Ten years ago, I participated in a genetic study at UCSF Mission Bay's Laboratories of Neurogenetics. Overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the labs focus on human genetics and developmental neuroscience.
By studying families with neurological phenotypes (which means 'heritable genetic identity'), UCSF researchers are identifying genes that cause various disorders of the nervous system, such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. In 2006, the labs had started to research circadian sleep disorders and, naturally, I was eager to learn the details.
After I was escorted from the building's entrance (security is tight), I toured the gleaming new labs and chatted with researchers at work. Later, in a large board room with a spectacular view, I met with two leaders in the neurogenetics field, lab director Dr. Louis Ptacek and sleep/wake specialist Dr. Chris Jones.
In hindsight, Ptacek and Jones were probably trying to persuade me to participate in their study. I recall being a bit schmoozed a la "your contribution could have an impact on how circadian sleep disorders are treated in the future." I didn't need to be lobbied - I was totally onboard to help them prove what I've long suspected: my extreme night owl sleep pattern is not a "preference" - it is not psychological but in fact physiological - hardwired into my genes - completely out of my control. After signing the consent form, I donated a blood sample for DNA extraction.
It was a fascinating day I'll never forget. Walking through the tree-lined quad as I departed the campus, I felt like I really was contributing to the future of genetic research and sleep medicine. (Keep in mind this was 2006, long before 23andme and the BRCA1 gene were household names.) Next up, waiting for the results.