Harvard professor speaks on sleep research

The Harvard Club of Northern Nevada and the Sierra recently hosted Dr. Dragana Rogulja at the Montreux Golf and Country Club.  Assistant Professor Rogulja presented to local Ivy League alumni and guests on current research focused on sleep.

Reno, NV; October 20, 2013.  Harvard and other Ivy League alumni, along with interested community members, attended a presentation on sleep research conducted by Assistant Professor Dragana Rogulja, Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School’s Department of Neurobiology.

“Local alumni had a great deal of interest in this topic,” commented Jacqueline Leppla, president of the Harvard Club of Northern Nevada and the Sierra.  “Dr. Rogulja did an excellent job explaining to a lay audience sleep’s biological significance and regulation.”

Assistant Professor Rogulja noted that 15 to 20 percent of the population has chronic to severe sleep problems.  Studies in the 1930s showed that sleep is genetically regulated and Rogulja’s research has been responsible for identifying over 20 genes involved in regulating sleep.

During her lecture, Dr. Rogulja illustrated how fruit flies have taught us a lot about people’s sleep, referring to them as an “amazing tool and friend to humans.” She discussed similarities in fruit fly circadian and homeostatic regulation, age-related changes, genes that promote sleeping and waking, and the state of current sleep aids.

Remarkably, Dr. Rogulja managed to make complex scientific information digestible to a lay community.  Some guests attended with school-age children, and the presentation was satisfying to all. Abby Price, an 8th grader at Pine Middle School remarked, “The concept of looking at individual genes (instead of them all as a whole) to figure out the source of sleeping problems reminded me of class. Sometimes teachers try to eliminate talking by punishing the whole class; but when they narrow in on the students who are doing the talking, they are much more successful in quieting the room. Likewise, sleeping pills affect all of a person’s genes. As a result, the medication stays in the system longer than necessary and negatively affects the consumer.”

Dr. Rogulja’s hope is that her research will result in targeted sleep aids that can be administered safely.  Price summarized, “If the particular genes causing sleeping problems can be isolated, medications and therapies can be developed to affect only these genes.  This would result in fewer side effects, and greater success.  Much like in class; when talkative students are removed, everyone else can focus and be more productive.  In both cases, things are individually analyzed to find the source of a problem.  When the source is found, it becomes much easier to solve the problem.”

The professor fielded questions from alumni and guests at the conclusion of her presentation.