Translational circadian biology has a huge potential to improve human
health, and the Vetter Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder i) uses the power of  big numbers (epidemiology) to identify how circadian and sleep health may impact long-term health outcomes, and ii) implements observational and intervention studies in real life settings, with the ultimate goal to prevent disease and improve human health and wellbeing.

Some key projects:

Pathways from Shift Work to Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). Even in the absence of higher caloric intake, night shift workers demonstrate a greater propensity to weight gain than day shift workers. Highly controlled laboratory studies demonstrate that higher glucose levels and higher insulin levels are present in study participants whose behavioral cycles are 12 hours out of phase with their internal circadian timing system. They also show that when simulating a night shift, participants expand less energy than during the day. These findings suggest that circadian misalignment may be an independent risk factor for obesity and T2D risk. This project seeks to determine the independent contribution of work-schedule induced circadian misalignment to obesity and T2D risk in shift workers outside of the laboratory setting. Our results will provide crucial evidence to enable the informed design of targeted intervention studies to reduce obesity and T2D risk for shift workers and the general population.

Do you want to participate in our study? Learn more about it here!

This study is funded by the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI).

Sleep, Biomarkers, Health, and Weight Gain. About 45% of Americans sleep on average less than 6 hours or greater than 9 hours, and are expected to be at higher risk of obesity, chronic disease, and mortality. This project will identify blood biomarkers of short and long habitual sleep duration, and its changes over the years, and examine associations with a key risk factor of longevity and health, namely weight gain. Our results will significantly advance our understanding of the biological pathways underlying the association between sleep and health, and may help identify novel behavioral and pharmacological approaches to reduce the population burden of obesity.

This project is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NHLB).

Shift Work, Sleep, and Circadian Phenotypes and Health. Dr. Vetter and her team examine associations of shift work, sleep, and circadian phenotypes with cardio-metabolic and mood outcomes. One of Dr. Vetter’s goals is to advance our understanding of how the effects of work schedules on health and longevity might be modulated by inter-individual differences – this knowledge is essential to design personalized work schedules and thereby address concerns of adverse health effects in the occupational setting. In addition, Dr. Vetter and her team examine the link between sleep and circadian phenotypes with chronic disease in several large-scale, epidemiological studies to advance our emerging understanding of long-term risks of sleep deprivation, disordered sleep, and circadian disruption. Dr. Vetter is currently an active investigator in the Nurses’ Health Studies, the UKBiobank, the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, and Lifelines.

This work is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIOSH, NIDDK).

Shift Work, Heredity, Insulin, and Food Timing Study (SHIFT). Preliminary observations suggest that food intake coincident with high melatonin levels leads to impaired glucose tolerance—particularly in MTNR1B risk allele carriers. Our objectives are to determine the effect of concurrent food intake and melatonin on glucose tolerance; and to assess the role of MTNR1B single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)*melatonin interaction in this deleterious effect. Our central hypothesis is that concurrent high melatonin levels and food intake, commonly experienced in night shift workers, cause long-term impairment of glucose tolerance and that this effect is worse in carriers of the MTNR1B type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk SNP than in non-carriers. The results of this proposal will help to clarify an ongoing controversy about the role of melatonin in glucose tolerance, and will help to develop novel strategies in the prevention and treatment of T2D, especially in shift workers, night eaters, and MTNR1B risk allele carriers.

This project is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIDDK). 

A Toolbox for Circadian Epidemiology: From Complex Environmental Signals to Personalized Medicine. The goal of this project is to create a landscape of drivers of circadian rhythms (incl. high-dimensional light exposure profiles), and quantify their relative contribution to circadian melatonin rhythms in real life.

This project is funded by a University of Colorado Boulder RIO Seed Grant award. 


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