Wexford woman leads medical research
A Wexford woman is leading Irish research into the connection between the immune system and the human body's natural body clock.
New Ross native, Dr Annie Curtis, is to be featured in the new Science Apprentice series of books for children.
A specialist on the body's circadian rhythms Dr Curtis' research with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is helping shed light on why 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.
Speaking about her research Dr Curtis said: '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.'
She said shift workers 'defy' their body clocks and are active and eat at times that unnatural.
'Over time this also has an affect on their immune systems,' said Dr Curtis.
'They are much more susceptible to inflammatory diseases (which are caused when the immune system goes wrong) such as cancer and obesity,' she added.
According to Dr Curtis the body clock exists because human beings need a mechanism by which they can tell the time of day so they can coordinate activities and not need to wake up to eat in the middle of the night.
'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,' she said.
'The big goal in my field is to fully understand why our immune system changes according to the time of day,' she added.
'We know this happens but we don't really know why.'
She gave an example as a 'sniffly cold' that feels bad in the morning, gets better as the day goes on and then seems to re-appear the next morning.
The Science Apprentice books - which all feature augmented reality technology - ware aimed at encouraging children and adults to explore the science, technology, engineering and mathematics of the world around them.
The books Super Bodies, Up In The Air, Illusion and How It's Made are produced by University College Dublin and its 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.