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article imageEssential Science: Biological clocks and brain cancer treatment

By Tim Sandle     Jan 15, 2018 in Science
Information is emerging about how our internal body clocks influence health and disease. A new study shows how circadian rhythms can help with cancer treatments, and that the time of treatment plays a critical role.
Our body has an internal biological or "circadian" clock, which cycles daily and is synchronized with solar time. A growing number of findings show how our biological clocks greatly influence human health and performance. This ranges from sleep deprivation; the effects of shift work; conserving energy, to how food is metabolized. With specific diseases there appears to be a relationship with stroke severity.
Another area of importance is with disease treatment, specifically the time that medications are taken. New research has considered this phenomenon in relation to cancer treatment.
The research comes from Texas A&M University. Here biologists have discovered that circadian rhythms (the source of the body clock) holds the key to how novel therapies for glioblastoma (brain cancer in adults) will work.
A circadian rhythm is any biological process that displays an endogenous noscillation of about 24 hours. These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian clock. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It's also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
The inner timekeeper dubbed the "circadian clock"  governs the day-night cycle that guides...
The inner timekeeper dubbed the "circadian clock", governs the day-night cycle that guides sleep and eating patterns, hormones and even body temperature
In terms of health and wellbeing, circadian rhythms influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, and body temperature. Biological clocks out of sync can result in disrupted or abnormal circadian rhythms; in turn these are connected with various chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
The researchers have determined that the timed production of a specific protein, which has an association with tumor proliferation and growth, is disrupted in glioblastoma cells. Based on this the researchers think this should result in a more effective approach for the treatment of cancerous cells. Importantly this can be in a way that does not damage the healthy surrounding tissue.
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive cancer that begins within the brain. The common signs and symptoms are non-specific, including headaches, personality changes, nausea, and symptoms similar to those of a stroke. From here the worsening of symptoms is rapid, progressing to unconsciousness. The disease is often fatal, but its progression can be slowed down with specific medications. Treatment is through medicines or surgery.
Lead researcher, Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen, drew on previous research into the biological clock in the model fungal system Neurospora crassa. Here it was spotted how the fungal clock controls rhythms in the activity of a signaling molecule termed p38 mitogen. The same signaling protein plays a role in the cancer’s invasive and aggressive properties.
The research findings showed that glioblastoma will be an optimal candidate for chronochemotherapy, meaning treating cancer at specific times of day to get the most impact. This could lead to a new science, called chronotherapeutic studies.
The research has been published in the international journal BMC Cancer. The study is titled “Inhibition of p38 MAPK activity leads to cell type-specific effects on the molecular circadian clock and time-dependent reduction of glioma cell invasiveness.”
In related research, Dr Angela Relógio from the Charité-Medical University of Berlin, Germany has hypothesised that given the range of molecular time-dependent processes that it regulates, including metabolism, DNA repair and the cell cycle, the circadian clock has the potential to act as a tumor suppressor (see PLOS Biology "The Ink4a/Arf locus operates as a regulator of the circadian clock modulating RAS activity.")
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week an electricity-conducting, environment-sensing, shape-changing cell-sized machine, used for medical diagnosis and based on graphene was profiled.
The week before we looked at how 3D printing is being used to develop parts for rocket engines.
More about Cancer, body clock, circadian rhythms, Medicine
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