Can astrophysics measure the body clock in hospital patients?

Can astrophysics measure the body clock in hospital patients?
© iStock/JohnnyGreig

A team from the University of Manchester have adapted a technique originally developed to analyse stars, to measure the human body clock.

Astrophysics is used to analyse data from stars; however, researchers have devised a method called ClinCirc that uses astrophysics technology to potentially measure the human body clock. The new method could one day help doctors identify patients at risk of long-term health problems caused by body clock disruption, which is common in patients admitted to hospital.

The body clock is known to regulate how animals respond to infection and whether they develop the disease. This has been relatively difficult to measure in human patients. For example, shift work or jet lag is likely to break the clock, a potential explanation for why these activities are linked to diseases.

The new approach has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

How does ClinCirc work?

ClinCirc combines two existing mathematical methods: the Lomb-Scargle periodogram and cosinor analysis to determine whether specific genes follow a regular cycle of increase and decrease over 24 hours.

The investigators used the technique to measure the molecular oscillator “the body clock” in blood. This core element drives many body clock outputs. They applied this to measure the body clock in 13 intensive care unit patients at Manchester Royal Infirmary and Wythenshawe hospital, some of whom had inflammation.

It was also used to measure the body clock in 22 kidney transplant patients who were receiving anti-inflammatory drugs immediately after the operation.

Body clock disruption is common in the participants

The researchers found that body clock disruption is common in patients with reduced blood clock oscillations observed in half of the intensive care patients and a body clock shift was noted in almost all kidney transplant patients immediately after their operation.

More specifically, 22 kidney transplant patients and 13 critical care patients experienced blood clock dysfunction.

Dr John Blaikley from The University of Manchester and senior author of the study said: “We have proved that ClinCirc is a robust method which can enable us to characterise the patient’s body clock from blood samples.

“Using this system, we show that for many patients admitted to hospital their body clock may be altered by disease or the treatment they receive.”

Professor Andrew Hazel, a mathematician based at The University of Manchester, developed and configured the ClinCirc mathematical method working with Callum Jackson, a PhD student.

He said: “One of the great strengths of mathematics is that techniques originally developed for one application, in this case, analysis of irregularly spaced astrophysical data, can be adapted to make progress in completely different areas of science.”




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