David Kennaway

Professor David Kennaway

Senior Research Fellow

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences


Professor David Kennaway

More than 1.4 million Australians work outside normal working hours. Shift work and increased light exposure at night has been associated with poor sleep and fatigue, resulting in workplace accidents and incidents. But there is now emerging evidence that shift work is a significant public health issue, with the workers being at significantly higher risk of developing or exacerbating chronic diseases. Since 2009 there have been more than 50 workplace-based studies reporting increased risk of Metabolic Syndrome, in particular vascular events, diabetes/impaired glucose tolerance, elevated BMI/obesity, as well as adverse impacts on fertility/pregnancy and increased risk of breast, ovary and prostate cancers.

We do not yet know why night-time activity and daytime sleep increase the risk of developing or exacerbating chronic diseases; but one strong possibility is that this lifestyle disrupts fundamental cellular circadian rhythms that are essential for normal physiological functions.

In 2012 the American Medical Association adopted a policy statement on night-time lighting and human health. They concluded that among the diseases exacerbated by circadian disruption are: “obesity, diabetes, depression and mood disorders, and reproductive problems. ... Due to the nearly ubiquitous exposure to light at inappropriate times relative to endogenous circadian rhythms, [we need] further multidisciplinary research on occupational and environmental exposure to light-at-night, the risk of cancer and effects on various chronic diseases.”

I have made major contributions to our understanding of circadian physiology and through unique and significant cutting-edge research, have revealed how disrupted circadian and cell rhythms affect major physiological systems. My group, for example, was the first to show that circadian rhythm disruption during pregnancy pre-disposes the offspring to metabolic disorders later in life.

I am now working towards understanding the consequences of shift work on the metabolic health of men and women, the fertility of women and the health of their children. While animal models cannot replicate actual human shift work, a key innovation in the project will be our approach of simulating the circadian rhythm disruption of human shift work, such as altered light/dark cycles, timed food access, and diet quality, all of which also will be tested in humans. The outcome will be a significantly deeper understanding of the physiological effects of shift work; this is likely to increase the health of shift workers and their families by driving changes in such factors as roster design, illumination of workplaces and exercise and dietary advice.

My research program will pursue two themes:

(1) The impact of circadian rhythm disruption on metabolic control;

(2) The impact of circadian rhythm disruption on fertility, pregnancy outcomes and long-term health of offspring.

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  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2004 - 2008 Principal Supervisor The Role of Circadian Rhythms in Reproduction: Development and Fertility in the bmal1 Null Mouse Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Michael Boden
    2004 - 2008 Principal Supervisor The Role of Serotonin-2C Receptors in the Rat Circadian System Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Tamara Varcoe
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  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2014 - ongoing Board Member Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology
    2014 - ongoing Board Member Chronobiology International: the journal of biological and medical rhythm research
    2008 - ongoing Board Member Journal of Biological Rhythms
  • Position: Senior Research Fellow
  • Phone: 83134090
  • Email: david.kennaway@adelaide.edu.au
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences, floor 6
  • Room: WS6069.01
  • Org Unit: Paediatrics and Reproductive Health

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