A Wexford woman is leading Irish research that shows an intriguing connection between the immune system and the body’s natural body clock. And New Ross native Dr Annie Curtis is set to be featured this week in the new Science Apprentice book series for children.
Dr Curtis is a specialist in the body’s circadian rhythms and her research with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is helping shed light on just why it is that the time of day appears to have an effect on how the body’s immune system works.
For the first time, it has been explained why some illnesses such as arthritis and even the common cold are experienced differently at different times of the day.
“We know that the body’s circadian rhythms, also known as the body clock, regulates around 50 per cent of the genes in our DNA. But it does it a bit differently in different parts of the body so understanding all its effects is very difficult,” said Dr Curtis.
“Shift workers defy their body clocks and are active and eat at times that are unnatural, and over time that also has an effect on their immune systems.
“They are much more susceptible to inflammatory diseases (which are caused when the immune system goes wrong) such as cancer and obesity.”
“The body clock exists because human beings need a mechanism by which we can tell the time of day so we can coordinate our activities and not need to wake up to eat in the middle of the night, for example,” she said.
“We understand how the clock itself works – it exists in each cell in the body and works as a result of protein levels that change according to the time of day.
“The big goal in my field is to fully understand why our immune system changes according to the time of day. We know this happens, but we don’t really know why.
“The classic example is a sniffly cold that feels bad in the morning, gets better as the day goes on, and then seems to reappear the next morning.”
The Science Apprentice books – which all feature augmented reality technology – will encourage children and adults alike to explore the science, technology, engineering and mathematics of the world around us.
The books Super Bodies, Up In The Air, Illusion and How It’s Made are produced by University College Dublin and partners and supported by the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Science Apprentice books are available to order for schools and are free to collect with the Irish Independent in SuperValu stores every Saturday in November.