NU interdisciplinary program to develop device to control circadian rhythms


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

The device can be helpful to military personnel who frequently travel as well as first responders who work on a shift basis.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

A team of Northwestern-led researchers will develop an implantable device that controls the body’s circadian clock, according to a Friday news release. The device will halve the time it takes the wearer to recover from disrupted sleep and wake cycles.

The interdisciplinary program, titled Normalizing Timing of Rhythms Across Internal Networks of Circadian Clocks, is part of a cooperative agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The project will receive $33 million in funding over four and a half years. 

The first phase of the project seeks to develop the device. After the initial step, researchers will test it for validation and then conduct human trials. 

The project’s principal investigator, McCormick Prof. Jonathan Rivnay, compared the device to an “implantable pharmacy” inside a chip.  

“This control system allows us to deliver a peptide of interest on demand, directly into the bloodstream,” Rivnay said in the release. “No need to carry drugs, no need to inject therapeutics and — depending on how long we can make the device last — no need to refill the device.” 

According to the release, the University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology will lead research on circadian clocks and Rice University will spearhead cellular engineering. NU, Rice, Carnegie Mellon University and company Blackrock Microsystems will also combine efforts to develop bioelectronic components. 

The device can be helpful to military personnel who frequently travel as well as first responders who alternate between nighttime and daytime shifts, the release said. 

Weinberg Prof. Fred Turek, who co-leads the sleep team, said the study will enable experiments that explore how internal circadian systems are maintained. 

“These insights will lead to new therapeutic approaches for sleep disorders as well as many other physiological and mental disorders, including those associated with aging where there is often a spontaneous breakdown in temporal organization,” Turek said in the release.  

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