The clock watcher

Dr Oliver Rawashdeh doesn’t waste time. He’s a chronobiologist – a specialist in periodic (cyclic) physiological phenomena, or the science of our inner clocks. The 40-year-old School of Biomedical Science lecturer speaks five languages, has lived in five countries and married his Argentinian wife just six months after they first met.

Born in Germany to a German mother and Jordanian father, Dr Rawashdeh's moved to Jordan with his family when university scholarship obligations saw his father recalled home. Dr Rawashdeh, his four siblings and parents remained stranded in Irbid – Jordan’s third largest city – for the duration of the first and second Gulf Wars.   

Dr Rawashdeh recalls the experiences of growing up near an active warzone vividly.

“We were able to see the rockets being launched from neighbouring countries because they had to go over us in Jordan,” he explains.

“It definitely was a ‘highlight’ of our time there.   

“I can remember being issued with chemical warfare suits and looking at the chemical weapon antidote injections. To us, they seemed as thick as our thighs.”

After letting go of his teenage dream of becoming a pilot for Lufthansa Airlines, Dr Rawashdeh undertook a bachelor’s degree in biology at Jordan’s Yarmouk University.

It was through his undergraduate supervisor’s connections to a lab at the University of Houston that he was introduced to the field of chronobiology.

“The Houston lab was the first to try linking the body clock with other fields, such as neuroscience, instead of just studying the clock’s mechanisms. 

“Adopting an interdisciplinary approach – in this case to investigate how the body clock affected memory – meant the lab was way ahead of others.”

Dr Rawashdeh ultimately completed his master’s and PhD at the University of Houston. Today at UQ, he studies how light regulates the body clock and physiology in general.

“We are working towards translating our research to help combat neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Research shows that well before physiological changes start appearing in the brain, there’s a disturbance to sleep patterns and other circadian rhythms.

“We’re now ready to investigate how a disrupted body clock can contribute to disease progression and exacerbation.”

Aside from getting him hooked on chronobiology, Dr Rawashdeh has one more thing to thank his colleagues for.

“My Argentinian colleague in Houston had been trying to set me up with her friend for years. 

“Although I took some convincing, I finally went to Argentina and swept my wife off her feet."

This story is featured in the Summer 2018 edition of UQMedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine visit our blog, MayneStream.