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Why do some people get jet lag and others don’t?

  • Health and Wellness
  • Innovation and Research
  • School of Medicine

A $6.2 million commitment from the WoodNext Fund will help Pitt researchers explore the genetic underpinnings of sleep dysfunction.

Stephen Chan of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Vascular Medicine Institute will partner with Colleen McClung, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Adolescent Reward, Rhythms and Sleep, to tackle the role genetics and genomics play in the ability to adapt to sleep disruptions such as jet lag and search for novel treatments.

“We are beyond grateful to the WoodNext Fund for this generous gift. This gift represents a vote of confidence in Pitt’s world-renowned researchers as they tackle the most relevant health issues — with the aim of improving the quality of life for thousands around the globe,” said Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Pitt’s School of Medicine.

Chan, director of the Vascular Medicine Institute, and McClung aim to prevent disease and alter the body’s sleep-wake cycle through pharmacological intervention and suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) stimulation in the brain. Among other duties, the SCN structures sense daylight and darkness and work with genes in every cell to keep the human clock in check. The disruption of the circadian cycle can trigger any number of regulating processes that are pertinent to our everyday life including blood pressure, appetite, heart rate and more.

“Scientists have a limited understanding of why some people are particularly susceptible to jet lag while others seem spared. This award from the WoodNext Fund will enable us to move to the next level of research that, we believe, will lead to the treatment of people with underlying health conditions — including those with cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions — to improve their everyday life,” said Chan.

McClung has conducted extensive research on how disruptions to body rhythms can make us more vulnerable to addiction, mood disorders and other illnesses.

“We are rapidly moving forward to define a cutting-edge approach for future therapeutic development to prevent or treat a host of diseases that are strongly influenced by the circadian clock. This plan of attack is revolutionary because — up until this point — no one has combined genomics, pharmacology and brain stimulation in such a unique way to define personalized treatments that target the circadian clock,” McClung said.

“The WoodNext Fund is enthusiastic to initiate these exciting projects with Chan and McClung via the Vascular Medicine Institute, the Department of Psychiatry and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine,” said Nancy Chan, director of the WoodNext Fund. “We hope that this support will help to realize breakthroughs and new therapies for jet lag, shift work, circadian disturbances and their cardiovascular complications.”

Since 1995, the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which administers the WoodNext Fund, has partnered with donors to meet their objectives by supporting grant making, including providing programming, advising and educational opportunities for donors to maximize their philanthropic impact.


 —  Maria Costanza