Historically the elixir of life has only ever existed in the realm of Hollywood writers struggling for inspiration.
However, gene therapy company BioViva recently claimed that its own CEO, Elizabeth Parrish, has undergone some of its experimental anti-aging treatments and has actually become biologically younger.
In September 2015, then 44 year-old Parrish received two of her own company’s experimental gene therapies: one to protect against loss of muscle mass with age, another to battle stem cell depletion responsible for a diverse range of age-related diseases and infirmities.
At the time, the self-treatment was met with a mixture of praise for bravery and criticism for a lack of scientific process and in some cases expertise.
However, now six months since undergoing the treatments, Parrish claims to have become the first human being to be successfully rejuvenated by gene therapy, which reportedly reversed 20 years of normal telomere shortening.
This isn’t the first time Telomeres have made headlines with respect to longevity. In February 2011, a team of scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston published a Nature paper in which they detailed the reversing of the ageing process in mice with a treatment that also focused on the lengthening of Telomeres.
And in January, 2015, Stanford University School of Medicine reported that it had developed a technique to increase the length of human telomeres.
What are Telomeres?
Telomeres are short segments of DNA which cap the ends of every chromosome, acting as ‘buffers’ against wear and tear. They shorten with every cell division, eventually getting too short to protect the chromosome, causing the cell to malfunction and the body to age.
A person’s telomere score is calculated according to telomere length of white blood cells (T-lymphocytes). This result is based on the average T-lymphocyte telomere length compared to the American population at the same age range. The higher the telomere score, the “younger” the cells.
First successful human telomere lengthening
Parrish’s treatment was originally intended to demonstrate the safety of the latest generation of the therapies. But if early data is accurate, it is already the world’s first successful example of telomere lengthening via gene therapy in a human individual.
In September 2015, telomere data taken from Parrish’s white blood cells by SpectraCell‘s specialised clinical testing laboratory in Houston, Texas, immediately before therapies were administered in another location, believed to be Columbia. The tests revealed that Parrish’s telomeres were unusually short for her age, leaving her vulnerable to age-associated diseases earlier in life.
In March 2016, the same tests were taken again by SpectraCell revealed that her telomeres had lengthened by approximately 20 years, from 6.71kb to 7.33kb. This implies that Parrish’s white blood cells (leukocytes) have become biologically younger. These findings were independently verified by the Brussels-based non-profit HEALES (HEalthy Life Extension Company), and the Biogerontology Research Foundation, a UK-based charity committed to combating age-related diseases.
In responding to the results Parrish, a long time supporter of gene therapies, said: “Current therapeutics offer only marginal benefits for people suffering from diseases of aging. Additionally, lifestyle modification has limited impact for treating these diseases. Advances in biotechnology is the best solution, and if these results are anywhere near accurate, we’ve made history.”
Bioviva will continue to monitor Parrish’s blood for months and years to come. Meanwhile, BioViva will be testing new gene therapies and combination gene therapies to restore age related damage. It remains to be seen whether the success in leukocytes can expanded to other tissues and organs, and repeated in future patients. For now all the answers lie in the cells of Elizabeth Parrish, ‘patient zero’ of restorative gene therapy.
Since her first gene therapy injections BioViva has received global interest from both the scientific and investment communities. Earlier this month BioViva became a portfolio company of Deep Knowledge Life Sciences (DKLS), a London-based investment fund which aims to accelerate the development of biotechnologies for healthy longevity.
Dmitry Kaminskiy, founding partner of DKLS, said: “BioViva has the potential to create breakthroughs in human gene therapy research, while leapfrogging companies in the biotech market.”
Possible Bioviva treatments include Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease has no cure and evidence points at microglial epigenetic changes being the cause of the inability to remove misfolded proteins in neurons. This proposed study will evaluate the effect the use of hTERT (human telomerase reverse transcriptase) to reverse biomarkers and symptomatology of aging with special target of the microglia cells in Alzheimer’s patients.
Misfolded beta amyloids can be effectively cleared by healthy microglia. This could represent a clinical breakthrough in Alzheimer’s treatment that would be immediately available in the clinical setting.