In my last blog, I talked a little bit about research undertaken by Dr. Paul Shaw, Ph.D., and his research team on genetic markers for sleep deprivation. The research has practical applications for future “drowsiness testing.” In the present, it’s a particularly interesting research model that yielded some unique findings. The research was published in PLOS One and Science Daily reported on the results.
A New Genetic Marker
It’s common knowledge among sleep specialists that sleep disorders or disruption raise particular blood serum levels—for example, levels of interleukin 6, an immune compound that affects inflammation. Shaw found that the change could be detected from saliva samples of sleep-deprived humans and rats. Shaw then tested other immune proteins in human subjects to identify those that changes after sleep loss, and found two immune genes that showed increased activity after sleep loss.
From Human to Fly—and Back Again
Rather than doing additional, expensive human experiments to test the new links, they tested the connection in flies first. They identified fruit fly genes equivalent to the human genes in question. The identified genes didn’t increase when flies lost sleep—but they found a similar fly gene that did.
That newly identified marker, when translated back to human genetics, led the research team to ITGA5, a human gene that hadn’t previously been among the human genes screened in their studies. When they began to test ITGA5, they found another marker that increased during sleep deprivation and could be tested using a human saliva sample.
So Why Does It Matter?
The researchers have introduced a new research model, working from human subjects to animals (and back) rather than the other way around. They’ve also made significant steps toward a “drowsiness test” that could help keep people safe from the dangers of drowsy driving, manipulation of heavy equipment, or increased chances of error at work.
What do you think? Is a drowsiness test useful? Have these researchers really done something innovative?