Aarti Jagannath: The Mysteries of the Body Clock

It is difficult to overstate the impact that technology has had on us, transforming our ways of life and making us more connected than ever before. Where once you had to take days or months to reach the other side of the world, now you can fly from London to Hong Kong in a matter of hours. Where not so long ago in human history we could only rely on candlelight, now artificial lighting is so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. The demand for ever faster connectedness is having unprecedented effects on our circadian rhythms: jet lag is perhaps the best known example of one way in which the body clock gets disrupted, but the problems associated with electricity are arguably even greater, precisely because our 24/7 society is completely dependent on it in order to function. Body clock disruption has been implicated in a whole range of diseases, from depression to cancer, so it is now more urgent than ever before that scientists try to understand the mechanisms of the body clock, so we are in a better position to fix it when it does go wrong.

In this episode of The Provocateur I talk to Aarti Jagannath, a research fellow at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford, to help us unravel the mysteries of the body clock. We discuss the fundamentals of the body clock and what happens when it gets disrupted in a whole range of scenarios, from shift work to divers undergoing decompression to students pulling the occasional all-nighter. We also talk about the ways in which neuroscientists are trying to figure out how to reset our natural circadian cycle and even how some biologists are coming up with innovative treatments that exploit the body clock to better target cancer cells.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Ross Keller: Fighting the War on Cancer

It is difficult to find someone whose life has not been touched in some way by cancer and indeed ‘the big C’ is probably one of the most well-known public health concerns. Ever since American scientists officially declared war on cancer in the 1970s, millions of lives have been saved through increased awareness, early detection and vast amounts of investment into research and development. But it seems we are no closer to the original target of eradicating cancer by the 2020s. According to the National Cancer Research Institute, the disease continues to kill more than eight million people worldwide every year, with 60 per cent of new cases occurring in the Global South. Overall cancer deaths are expected to increase by 60 per cent by 2030, largely due to an ageing global population. There is some hope however, as researchers around the world are racing to find the Holy Grail of cancer biology: a completely foolproof cure.

This week on The Provocateur I am joined by Ross Keller, a PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, to discuss the ways in which he and other cancer biologists are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the fight against cancer. We first briefly talk about what cancer is before going on to cover the traditional weapons used to tackle cancer, the ways in which cancer can outwit us and the startling new frontiers in cancer treatment. Ross has also written an excellent blog series covering the War on Cancer: the first part can be read here.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

To donate to Cancer Research UK, click here.

Further Reading:

Journalistic articles:

Begley, S. (2017) ‘Most Cancer Cases Arise from “Bad Luck”‘, Scientific American: STAT, 24 March.

Keller, R. (2015) ‘Why is Tanning Dangerous?’ Lions Talk Science, 13 April.

____ (2016) ‘Immunotherapy: Awakening the Immune System to Fight Cancer’, Lions Talk Science, 13 September.

____ (2017) ‘What is Radon? And How Does It Impact Health?’ Lions Talk Science, 15 February.

Scientific reading (assumes graduate level biology):

Hanahan, D. and R. A. Weinberg (2011) ‘Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation’, Cell 144(5), pp. 646-674.

McGranahan, N. and C. Swanton (2017) ‘Clonal Heterogeneity and Tumor Evolution: Past, Present and the Future’, Cell 168(4), pp. 613-628.