The Week That Wasn't: Reverse Aging, Lyme Test, Apple Health Studies

Ellie Kincaid


September 13, 2019

You may have recently seen articles about a drug cocktail that reversed epigenetic markers of aging, a new rapid test for Lyme disease, and Apple deepening its foray into medical research via three new health studies for owners of its smartwatches. Here's why you didn't see them on Medscape Medical News.

Anti-Aging Drug Cocktail

After a year of taking the recombinant human growth hormone dehydroepiandrosterone and metformin, men in a small clinical trial showed a decrease in scores of epigenetic age based on DNA methylation, researchers from institutions that included Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles, reported in the journal Aging Cell.

"This is to our knowledge the first report of an increase, based on an epigenetic age estimator, in predicted human lifespan by means of a currently accessible aging intervention," the authors write.

The trial enrolled 10 male participants, but one volunteer did not complete the study because the researchers learned he had bradycardia and a family history of cancer. The trial was not preregistered on, the authors write, "in accordance with FDA guidelines for pre-Phase I exploratory studies." Intervene Immune, a Los Angeles, California–based biotech company, supported the study, and several study authors are listed as shareholders or officers.

Given the small size, the lack of a control group, and the "pre-Phase I exploratory" nature of the study, it's hard to draw any scientific conclusions about what the results mean. It's not clear whether any of the men will live longer because of taking the drugs, despite the changes in their epigenetic age scores. Without a demonstrated clinical effect, we didn't consider this study important enough for Medscape readers' attention.

Fast New Lyme Test, Maybe in a Year

Cornell University recently published an institutional feature story about an experimental test for diagnosing Lyme disease that scientists are working on for a biotech company in the university's life sciences incubator. The scientists say the test is faster than currently available tests and can distinguish between a new infection and an old one. Next steps to bring the new test to market include validating it with samples from patients with Lyme disease and finding a qualified laboratory to offer the test. The company cofounders think it could be something doctors will be able to order "by late 2020."

A better test to detect Lyme disease is a worthy goal, but this feel-good story presents no data that show how well the test works, nor does it explain exactly how far along in development it is. There's no guarantee the test will perform well in the validation studies and become a viable product. Without data to evaluate the test, there's not much we can report on that would be useful for our readers.

More Apple Watch Research to Come

On Tuesday, consumer tech giant Apple announced plans to launch three new research studies in which its smartwatch users can participate. A women's health study, in partnership with Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will focus on menstrual cycles and gynecologic conditions. In partnership with Brigham and Women's Hospital and the American Heart Association, another study will evaluate how heart rate and mobility signs are associated with hospitalizations, falls, heart health, and quality of life. The third, for which Apple is partnering with the University of Michigan, will collect data on sound exposure and hearing health.

Only in rare cases is it newsworthy that a clinical trial is being planned. None of the studies Apple announced have begun yet, and the app that will enable watch owners to participate is not yet available. The results, when they're published, may be worth knowing, as were the findings of Apple's study to detect atrial fibrillation and irregular heartbeat, which were presented at a meeting earlier this year. But as Medscape columnist John Mandrola, MD, wrote at the time, the fact that enrollment in the study required having enough income to buy a smartwatch and iPhone made the demographics "problematic," and the results were of limited utility. That Apple plans to do additional, similar studies is not yet news Medscape readers need to know.

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