the controlling mechanism inside fruit flies, the three scientists isolated a gene (called period) that controlled our daily circadian rhythm. This gene codes a protein (called PER), that is accumulated in our cells at night and dissolves in the day. The level of PER fluctuates in a cycle of 24 hours, in accordance with the circadian rhythm.

Subsequent discoveries by the trio explain how circadian rhythm is created and maintained. They also discovered necessary proteins to activate the period gene, as well as the mechanism in which light can keep in sync with our circadian rhythm.

The importance of circadian rhythm to human beings

The biological clock is associated with various complicated physiological aspects of human beings. We acknoweledge that the biological clock of multicellular animals is constructed in accordance with these same regulations. This clock controls key functions such as behavior, level of hormones, sleeping, body temperature and metabolism.

These three scientists discovered a fundamental rule for the biological clock, that proves integral to understanding life.

Their research can help scientists understand diseases that stem from a distorted circadian rhythm and from the external environment.

  External factors to the circadian rhythm

  In our technological era, people are being severed from their normal circadian rhythm with work and other social interests that interrupt their biological clock. For instance, skipping breakfast or eating more at dinner or sleeping late might stem from our obsession with digital devices such as cell phones and computers.

Understanding their biological clock clearly, people can adjust and make their lives easier. They can adapt by sleeping at the right time, waking up at the right time, eating properly or simply knowing when to take medicine. Blood pressure and insulin volume in our bodies are subject to these changes. Blood pressure and insulin are usually higher in the morning, preparing us to gather enough energy to perform our daily functions and tasks. Blood pressure is lowest in the afternoon. When it comes to debates about when to do exercises, I think that the best time is the afternoon so that our bodies are later well rested after a long grueling day.

The Nobel Council said that the contributions of the three scientists are “discoveries of the fundamental mechanism beneath the key aspect of physiology. As a result, circadian rhythm has evolved into a dynamic and vast research field that relates itself to our health and well-being.”

Nobel prizes are awarded to individuals who work not for financial benefits, but to benefit of mankind. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this research is well deserved and evaluated as highlighting the importance of “timely activities.”

Some Nobel prize facts

Nobel prizes are international awards that have been given out since 1901 and are announced every October. The prizes are in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and peace. The Nobel Peace Prize can be awarded to either an individual or an organization. Every October, individuals and organizations who have outstanding achievements and discoveries with great impact on human lives are honoured. The Nobel prize awarding ceremony for physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics takes place in Stockholm, and the awarding ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize is held in Oslo.

What is the origin of these prizes? Alfred Nobel was a chemist and wealthy businessman worth 500 million dollars in his day. He invented dynamite and was called the “merchant of the death” because most of his scientific inventions were applied to warfare. Following his sudden death, his will disclosed that all of his wealth would be dedicated to scientific prizes. To date there have been more than 750 Nobel prizes awarded.

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Dr. Khoi Nguyen
Dr. Khoi holds a Science Degree from the University of Toronto and received his medical degree in 1988. He is currently seeing patients at his private family medicine practice. In 2010, he received the Canada’s Citizenship Award for his numerous contributions to the community. Bác sĩ Khôi tốt nghiệp ngành khoa học tại University of Toronto và tốt nghiệp y khoa năm 1988. Hiện nay ông đang làm việc tại phòng mạch tư chuyên về sức khỏe gia đình, và đã được vinh dự nhận giải thưởng Canada’s Citizenship Award năm 2010.