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Circadian rhythms and Sleep

Nina Rzechorzek

22 Mar 2024

ERATO UK-Japan Joint Symposium

From March 11th to 13th, 2024, the University of Oxford hosted the ERATO (Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology, Japan) UK-Japan Joint Symposium on Circadian rhythms and Sleep at the Oxford Martin School. The symposium was organised by Russell Foster, Vladyslav Vyazovskiy, and Aarti Jagannath from the University of Oxford, and Hiroki R Ueda from the University of Tokyo. We were treated to an impressive line up of speakers and wonderful hospitality. The symposium was supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Maxwell Biosystems, and Mitsui Chemicals. Here, three of our Early Career Researchers share their experiences of this event, which was designed to promote knowledge exchange and collaboration between chronobiologists in the UK and Japan.

Symposium Day 1 by Akanksha Bafna

Akanksha is a postdoctoral researcher in sleep and circadian regulation within the Jagannath lab at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford. Dr Bafna's work focuses on the molecular mechanisms of daily timekeeping in mammals, particularly the role of genomic elements in regulating the circadian clock.

Akanksha Bafna

The symposium started with opening remarks from Russell Foster addressing the growing partnership of the UK and Japan chronobiology research areas, followed by greetings from Hayashi Hajime, Ambassador of Japan to UK and Sir John Bell, University of Oxford. On day 1, Sato Honma gave the keynote lecture on the intersection of sleep and sleep-wake rhythm. Her work with autism spectrum disorder showed that the well-studied two-process sleep model (driven by sleep homeostasis and the circadian clock) could not readily explain the observed sleep patterns in patients; free-running sleep-wake rhythms devoid of social entrainment led to non-24 hour sleep-wake disorder. This was followed by a fantastic talk by Lionel Tarassenko whose team is developing a clinically-validated system for automated sleep staging at home by means of a wearable chest patch. The VitalPatch, which integrates deep learning algorithms, had shown great benefits in a COVID-19 Challenge Study at the John Radcliffe Hospital. An eye-opening talk 'Biological Clocks, on Arrival' was given by Andrew J Millar, University of Edinburgh. Andrew proposed that chronobiology had 'arrived' through various landmark discoveries from molecular mechanisms to mathematic modelling, creating opportunities for chronobiologists to align their research focus with the evolving demands of society and the environment. After the talks, the organisers planned a visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History which is the second most visited University Museum globally, showcasing 7 million objects with 30,000 zoological type specimens. Finally, the day ended with a welcome dinner in the enchanting Divinity School of the Bodleian Library.

The magnificent medieval ceiling of the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library

Symposium Day 2 by Hiroyuki Kanaya

Hiroyuki is a PhD candidate in Hiroki Ueda's lab at the Department of Systems Pharmacology, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Japan. Hiroyuki is conducting research on sleep and anaesthesia.

Hiroyuki Kanaya

On the second day of the symposium, I presented our new findings on the mechanisms of inhaled anaesthetics. This day was particularly stimulating as it covered a wide range of topics, including the basis of the circadian clock and the neuronal mechanisms behind sleep, sedation, and anaesthesia. Although circadian rhythms and sleep are sometimes analyzed from different points of view, these two fields are closely interconnected. While the mystery of the sleep mechanism has recently been a focus, I felt during the sessions that integrating the perspective of circadian rhythms is necessary to understand the mechanisms behind sleep. It was also interesting to consider how anaesthesia is relevant to both circadian rhythms and sleep in future studies. After the sessions, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Hertford College, where the speakers continued discussion in a room with a magical historical atmosphere. Overall, the symposium fully encouraged interaction among researchers studying chronobiology and sleep in the UK and Japan. This was my first opportunity to attend an international academic meeting in person, and I was lucky to have such a memorable experience.

Speakers' Dinner at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Symposium Day 3 by Natalie Hauglund

Natalie is a Novo Nordisk Postdoctoral Fellow undertaking a project divided between the Vyazovskiy group at the University of Oxford, UK and the Danish Center for Sleep Medicine at the Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark. In her current project, Dr Hauglund studies the microstructure of sleep with a focus on micro-arousals

Natalie Hauglund

The sound level in the Oxford Martin Lecture Theatre before the final session of the ERATO UK-Japan joint symposium was a sure sign that the previous two days of presentations and wonderful dinners had given everyone a lot to talk about. The theme of the last session was 'Sleep / Circadian medicine' and was chaired by Aiden Doherty. The four speakers in the session gave exciting insights into their work that spanned interventions, tools, and novel drug targets to improve sleep and circadian rhythms. To conclude the scientific program, David Ray, Co-Director of the Sir Jules Thorn Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, gave a very informative lecture on circadian misalignment and cardio-metabolic disease. After some final remarks from co-organizer Hiroki Ueda, lunch was served and followed by guided tours to the colleges and hidden gems of Oxford. With this, the ERATO UK-Japan joint symposium had come to an end. The three days spent together was a great way for scientists from both the UK and Japan to gain insights into the scientific work and culture across the countries, and new friends and collaborations were made. Personally, as a scientist investigating the basic mechanisms of sleep, the mix of basic science, clinical studies, sleep research, and circadian research that was presented during the three days fostered many new ideas that I can take with me back to the lab.

Tour of Trinity College, University of Oxford

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