Sleep research in Zurich

It is well known that lack of sleep has a negative effect on our well-being and yet we know so little about sleep’s function. The Clinical Research Priority Program (CRPP) Sleep and Health aims at filling this gap in knowledge by joining forces of basic and clinical sleep research in a collaborative network to achieve a better understanding of the underlying pathophysiology of sleep-wake disorders. ZNZ News talked to Prof. Hans Peter Landolt, co-head of the CRPP Sleep and Health, about the recent CRPP symposium where newest developments in sleep research were presented.

“The elucidation of the biological function of sleep is one of the last frontiers in biomedical research,” says Landolt. “What makes us sleepy, why are we no longer able to function properly if we are deprived of sleep? We need to better understand what happens during sleep, in order to be able to develop therapies for sleep-wake pathologies.” At the first joint symposium of the CRPP Sleep and Health and the Zurich Sleep Medicine Symposium in January 2015, internationally leading sleep researchers and chronobiologists gave insights into the most rapidly advancing topics in sleep research.

Human Sleep Project
“The highlights of the symposium included the presentation by Till Roenneberg from the University of Munich, who presented goals and first results of the Human Sleep Project. By outfitting large samples of people with a variety of sensors it is possible to collect  objective data about their sleep-wake behavior,” Landolt explains. (See also an article in Scientific American) Although the data obtained from the Human Sleep Project will give valuable insights into sleep-wake behavior, according to Landolt, the many different and complex sleep phenotypes in humans may make it difficult to interpret certain results. He and his team focus on gathering sleep EEG data in the laboratory, even though this is much more labor-intensive and only smaller cohorts can be tested. “We know that sleep characteristics such as brain waves measured by EEG are largely genetically determined, however, we still know little about which genes are involved.” First genes influencing the sleep EEG are now being identified. In Landolt’s group the direct association between adenosine receptors and dopamine receptor and transporter and the effect of caffeine on a test person’s sleep behavior was demonstrated. (see also UZH News).

“Another highlight of the symposium was the last day, on which we organized a public event moderated by Elke Heidenreich, author and literary critic. It is an important task of the CRPP to make research results available to the general public. With topics such as breathing difficulties during sleep, the effect of caffeine on sleep and learning during sleep, this part of the symposium enjoyed huge public attention and led to a lively exchange”, Landolt concludes.

Sleep research in Zurich
The CRPP Sleep and Health is a joint venture of the University Hospital Zurich, the University Children’s Hospital, the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, and the University of Zurich. There are currently six main projects involving seven research groups. The CRPP is headed by Christian Baumann, University Hospital Zurich, and Hans Peter Landolt, Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, UZH.

The Zurich Center for interdisciplinary Sleep Research (ZiS) was recently established at the University of Zurich as a network of excellence in sleep medicine, sleep research and chronobiology.