Liz Parrish is the CEO of biotech startup BioViva and she strongly believes that aging is a disease to be cured. Last month she took the revolutionary step of undergoing gene therapy at an undisclosed location overseas. She believes it is a first step in a plan to develop treatments for ravages of old age like Alzheimer’s and muscle loss, MIT Technology Review reports.
“I am patient zero,” Parrish, 44, said in a Reddit AMA. “I have aging as a disease.” Recognizing aging as a disease that future medicine should be able to cure is an important paradigm shift.
BioViva plans to develop and deliver a suite of therapies each targeting the different consequences of aging and disease and promoting a longer and healthier life. Parrish, who also founded BioTrove Investments, is interested in changing the paradigm of disease and how we view aging and more importantly, how we will treat it moving forward.
The medical procedure reportedly took place on September 15th in Colombia. Some observers are skeptical, but a filmmaker claims to have filmed the procedure, and hopefully more information and videos will be available soon.
Parrish said that she received injections containing the gene follistatin. In animal experiments follistatin is shown to increase muscle mass, She also received an intravenous dose of viruses containing genetic material to produce telomerase, a protein that extends telomeres, a component of chromosomes known as the “aging clock.”
In the Reddit AMA, Parrish said, “It has been over a month and I am sleeping well and have a lot of energy, no other changes reported but we will do blood work soon and I take many pictures.”
It is exciting to think that we are about to enter an era in which people can receive genetic modifications not just to treat disease, but to reverse aging. Ethical questions will need to be answered about how quickly such treatments should be tested in people and whether they should be developed outside the scrutiny of regulators. It seems that Parrish could work around the heavy scrutiny of US regulators by choosing to have her gene therapy sessions done abroad. Therefore, Parrish’s treatment might also mark the start of gene therapy tourism – a form of medical tourism motivated not by cheaper treatments abroad, but by the availability of advanced genetic therapies that are still banned in one’s home country.
“Gene-therapy preparations, which use a virus to shuttle DNA into human cells, could prove risky,” notes MIT Technology Review. “But the technology has advanced so far in the last decade that it is within reach of a small company.”
Matthew Scholz, CEO of biotech startup Immusoft, speculates that Parrish’s actions might inspire passionate amateurs to try to modify their own DNA, thereby “shifting the balance of power to patients.” The bold actions being taken by Parrish resemble those of Louis Pasteur.
“I am happy to be patient zero,” said Parrish in the Reddit AMA. “It is for the world, for the sick children and sick old people.”
Parrish says she did not seek approval from anyone to carry out the experiment. “We as a company have our own ethics,” she said. “I am certainly not going to ask someone’s permission to potentially create new industries and cures.”