Today we got a mini crash course in epigenetics (a word completely unfamiliar to me before today). We received our “Ted Talk” from members of the research staff at the Clinic for Special Children (Strasburg, PA). They came to our home to collect samples from our family – we agreed to be part of a nationwide study, of up to 350 participants. Kari is the reason we were chosen.
Epigenetics is not a new field of study, but it seems to be one of new focus now that the entire human genome can be “seen” and is better understood. Epi is a Greek preposition meaning “on” or “above,” and so it’s use here is that it is the next layer of what happens with genes in the body. Nearly every cell in the human body has the same DNA. So, how is it that some cells produce proteins that help form bones, while other cells produce muscle tissue? That’s what epigenetics is about – understanding how gene activity is controlled by a cell so that a gene switch is turned on or off so that a cell can do what it is designed to do.
Being part of this study reminds me of the introduction to Star Trek: “The final frontier. To boldly go where no one has gone before.” I imagine this could be the beginning of greater understanding of medicine so that in the future, one looking back might see some of our present treatments the way we look at bloodletting using leeches in the 18th century.
A few takeaways from this:
Any close look at biology quickly reminds us of the truth of Psalm 139… “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” To those at the baby shower this past Sunday, Joan quoted how God knits us together in our mother’s womb – one of those beautiful and accurate descriptions but also great understatements found in God’s Word.
We have no idea how God could use someone like Kari. There is something unusual about how her body works. She is the oldest known person with her disease (most die in infancy or as toddlers). Perhaps there is some special going on in her body epigenetically that accounts for this. Perhaps understanding that could lead to improved health for untold numbers of others someday. God has his purposes.
It is unlikely that what is learned will help Kari, but who knows? What we do know is that, whether we understand her disease, she is precious. She is made in the image of God and has great value. While we wish to increase the quality of her life, the value of her life has already been determined (it is as great as any other human life).
We will understand it better by and by. I’m not talking of epigenetics (of which I don’t really know anything), but rather of God’s purposes and his plan. Thinking about how his thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours should cause us to trust him more than we did before and take him at his word. Or, like Job, we might be ready to repent in dust and ashes and yield to his will.