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Research Fellows Directory

Debra Skene

Professor Debra Skene

Research Fellow


University of Surrey

Research summary

I study human biological clocks. The circadian timing system is involved in most physiological processes (sleep/wake; energy balance, metabolism, immune function etc). Over the course of my Fellowship I have developed a state-of-the-art method using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to simultaneously measure a large number of metabolites in blood (targeted metabolomics). These metabolites have the potential to be disease biomarkers. However, before robust biomarkers can be developed we need to assess how these metabolite concentrations vary across the 24 h day and how they are affected by sleep, the circadian system, food etc. We have thus conducted controlled laboratory studies in healthy volunteers to assess this. Our findings show that there is a daily rhythm in a large number of plasma metabolites thus time of day must be controlled for in future biomarker development. We have also identified some metabolites that change during sleep deprivation compared to a night of sleep. These results have pointed to some novel pathways involved in sleep-wake regulation.

We have now applied this metabolomics technology to assess the effect of obesity and Type 2 diabetes on metabolite levels and how these change across the day. Both being obese and having Type 2 diabetes have a significant impact on plasma metabolic profiles. Similarly in collaboration with Prof Jenny Morton at the University of Cambridge, we have observed significant metabolite changes in a sheep model of Huntington's disease. Being able to quantify metabolite changes during disease progression and in different situations (e.g. in shift work) will allow us to get a clearer idea of the underlying mechanisms involved and to explain some of the adverse consequences of, for example, chronic shift work or neurodegeneration.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Linking light, circadian rhythms, sleep and metabolism in health and disease

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Dates: Aug 2011 - Jul 2016

Value: £67,120

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