Russell Foster Lecture


Russell Foster

Sleep, Body Clocks and Health: biology to new therapeutics

A public lecture by Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, Senior Fellow Brasenose College, University of Oxford and 2018 UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.

Our internal 24 hour biological clock (circadian clock) and daily sleep processes interact to play an essential, yet poorly recognised, role in our lives. Sleep is not just the simple suspension of physical movement but is an active state when the brain coordinates indispensable activities that define our ability to function whilst awake. The quality of our sleep profoundly influences our cognition, levels of social interaction, empathy, alertness, mood, memory, physical strength, susceptibility to infection, and every other aspect of our waking biology. We are beginning to understand how these critical processes are generated and regulated and many surprising findings have surfaced. For example, until recently it seemed inconceivable to most vision researchers and ophthalmologists that there could be an unrecognised type of light sensor within the eye. Yet we now know that there exists a “3rd class” of photoreceptor in the eye that detects the dawn/dusk cycle and which sets the internal clock to the solar day. The past decade has witnessed remarkable progress in understanding how the brain generates and regulates our daily patterns of sleep and wake. In parallel with this understanding, there has been a growing realisation that our sleep and circadian rhythms cannot be ignored in our headlong dash to generate a 24/7 society. This presentation will review the biology of sleep and circadian rhythms, what happens when these systems go wrong and how recent discoveries are allowing new therapeutics to be developed that will help correct abnormal patterns of sleep and wake. 

Russell Foster is the Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Director of the Sleep and Circadian Research Institute and is a Fellow of Brasenose College Oxford. His research addresses how circadian rhythms and sleep are generated and regulated and what happens when these systems fail as a result of societal pressures or disease. A key discovery was his identification of a specialized group of photoreceptors within the eye that detect the light/dark cycle and are used to regulate circadian rhythms and sleep. Based upon an understanding of how these new photoreceptors regulate the body clock Russell is developing new therapeutics to help regulate sleep in the profoundly blind. For his discoveries Russell was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 2008 and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2013. In 2015 he received the Order of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Science. He is a member of the Governing Council of the Royal Society; he established and Chairs the Royal Society Public Engagement Committee, and is a Trustee of the Science Museum. Russell has published over 250 scientific papers and has received multiple national and international awards. He has also written four popular science books and his TED talk in 2013 has been viewed by 7 million people.

  • Professor Foster is a 2018 UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.