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We talked to the woman who claims to have reversed the aging process. She's ready for a revolution

Elizabeth Parrish, Chief Executive Officer and guinea pig for Bioviva, announced today that she has become the first human “successfully rejuvenated by gene therapy.” Using two proprietary processes, Parrish claims to have reversed two decades worth of telomere shortening, the process that leads to the breakdown of cell replications in the vast majority of living things. Telomere scores — measured using white blood cells — indicate that Parrish, who was 44 years old in September, has slowed a cellular process many scientists believe to be one of the root causes of aging.

That makes today a big day for Elizabeth Parrish. She’s publicly announcing a potential cure to the disease she feared would kill her: Time.

Parrish has become one of the leading lights of the biohacking movement by refusing to see aging as a fundamental fact of life. She described her highly experimental gene and cellular therapies as treatment targeted against an epidemic sometimes called the “silver tsunami.” She has made it very clear that, to her, “old” is a diagnosis. What she hasn’t always made clear — and seems to actively avoid addressing — are the moral, societal, and even medical ramifications of her work. Also the science.

Earlier this week, she spoke to Inverse about becoming her own patient zero, how human cells are like computers, and why she’s justified in evading the FDA.

"It will become so obvious why we haven't been able to "cure" the diseases of aging -- because we've been treating symptoms for so long," Parrish told Inverse.

What made you realize that aging was a disease and not a normal process?

I had actually gotten involved to cure childhood

disease, so I wasn’t exactly entirely prepared to find out that biological aging was in fact a disease. I went to a very crucial conference that changed my mind: I ended up at the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) conference in Cambridge, U.K., and I became very interested in this idea that perhaps biological aging itself was a disease. I took the time to speak with many researchers after that and found out that some of the drivers of childhood disease were in fact accelerated aging.

That’s certainly a shift in the way we think about aging.

I basically had to change my thinking to realize that the body’s cells are very much like a computer, and the things that they’re programmed to do eventually land up with a lot of damage over time. Some people get that damage at a youthful age; that is, some people have programming issues — genetic problems — early on. Some people are born with them. But all of us are accumulating this damage that will eventually lead to the symptoms of the aging disease and kill us.

Framed that way, it seems like a much more daunting problem than dealing with the diseases we already know about.

The problem, I thought, would be much easier to solve: It was actually everyone’s problem. It wasn’t an orphan disease, it wasn’t a small subset of children. It’s actually everyone who has the disease. It’s inherent to our very selves. At that point I was really mobilized. In a sense, it was a bigger problem, but it seemed easier to solve.

How do you plan to study the disease of aging?

I thought that one of the most important things that we needed to do was to start collecting human data. It seemed to be what we were lacking; we were sitting on all sorts of mouse data for a slew of diseases that actually looked really good. I think we’ve cured cancer a hundred times in mice. We’ve reversed atherosclerotic plaques. We’ve reversed biological aging with telomerase inducers. We just weren’t using it in humans. So in order to get the safety data, I decided I would get behind them. I would prove that they were safe by taking them.

So you’re patient zero.

I am patient zero.

Last year, you went to Colombia to undergo the first round of your BioViva gene therapy treatment. That was a huge risk.

But living is very risky, and you’re guaranteed to die of these diseases. If we can start using these methods in end-stage patients — patients for compassionate care scenarios — and start getting good results, we can move them back into patients who are not in such critical shape, then we can move them back to preventative medicine, and then we really have something. We’ll have cost-saving measures, we’ll be actually saving lives before people get sick. Me, I’m feeling great, and we’ll be releasing some data on that sooner than later.

Why do you think there have been so many obstacles to human testing for anti-aging gene therapy?

The obstacles are in the regulatory framework. At this point, it’s not really starting a fight to say that the U.S. FDA and other countries have stifled innovation. That’s just obvious. It’s too much paperwork, it’s too far-reaching, the costs to get through the U.S. FDA are too high. And there’s no reason, at this point, that we have to mix safety and efficacy with a price tag of over $1 billion. Those two don’t need to go together. We need to find out how to efficiently get therapeutics through to the public that may be life saving.

That’s not going to happen until you convince the FDA that aging is actually a disease.

Here at home, we just cannot move quickly enough for patients. We’re losing over 100,000 people a day to biological aging. We’re not really treating this like the catastrophe that it is. Ebola came up and killed many people. It’s a big tragedy. But it didn’t kill anywhere near the number of people that die every month of biological aging.

As a matter of fact, if you start to look at that and extrapolate the numbers, millions of people are dying in a matter of months. We just think of this process as being very normal, but it’s actually a very costly process. It’s going to hinder our future significantly. The silver tsunami has already hit the industrialized countries and it’s about to hit the whole Earth.

How will you convince the FDA that investing in it now is a better idea than paying for it later?

On the Earth, by 2020, there will be more people over 65 than under 5 years of age. So the 5-year-olds become 5, then 25, then 35 — they become the workforce — while the 65-year-olds are retired and are in imminent danger of 20, 30, 40 years of needed accelerated healthcare. So it really doesn’t work. We’re actually at a point where it’s not just fashionable. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s “How do we save economies?” How do we keep people working longer? How do we save the trillions of dollars that we spend every four years on major diseases [which have led to] no cures? The government — your employer — you — everyone saves so much money by mitigating these diseases that there is no reason to hold this type of technology back.
If this actually happens; is everyone going to have equal access to these types of therapies?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s going to happen very similar to computers or cell phones. At first the technology is very expensive, because it’s new. First it’s kind of like building a supercomputer, and then eventually everyone gets an iPhone. In your life when you look at that, you don’t ever remember living without an iPhone. Certainly you like an iPhone better than you would have liked it if you had to pay for the first supercomputer because your iPhone is much more predictable than the supercomputer was. But it’s that model, and we will get there as quickly as we can to drive down the costs so that everyone does have access to it.

Are we going to have to shift the retirement age? What’s the limit here?

I don’t really get into those kinds of questions. My job is to mitigate the diseases we can mitigate. To create the mandate on the Earth that the minute we do that, we have to move forward. If we think we have something, it would be immoral not to move forward with it. How long people can live, I don’t know, but I want them to live as well and as healthy as they can live for as long as possible. That’s good for society, that’s good for the economy, that’s good for you and me, and it’s good for the future of our planet.

Won’t you run into a problem finding people willing to take part in your studies, if they’re so experimental?

We have no end of volunteers, both healthy and sick. As a reminder, as far as the FDA’s concerned, in the past 50 years they have passed, through their gold standard, 50 drugs that have been pulled from the market. Some of those drugs were actually harmful, if not fatal, to patients. We cannot pretend that their standard has kept anyone safe. It was there initially to keep people safe. It’s not actually doing a good job of that. It definitely serves a purpose, where we want drugs with safety and efficacy, we want to keep the public safe, but not to the point where they’re dying, waiting for treatment.

If you’re letting people die without access to experimental treatments, then your safety and efficacy administration is failing.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

An American company, Bioquark, says they may soon be able to “reverse death” through “reanimation” of the brain. The company notes that to be legally declared dead in the majority of the world, you must experience complete and irreversible loss of brain function. This is known as “brain death.” While “brain death” is different from “cardiac death,” in the eyes of the medical community, death of the brain is as final as death of the heart. However, Bioquark is hoping to change that by using brain “repair” or “reanimation” technologies to bring patients back from brain death.

The Daily Mail reports that American healthcare company Bioquark is working on a project called ReAnima. The project is designed to “push the envelope” of what is possible with medical technology by bringing patients back from the dead. The company notes that while death used to be black and white, it is no longer such as medical devices can keep a patient’s heart beating indefinitely despite the brain experiencing “death” of its own. Therefore, it is widely accepted in the medical community that death occurs when the brain experiences “complete and irreversible loss of function.” However, what would happen if a company designed a way to “reanimate” a supposedly “dead” brain?

That is exactly what Bioquark hopes to accomplish with the ReAnima project. The company is looking at possible technologies that can “repair” damage done to the brain in death. The technology could potentially change the way we look at death by proving that brain damage is not “irreversible.” The company believes that the brain and brain stem can be “regenerated” much like that of certain reptiles, fish, and amphibians.

The company says they will focus their efforts on patients who have been deemed a “living cadaver” in a bid to prove that those with brain damage deemed “irreversible” can recover brain functions previously believed to be lost forever.

“The mission of the ReAnima Project is to focus on clinical research in the state of brain death, or irreversible coma, in subjects who have recently met the Uniform Determination of Death Act criteria, but who are still on cardio-pulmonary or trophic support – a classification in many countries around the world known as a ‘living cadaver.'”

The company will begin human trials next year and will be utilizing “certain biologic regenerative tools” along with current medical technology to test the brain “repair” abilities of the project. In the first series of tests, the company will be allowed to experiment on 20 patients. Bioquark says they are currently recruiting patients for the trials and are hopeful about potential outcomes.

“To undertake such a complex initiative, we are combining certain biologic regenerative tools, with other existing medical devices typically used for stimulation of patients with other severe disorders of consciousness. We just received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for our first 20 subjects and we hope to start recruiting patients immediately.”

The project leaders note that the company is not trying to prevent death altogether — only premature death not due to aging. Though death due to aging is not the focus of project ReAnima, the group reports that some 50,000 to 150,000 people daily could potentially be saved from “death” thanks to the technology if it is successful.

“Because 50,000 of the 150,000 people who die daily do not die from aging, but from various acute traumas that lead rapidly to brain death, we think even this modest dynamic will have a major impact.”

Could the company potentially open new doors as to how we define death as a society? If the ReAnima project is successful, what does that mean for individuals who have been deemed “brain dead” by healthcare workers? If an individual could be placed on life support following traumatic injuries and potentially “regenerated” via the new technology, could the project spell the end of trauma death as we know it?
First gene therapy successful against human aging

American woman gets biologically younger after gene therapies -

In September 2015, then 44 year-old CEO of BioViva USA Inc. Elizabeth 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 diverse age-related diseases and infirmities.

See Also: Is there a connection between heavy metals and aging?

The 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. Gene therapy has been used to lengthen telomeres before in cultured cells and in mice, but never in a human patient.

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.

In September 2015, telomere data taken from Parrish's white blood cells by SpectraCell'sspecialized clinical testing laboratory in Houston, Texas, immediately before therapies were administered, 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 taken again by SpectraCell revealed that her telomeres had lengthened by approximately 20 years, from 6.71kb to 7.33kb, implying 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 theBiogerontology Research Foundation, a UK-based charity committed to combating age-related diseases.

Parrish's reaction: "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", Parrish said.

Don't Miss: High-fat diet postpones brain aging in mice

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."
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