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Night birds in distress

High paying nocturnal jobs — timings perfectly synchronised with the working hours of the West — have created a new breed of Indians — young, smart, independent and rich. However, the reality is not so hunky-dory if one delves beyond the accented English and the trappings of a high-flying corporate job.

Other than causing various metabolic disorders, prolonged disruption of the body's biological clock even carries the risk of loss of fertility, said Samir Bhattacharya, former director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), Calcutta , a unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India. Bhattacharya was speaking on at the sixth Congress of the Asia and Oceania Society for Comparative Endocrinology (AOSCE), held at North Bengal University, Siliguri, in the second week of December.

The meet which brought together 65 scientists from 19 countries in addition to 130 researchers from India discussed at length the damage being inflicted upon the younger generation by the ‘call centre’ culture.

A team of Korean scientists led by S. Chung of Seoul University reported that drastic changes in the production of a hormone called glucocorticoid can be “potentially hazardous and can contribute to the onset of common metabolic disorders”. The hormone glucocorticoid is closely associated with the body's biological clock, or circadian rhythm, and hence a departure from regular working and sleeping patterns can bring sustained changes in the release of the hormone, they observed.

In his paper titled “Endocrine and Neuroendocrine Mechanisms Underlying the Onset of Puberty in Higher Primates”, Tony M. Plant of the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, US, presented his findings on how peptides in the brain regulate the puberty clock.

Among other speakers were A. Jagannnadha Rao of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore , who spoke on the role of trophic hormones in causing cancer, and Nihar Ranjan Jana of the National Brain Research Centre, Gurgaon, who dealt extensively with the role of proteins — especially P53 and the one associated with E6 — in bringing about mental retardation.

The study by Kaoru Kubokawa of the University of Tokyo on sex-steroid induced changes in the reproductive organs of amphioxus (or lancelets, a very small branch of the animal kingdom) was interesting. She contended that the genome of this marine creature provides a unique glimpse into the early evolution of the endocrine system of mammals. “Some hormonal genes of this primitive animal are exactly the same as in humans, making it some kind of a human homologue and opening up new possibilities of research in this area,” said Bhattacharya.

The work of Bhattacharya and his team of scientists from IICB and Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan deals with fatty acid induced down-regulation of the insulin receptor gene that causes Type 2 diabetes. Their focus was on how free fatty acids suppress insulin receptor genes.

“Free fatty acids are a major player in promoting loss of insulin sensitivity — resulting in insulin resistance — by inhibiting insulin signals, leading to Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for more than 95 per cent of diabetes cases,” he said. Therefore, for a diabetic, cutting down on carbohydrate intake isn’t enough — what is more important is to avoid fat-rich foods.

Bhattacharya said his team of about 10 scientists are working on developing a drug that will be able to address this “root cause”.

Surprisingly, it is age-old ayurveda that the scientists have resorted to. “We have developed a formulation with extracts from about eight herbs, including nayantara, ghritakumari, tulsi and kadipata. We have tested it on imported genetically modified diabetic mice and the results are positive,” he added.

Japanese scientists, too, recommend herbs as remedies for some human ailments. Scientists from Japan’s Gifu University , for example, recommended the use of Pueraria mirifica (a plant native to Thailand and Myanmar ) as a contraceptive drug in premenopausal women and for estrogen replacement therapy in post-menopausal women.

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