Jet lag may soon join "weight loss," "allergy symptoms," and "birth control" as a category at the pharmacy counter.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have identified a gene that can be manipulated to limit the impact of travel across time zones, and speed recovery time. Scientists say a pill doing just that may be only a few years away, according to a report in The Independent.
"We've identified a system that actively prevents the body clock from re-adjusting," Dr. Stuart Peirson, the study team leader and a senior research scientist at Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, told The Independent. "If you think about, it makes sense to have a buffering mechanism in place to provide some stability to the clock… But it is this same buffering mechanism that slows down our ability to adjust to a new time zone and causes jet lag."
In tests with lab mice, Peirson and his team exposed subjects to a series of light and dark patterns that mimicked changes in time zones. Typically, humans require one day to recover from each zone traveled.
The tests led the scientists to identify a molecule called SIK1 that specifically debilitated the body's natural response to light and begin a new circadian rhythm. Hence, jet lag.
Should a pill successfully muting the gene become available within the next few years, the impact such a product would have on flight attendants, pilots and frequent business travelers is immeasurable. But until then, some industry experts remain doubtful.
"I'm very skeptical, as I've heard many times that the cure for jet lag is just around the corner," said Chris McGinnis, business travel expert for YouMustBeTrippin.com. "People were saying it about Ambien at one time, a few years ago they had light therapy visors that people would wear."
But he was also optimistic about how such a drug would change travel.
"If it is indeed a true cure for jet lag, it will have a huge impact on business travel," he said. "You won't have to get [to your destination] ahead of time to adjust for a day or two before you give a big presentation. There are countless hours of productive time lost to jet lag. I experience it myself and as I get older it only seems to get worse."