Biotech CEO Undergoes Gene Hacking to Reverse Aging

Liz Parrish, CEO of biotech startup BioViva, says she underwent a gene therapy at an undisclosed location overseas last month, a first step in what she says is 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 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 15 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, which in animal experiments is shown to increase muscle mass, and 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.

The Era of Gene Therapy Tourism

The MIT Technology Review article notes that Parrish’s treatment might mark the start of an era in which people receive genetic modifications not just to treat disease, but to reverse aging.

Predictably, the article mentions “ethical” questions about how quickly such treatments should be tested in people and whether they ought to be developed outside the scrutiny of regulators.

Liz Parrish
BioViva CEO Liz Parrish

It appears, however, that Parrish could work around the predictably heavy scrutiny of US regulators by choosing to have her gene hacking 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 the 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, imagines that Parrish’s choice might inspire enthusiastic amateurs to try to modify their own DNA, thereby “shifting the balance of power to patients.”

More autonomy and power to patients, often oppressed by the official medical establishment, is urgently needed, and Parrish is to be praised for starting the DIY gene therapy wave by experimenting on herself, like Louis Pasteur did.

“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.” She added that BioViva is a company that has the mission to get these treatments to those who want it.

Some members of BioViva’s scientific advisory board have criticized Parrish’s decision and distanced themselves. But renowned genetic expert George Church, who is also a BioViva science adviser, is cautiously supportive. He said he didn’t agree with dodging regulators, but added that he found Parrish’s claims plausible.

Images from BioViva and BioTrove Investments.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.