Entry for:2018 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
1. Please provide a short summary of your research, project or technology.
Sleep is a dynamic process where the brain transitions through different stages of activity. This includes a rapid eye movement (REM) stage, when dreaming occurs, and three stages of non-REM sleep, including a deep sleep stage. My work uses the fruit fly to investigate how different kinds of sleep affects DNA in our brains. Using advanced scientific tools, we can manipulate sleep by either inducing or inhibiting individual sleep stages. During sleep manipulation, we conduct a brain-wide analysis of gene activity. This not only allows us to identify new genes involved in sleep and sleep dysfunction but also helps us to understand the unique roles our sleep stages play in brain regulation. Understanding what genes are involved in sleep regulation may also allow us to identify new therapeutic targets for sleep disorders such as insomnia and narcolepsy, and neurological diseases related to sleep dysfunction, such as Alzheimer's, depression, and schizophrenia.
2. Additional Details
Sleep affects nearly every aspect of our life, yet Queenslanders are experiencing an epidemic of chronic sleep deprivation. Recently the Sleep Health Foundation found that up to 45 percent of Australians have poor sleep patterns that lead to a range of health problems, both mentally and physically. This is primarily due to our fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle, and our increased use of technology.
Not getting enough sleep is a huge public health issue that is increasing our risk for various health problems such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and neurological disorders. Furthermore, sleep deprivation has significant effects on workplace performance. These factors have massive implications for the Queensland economy. It's estimated that sleep deprivation costs the Australian health system $1.8 billion or $246 per person per year and productivity losses of $17.9 billion or $2418 per person per year. Between 2016-17, the costs to overall well-being were estimated at $40.1 billion and costs overall at $66.3 billion. These health and economic effects of sleep dysfunction in Queensland, and all of Australia, are well understood; however, we cannot adequately address this epidemic until we fully understand the science of sleep and how it affects the brain.