For the past few decades, medicine has been advancing at an unprecedented rate as new breakthroughs reveal more and more about the human body. There has been a long-held assumption the human body heals at one rate, regardless of where and when injuries may have been incurred. However, new research has revealed that this may not be entirely correct. A study by John O’Neill, a biologist at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the UK, revealed that wounds incurred during the day tend to heal faster than those received at night, which hints that the human body’s internal clock plays a larger role than first believed. The implications of these findings could be huge and could have far ranging effects, such as timing surgeries based around a patient’s internal clock in order to minimize recovery time.
To help us understand this new breakthrough will be Doctor Imran Haque, an internist and general medicine practitioner in North Carolina. His medical practice Horizon Internal Medicine is always trying to keep up on the latest and greatest breakthroughs in medical technology. He is very excited about leveraging new knowledge about the human body’s internal clock to accelerate healing and improve success rates of certain surgeries. To help us understand exactly how this can happen, Dr. Imran Haque will be leveraging his extensive experience of over 15 years as a doctor to explain how leveraging the new knowledge about people’s internal clock can ultimately lead to better and more effective medicine.
Circadian Clock and the Body’s Internal Clock
It has been a commonly held belief that the only internal clock within the human body is the circadian clock, which resides within the brain and creates cyclical cycles for physical and mental behaviors. Many health and lifestyle recommendations are built up based off physical responses or behaviors that arise as a result of the circadian clock, and can be seen especially in sleep studies. The research completed by O’Neill indicates that the circadian clock is not the only internal clock within the human body – other organs may have their own internal rhythm that create cyclical behaviors. In particular, O’Neill’s study was focused on the skin, on a skin cell called “fibroblasts” that plays an essential role in wound healing. Whenever the skin is punctured, fibroblasts react to the wound by filling in the void and lying down a foundation for which new skin will grow on. O’Neill’s research team found that fibroblasts have their own internal clock that is independent from the circadian clock, and that the responsiveness and behavior of the cells vary drastically based on the time of day.
Fibroblasts and Daily Rhythms
O’Neill and his research team discovered that fibroblasts’ self-clock played an astonishingly large role in the recovery rate of wounds. In particular, his research found that fibroblasts were much more responsive in daytime than at night – so much so that wounds incurred during the day had twice as many fibroblasts flowing into the wound than wounds received at night. In other words, injuries sustained during the day heal much faster than ones at night. O’Neill’s study saw this in practice – burns received during the day tended to heal almost eleven days earlier than similar burns received at night.
Dr. Imran Haque is very excited about the potential O’Neill’s research, as it can have tremendous implications on the effectiveness of surgery, physical therapy and the overall effectiveness of medicine. While O’Neill’s findings still represent an early stage of discovery, it can already have an effect on various medical practices, such as scheduling surgeries around a patient’s internal clock in order to optimize efficacy and minimize recovery time from the surgery. Dr. Imran Haque knows that this new information could change medical practices and treatments that may require long recovery times, such as invasive surgeries. More importantly, he believes that taking actions to minimize recovery times can make healthcare more affordable, as a shorter stay in the hospital means that overall cost of treatment will be lower.
Future Implications of Fibroblast Internal Clocks
The potential of O’Neill’s research can be big, but the effects of his findings will likely manifest within existing medical practices and treatments. Many medicines and treatment plans today work well, but being able to extract more value and deliver better results to patients with existing treatments is always preferred. This change in process can be seen small scheduling changes, such as more early morning surgeries for morning larks and later surgeries for night owls. The fact that some injuries received during the day recover 60% faster than those received at night means that the benefits of adopting this change is not minute and can have a very real impact on the cost of treatment for patients and also the upkeep cost for hospitals. Dr. Imran Haque points out that there are hospitals that have a limited capacity for surgery and similar complicated procedures due to the low number of beds available for patients to recuperate afterwards. Being able to quickly and safely shorten the bedrest of patients can save lives as it increases the capacity for the hospital to conduct life-saving surgeries in a more timely manner.
The Future of Medicine
Dr. Imran Haque knows that the future of medicine lies in being able to maximize the impact of treatment and effectiveness of medicine, and part of stepping towards that goal is being cognizant of small advantages that physicians can use to make their treatment better. When it comes to physicians, Dr. Imran Haque states that knowing more about the human body will always be helpful. The internal clock of patients is not something to be ignored, band eing able to take the patient’s internal rhythm into consideration by timing treatments around them can medicine take root more effectively. In the long term, small practices such as this can lead to cheaper overall healthcare, as administering the same treatment or medication while receiving better results will lead to a shorter time of illness.