Jun 14 2010
Artificial light at night has brought prosperity to the human race since the beginning of the last century. With intensity and duration of illumination increasing over the decades, now - more than ever before - we work, travel, and enjoy entertainment, security and medical treatment nonstop. However, the results of studies carried out over the last decade show that humans exposed to light at night - and not only shift workers - are under health risk. A new Center for Interdisciplinary Chronobiological Research has been established at the University of Haifa to focus research on this and other related concerns.
“Basic research relating to applied chronobiology in Israel has mainly been carried out for requested studies for particular organizations and institutions, such as the Israel Defense Forces. Beyond that, our understanding of health responses to light at night is still in its infancy and does not match the work being done in the world in this field,” explains Prof. Abraham Haim of the Department of Biology and the Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, who is director of the new center. “Therefore, there is a real need for a new center that will provide a basis for research from which technological applications for medicine and agriculture can be developed in the future.”
Chronobiology is a relatively new scientific discipline that studies the timing of cyclical biological functions. As have all other organisms, humans have undergone far-reaching adaptations in order to exist in an environment of daily, annual, and multi-annual cycles. All of these cycles are challenged by modern society and its use of artificial light and irregular hours of activity. Extensive use of civil aviation and the movement between time zones within a relatively short time, for example, contribute to creating chronobiological stress. Such stress has health implications including a range of illnesses: cancer, metabolic disorders, psychiatric, cardiac and blood vessel problems and more.
Researching the effects of exposure to light at night
The sharp rise in breast cancer and prostate cancer in Israel over the past decades has been attributed to modern life styles. But until recently it has not related specifically to light pollution and its human health consequences, which researchers at the new Center of Interdisciplinary Chronobiological Research are investigating and attempting to understand. Research ranging from the environmental to the molecular levels of the mechanisms affected by light pollution, and which are likely to encourage the development of cancer, will enable the development of ways to prevent the onset of cancer growth, ultimately saving much suffering, as well as extensive national resources that are otherwise spent on hospitalization and therapy for cancer patients.
The new Center of Interdisciplinary Chronobiological Research trains M.Sc. and PhD students, and research is also carried out by post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists focusing on the study of:
• Disturbed sleeping-waking cycles and their human health consequences
• Medical chronobiology for the prevention of illness and for public health, specifically focusing on its effect on cancer growth, blood pressure, psychiatric imbalance
• Agricultural chronobiology