WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Certain drugs have to be delivered at certain times, and as we start to use nanomachines to release drugs telling the time in someone’s body becomes vitally important.
Recently I wrote about new simple blood tests that can detect cancer and chronic pain, and now there’s one that can tell the time. Whether you’re an early bird, a night owl or a functions best at midday kind of person very much has to do with slight variations in your body’s internal clock. But if you’re unclear on what time it is inside your body, there might be a blood test one day that can tell you, and as researchers continue to build tiny nanomachines and nanobots, like this one, that will travel around our blood streams loaded with drugs destined to target and kill cancers and other diseases in our bodies this test means that futuristic treatments will be able to be delivered precisely at the right place and at the right time of day. Something that’s crucial if treatments are going to be as effective as they can be.
“The test will help doctors deliver drug doses at precise times,” the researchers said, though more research is needed before the test could be used clinically.
The new blood test, called TimeSignature, uses a Artificial Intelligence (AI) machine learning algorithm that’s trained to look for patterns of gene expression at different times of day. The researchers recently filed a patent for the blood test and published the results of their study in the journal PNAS.
The team examined 20,000 genes in the body and found that there were around 40 that showed robust gene signals connected to different times. In other words, these 40 genes were more likely to turn on at certain times of day, based on a person’s internal clock.
For example, if a person’s body thinks it’s 6am., it will express more of gene A than gene B, whereas if it thinks it is 8am, perhaps it will express more of gene C and a little bit of genes A and B. The TimeSignature test learns those patterns and can spit out an estimate of what time the body’s clock thinks it is.
The researchers tested the TimeSignature algorithm on genetic data from three separate studies that were focused on blood and also tried the test on blood samples from 11 patients. They found that they could predict when the blood was drawn, typically within a range of 2 hours. They also reported that once their test is trained on what levels of genes to expect, it can be universally applied to data from various patients.
In order for the test to be accurate, the patient would need to have at least two blood draws that are reasonably spaced apart in time, according to the study. In contrast, previous tests that aimed to pinpoint the time of the internal clock required blood draws every hour over multiple hours, the researchers said. And such a test might be able to help medical practitioners deliver drugs at times that are tailored for each individual patient’s body clock.
“So many drugs have optimal times for dosing,” study co-author Dr. Phyllis Zee, the chief of sleep medicine in neurology at Northwestern University and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist, said in a statement. “The best time for you to take the blood pressure drug or the chemotherapy or radiation may be different from somebody else.”
In addition, almost every cell in the body can tell time and many dictate processes in the body based on what time it is, for example, if it’s bedtime, cells might release the sleep hormone melatonin.
Disruptions in circadian rhythm have been associated with a variety of conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and asthma, according to the statement, and the test might be able to improve the diagnosis of such disorders and predict who might get sick.
“We know if you have disruption of your internal clock, it can predispose you to a range of diseases,” study co-author Ravi Allada, a professor of neurobiology at Northwestern, said in the statement. “Virtually every tissue and organ system are governed by circadian rhythm.”
“Timing is everything,” Allada said.