People fear death. It is a natural, built in fear which causes people to attempt all manner of absurd treatments to avoid it. Millions of dollars are spent annually on research attempting to slow or reverse the bodies aging process, while hundreds of millions are spent by people worldwide desperately trying to reverse aging. A recent study claims to have done just that. However, there are severe issues facing both this study in particular and any other study which attempts this Herculean feat.
The recently reported study examined the “epigenetic clock” which researchers use to determine the biological age of a person. Biological age is the age your body is biologically, rather than based on how long you have been alive. This is based on many factors such as lifestyle, diet, stress and so on. All of these things influence the epigenetics, which is modifications made to how the gene code is expressed. We recently did a podcast on epigenetics so if you want more detailed information on that, check that out here. All that you need to understand here is that epigenetics modifies how the information in the genome is expressed. Researchers can tell by looking at the epigenetic modifications to the genome approximately what someone’s biological age is.
In this particular study, researchers gave a cocktail of three common drugs, one based on human growth hormone, the other two common treatments for diabetes, to the study subjects. Changes to the epigenome were not the original point of the study. Instead the reseachers were attempting to evaluate the effect of a certain drug on the thymus. They decided to check the epigenetic effects in addition to this. The expectation was that this drug cocktail would slow the onset of changes to the epigenome. However, according to these researchers, not only did it slow the onset of epigenetic aging, it actually reversed the clock, undoing some of the aging modifications to the epigenome. Even after stopping using the drugs, the changes remained in the genome for six months. The researchers are hoping to use treatments like these to eventually reverse the aging process.
There are, however, numerous problems with this study. The first, one the researchers acknowledge, is that the study is very small. Only nine people took part in the study. Drawing any scientific conclusions from a study that small is simply impossible. The margin of error is simply too big with that few people. Generally speaking, thousands of people are ideal for this type of study. Nine people is far too small. In fact, with a sample size that small, I’m mildly surprised that this was published in a peer-reviewed journal even as a study of the effects of the drug cocktail on the thymus, let alone the aging effects.
Moreover, reversing the epigenetic clock is not quite the same thing as reversing aging. To reverse aging, the researchers would need to reverse the untold number of genetic mutations which occur during a persons life, the breakdown of the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes, the damage to the various cells and organs and so on. In other words, despite the hype, there is still a lot of work to do before these researchers can claim to be reversing the aging process. At best, this study simply slowed it down slightly.
Biblically, however, the quest to prevent death is ultimately fruitless. Everyone who has ever been born, with two Biblical exceptions, will experience death, save those who are raptured. Hebrews 9:27 says “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”. 1 Corinthians 15:22 adds “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In other words, because of Adam’s sin, everyone will die. However, the hope of avoiding eternal death is found in Christ, our substitutionary atonement. Any attempt to “cheat death” is ultimately pointless. It may result in some advances in other areas, but avoiding death is not possible for humanity. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: ” Romans 5:12 tells us. All men are subject to death, because of sin, and science cannot rescue us from that. Our only hope is in Christ.