With a background in both immunology and cancer biology, I’ve always had a fascination with the interplay between the body’s immune system and any tumors that might pop up. Originally, it made sense that the immune system would actively seek out and destroy cancerous cells, but the emerging consensus is that the interactions between cancers and host immunity is far more complex. In addition to growing new blood vessels and reprogramming metabolic processes, there appears to be some imbalance between avoiding immune cells while also promoting tumor-infiltrating inflammatory cells to promote its growth. 1 (Figure 1) Trying to dissect this apparent contradictory relationship between tumors and host immunity remains a hot topic.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been washing my hands with vigilance to prevent the spread of germs. As a result, the skin on my hands have become calloused on some parts and mostly dry, with cuts and slight bleeding on occasion. I thought this was inconvenient, but when I learned about children with a rare genetic skin disease, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and dug a bit deeper into their plight. After all, my skin issues are just due to excessive hand washing (which everyone should be doing anyway!); these poor kids have to live with this painful disease, known as dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, for their entire lives.
Towards the end of my doctoral research, I first heard the rumblings of an acronym termed “CRISPR” that was starting to gather momentum. By the time I earned my doctorate, the applications that were discussed in both theory and in practice accelerated to the point that, while I didn’t fully understand the mechanism of the factors involved, I was certain that the discovery and re-engineering of this prokaryotic phenomenon would eventually be recognized with a Nobel Prize. Less than a decade after their first publications on the topic, 1, 2 Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the development of a method for genome editing,” which sounds a lot less important than it actually is!
Many of the most popular vacation destinations are in warm, sunny climates like Hawaii or Southern California, and there are larger human populations where people can actually go outside without having to put on a sweater. With the warm, comfortable weather comes exposure to the sun. Our sun, of course, is the center of the solar system, the constant supplier of natural energy on Earth, and at the same time, a dangerous source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While enjoying the warmth of the sun, we also need to protect ourselves from UV and the maladies it could cause.
In March 2022, the United States Senate approved the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make Daylight Savings Time (DST) permanent starting in November of 2023. There was still some healthy debate over whether Americans should accept Standard Time versus DST as their new permanent or keep the current system of “spring forward, fall back.” Regardless of whether we will have DST forever, there is broad consensus that the clock switch every March and November is disruptive to our sleep patterns and our circadian rhythms.
Whether to save energy, increase night-time Trick-or-Treat hours on Halloween, get those few extra minutes of sun to squeeze in the last innings of a Little League or high school baseball game, or just to normalize our sleep patterns, even a seemingly obscure issue like switching between standard time and DST is tied to our health and well-being in our society. And this is why we have to consider how sleep and the circadian rhythm can affect our physiology.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine was awarded jointly to David Julius, of the University of California at San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian, a neuroscience researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Working independently, Julius and Patapoutian discovered the key receptors (TRPV1, TRPM8, Piezo1, and Piezo2) in our bodies that sense heat, cold, and touch. Their work not only helps us to understand how we perceive and adapt to the surrounding world, but also paves the way for drug discoveries that target a wide range of diseases, including chronic pain, respiratory disease, and cancer.