DESLEY BLANCH : According to Australian researchers the Re-Timer device could help reduce jet lag, keep shift workers more alert and help insomnia sufferers.
The world-first apparatus is based on 25 years of university research and development by Professor Leon Lack and his team at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia and is being manufactured in that Australian state.
Leon Lack says they’re specifically designed to fit over people’s glasses that they wear at present.
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : It makes use of sort of a modernistic-looking glass frames. The main point of this is that it’s something that you can wear easily, it’s lightweight and it has in the bottom part of the glass frames embedded in it, are small light-emitting diodes that shine light into the eyes and so when you put the device on, you’ll see in the bottom rung in front of each eye these light-emitting diodes that projects light into the eyes. So that where the person looks or wherever they turn their head they will be getting their light therapy.
DESLEY BLANCH : So what is that light from the glasses doing inside your body?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well, it has an effect in the retina of the eye. It’s well known now there are specialised cells in the eye that are sensitive to that colour of light and send information back to an area in the brain, just behind the eyes, maybe two or three centimetres back from the eyes and this area in the brain has been identified as the body clock of the brain and the rest of the body.
So it maintains the timing of what are called circadian rhythms or 24 hour rhythms -- our body clock. And light exposure can influence that body clock to reset the timing of the body clock, so that all of our processes might decline and rise a little bit later than normal or by using the bright light glasses in the mornings, it can reset the body clock to a somewhat earlier time.
DESLEY BLANCH : So it’s actually causing the production of hormones that in turn regulate these daily cycles that we call circadian rhythms or our body clock?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : That’s right. It releases the hormone melatonin, the body clock does at predetermined times according to its own internal timing, but it also has direct neuro-physiological input to the rest of the body so that the various organs of the body and the timing of activity of those organs is all synchronised and kept together in a smooth running system.
And the body clock itself – this area of the brain -- can make sure that all the little body clocks around the body are all synchronised together, so that we function best across the daytime, because we evolved as daytime-type animals and we’re not very effective at night time. We can’t see very well in the dark, we can’t hear very well compared to other animals or smell very well, so it’s important for us and has been important for us to be inside in a protected area and be asleep. So with the effect of exposure to light during the daytime tends to push our body clocks such that the sleep-conducive part of our rhythm is placed in the night time.
But in our environment these days, quite often the timing of the body clock can get out of synch with the daytime/night time and that can cause problems for people wanting to sleep at their normal conventional sleep time. And also shift workers, of course, on the night shift are trying to operate in opposition to that normal night time sleep/day time awake pattern and they have a lot of difficulties staying awake on the night shift and then sleeping the next day to try and catch up on their sleep.
So the Re-Timers can be used in the early part of the night shift to shift their body clock to a later point and that can keep the night shift worker alert across the night shift and help them sleep better the next day.
DESLEY BLANCH : So would that night worker use it just from that day or would he need to use it for a period of time beforehand?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well, he could use it beforehand before he goes onto the night shift to adapt to the night shift start, adapting to the night shift before he actually gets onto it. And it’s probably most recommended if you have a permanent night shift worker that has several night shifts in a row and where it would be an advantage to have their body clock moved to a later time.
If it’s only a single night shift and then back to a day shift after that, it’s probably not worth trying to change the timing of the body clock that much.
DESLEY BLANCH : So you suggest that at times you need to wear it for about three days and maybe 50 minutes in each day? Is that about the standard procedure?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Oh, that would be an average procedure. It depends on the use of it. For a person who is wanting to fly across different time zones, fly overseas and adjust their body clock more quickly to their destination environment, then a couple of nights or days before leaving and then on the plane on the way and then maybe one or two days after arriving should be able to decrease the length of the jet lag experience and get over that jet lag much quickly.
DESLEY BLANCH : How conscious is the wearer of the light shining into the eyes? Is it disruptive in any way?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well, the light comes from an area of the visual field that’s a little bit below the very horizon or where most people are looking and it doesn’t cover all of the visual field at all. It only covers a very small part of the visual field. So you can go about doing your normal sort of daily activity. If you’re working on a computer, that shouldn’t disrupt that or watching television or talking on the telephone or any other activity like that will not be disrupted by the light.
DESLEY BLANCH : Well, you’ve put 25 years into this kind of research and you’ve come up with green light. So why green light? I mean how did you figure what light was effective in regulating the body clock?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well, first we tested different light-emitting diodes which come in different colours and so it gave us an opportunity to test the benefits of blue, blue/green, green and amber and red, those are common light emitting diode colours. And so we carried out a series of experiments showing that the blue and blue-green and green lights were the most effective at retiming the body clock and that amber and red had virtually no effect at all.
So we’ve embedded into these glasses sort of a blue-green type of light which our experiments have shown and overseas experiments as well have shown is probably the most effective wave length to use. And it’s well known now what the mechanism is -- the little cells in the retina of the eyes that are sensitive and send their information back to the body clock have a substance in them which is particularly sensitive to that blue-green light colour. So the mechanism is well known now and so we’re just utilising that research and our own empirical research in that in practice the blue-green light is the most effective.
DESLEY BLANCH : I can think back to about 2003, 2004, 2005 when you were doing that kind of research, but what was the breakthrough in how to make the device portable and not just some large box that you have to plug into a wall socket?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well, our prototype experimental devices that we use for our experiments are functionally very similar to the present Re-Timer device. Basically the Re-Timer device is sort of a modernised version of it, much more lightweight and it also has an inbuilt little lithium-rechargeable battery. They can be recharged with a USB lead into a laptop computer or computer or iPhone or iPad, so it can be recharged pretty quickly. The amount of use you can get out of one recharge is about four hours and since we recommend using them about an hour each day, then that should give about four days use before it needs to be recharged.
DESLEY BLANCH : You had a little bit of a light bulb moment when apparently you saw your daughter’s flashing LED lights on her bike that made you sort of think about LED lights. Is that how it happened?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : That’s right, indeed. It is a bit of a light bulb moment. I came into our shed where by daughter had put her bicycle but had forgotten to turn off the flashing LED red lights on the back of it. I came across her bike about two or three days later and the LEDs are happily still flashing away and it just occurred to me that the light-emitting diodes are very efficient device for changing electricity into light and they were able to keep operating for a long period of time on the batteries. And so I kneeled down on my hands and knees and got up really close to the flashing LED lights and it was apparent that you could get a lot of light in your eyes and if they were brought very much closer to your eyes and indeed that’s where the idea of mounting them on a pair of glasses with a battery supply to use that type of LED as the light source occurred to me at the time. That was about 15 years ago.
DESLEY BLANCH : It’s amazing where these ideas come from, isn’t it!
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : That’s right.
DESLEY BLANCH : It’s quite extraordinary.
Now what validation do you have that this device is working for everyone?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well, we’re just in the process of clinical trials on the device itself, but we’ve carried out an experiment earlier this year on a prototype that has exactly the same specifications of light and we’ve shown that indeed it does have a biological effect. The simple way to test that is to see if it suppresses the release of melatonin. It can be easily picked up in saliva and the past experiments have been done to show the circadian effects of different light has been to use this melatonin suppression test and indeed we showed it with the prototype that we have. So we’re certain that it’s going to have biological effect that we have shown in our past experiments done more than a decade ago now. But the actual clinical trials using the device now are just in the process of being carried out.
DESLEY BLANCH : Well, the company has been formed and the technology is being rolled out. So how’s the product being distributed internationally?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Well at present, we’re selling it online and the website is called re-timer-dot-com, so it’s re-dash-timer-dot-com. And the website is up and operating and it can be ordered on the website. But we’re exploring other distribution networks just having the objects physically available, for example, in pharmacies; we’re exploring that for South Australia at present, but that may roll out depending on the sales and the popularity of the device. But selling it online is by far the least expensive way to do it at present and available to most everybody at present. So that would be my recommendation at present at least.
DESLEY BLANCH : I see that there are distributors in China and Japan. Are you concerned about copies being made?
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : One’s always concerned about copies and that’s the point of having patents and we do have patents in many countries around the world. But even having patents doesn’t guarantee that somebody isn’t going to try to copy it and make small changes in it so that it doesn’t infringe the patent. But yes that is a concern and it’s been an interesting one to try to deal with. I guess we’re going to try to increase our sales as quickly as possible and this device is the one that will have the experimental backing at least and scientific backing that perhaps copycats won’t have and so that’ll hopefully give us some market advantage.
DESLEY BLANCH : First to market.
PROFESSOR LEON LACK : Yes, I’m afraid that is the word.
DESLEY BLANCH : Professor Leon Lack is chief inventor of the device developed to reset our body clocks. He is from the School of Psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.