How Science Addresses Important Disease Problems

by Nicholas A. Peppas | Dec 23, 2022

Nicholas Peppas

The theme of Sigma Xi’s recent International Forum on Research Excellence (IFoRE) was convergence, and appropriately, IFoRE brought together scientists from various backgrounds to address important medical and societal problems. One topic of lively discussion was how the outcome of disease treatment is influenced by the time of day of therapeutic agent administration. Over the past four decades, new findings have shown that the time of treatment is a crucial factor in therapeutics. It is now well established that nearly all functions of the body, including those influencing pharmacokinetic parameters, display significant daily variations or patterns. Researchers suspect that the chronological point of treatment may affect the outcome of a host of conditions, including hyper-tension, asthma, ulcers, arthritis, cholesterol, and even cancers.

New findings have led to the merging of disparate focuses into a new research area, that of chronopharmacology, which is the study of coordinating biological rhythms (chronobiology) with medical treatments. Chronobiology is the study of the temporal relationships of biological phenomena. Early 1970s data provided the first evidence that the “biological clock” is not fiction but is, in fact, genetically determined and can even be transplanted from one subject into another, thereby inducing the rhythmicity of the donor into the recipient.

Chronopharmacology takes a person’s biological rhythms into consideration in determining the timing and sometimes the quantity of medication needed to optimize a drug’s desired effects. Revising the dosing schedule, reformulating a therapeutic agent so its release into the bloodstream is delayed, or using programmable pumps to deliver medicine at precise intervals are some of the simple, chronopharmacology-inspired innovations that may lead to enormous benefits.

Many chronic and acute disorders have a prominent circadian pattern of symptom appearance. For example, allergic rhinitis is an early morning dis-order, thrombotic stroke risk is greatest in the morning, and hemorrhagic stroke risk is greatest in the late evening. Many cardiovascular diseases seem to be affected by circadian rhythms, such as myocardial infarction, stroke, high blood pressure, and angina pectoris. 

The science seems clear that administration of therapeutic agents at different times of the day has a significant impact on medical outcomes. This burgeoning field of chronopharmacology also adds credence to the concept of convergence science—that is, fully integrating different areas of science to solve complex research problems that focus on societal needs and pressing health challenges. Convergence, one of the National Science Foundation’s “10 Big Ideas,” was explored deeply at IFoRE, If you missed the conference, keep an eye out for ways that members can access recorded content from the IFoRE sessions, a benefit of being an active member of Sigma Xi. 



Nicholas A. Peppas, ScD
Sigma Xi President

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