The way BioViva founder Elizabeth Parrish sees it, biological aging is a disease – and she’s willing to bet her life on a cure.
Last fall, the 45-year-old Seattle-area woman underwent an experimental type of gene therapy aimed at addressing some of the big effects of aging, including loss of muscle mass and a shortening of the chromosomes’ telomeres. The procedure was reportedly done in Colombia, to get around U.S. regulations.
The idea of having gene therapy done on yourself raised eyebrows in the biotech community, but Parrish was unfazed.
“I 100 percent believe that it will work, or else I wouldn’t have done it,” Parrish told GeekWire during an interview in February. “I didn’t try to flame out in glory. The research shows that it should absolutely work.”
Now BioViva is reporting that it does seem to work, at least on Parrish’s telomeres. And that’s likely to fuel a debate over the widening scientific quest for greater longevity – conducted not only by BioViva, but by other ventures such as Human Longevity Inc. This week, Human Longevity announced a 10-year deal with AstraZeneca to analyze 500,000 DNA samples for anti-aging clues.
Parrish is already trying to follow up on a couple of clues through Bioviva USA, the privately held company she founded on Bainbridge Island last year. Bioviva announced its own deal this week with a London-based investment fund called Deep Knowledge Life Sciences.
One of BioViva’s anti-aging clues has to do with a protein called myostatin: Research suggests that genetically blocking the production of myostatin could help preserve age-related muscle loss.
The other clue has to do with telomeres, the stretches of DNA at the ends of our chromosomes that are thought to protect our genetic data from harmful mutations – much as the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces keep them from unraveling. As we age, those telomeres become shorter, and the protective effect is gradually lost.
The gene therapy that Parrish underwent was aimed at inhibiting myostatin and building up telomeres.