Elizabeth Parrish, the 44-year-old CEO of a biotechnology startup called 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.
Parrish says she had received two forms of gene therapy produced under contract with a commercial laboratory, which she did not identify, outside the United States. In one treatment, she says, she received injections into her muscles containing the gene follistatin, which in animal experiments is shown to increase muscle mass by blocking myostatin, itself an inhibitor of muscle growth. She says 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.” Telomerase is a frequent target of anti-aging research because the molecule is present in cells that can continue to divide indefinitely, like stem cells and tumors.
The idea for extending life span using telomerase, for instance, is based on work by the laboratory of Maria Blasco, a Spanish scientist who in 2012 showed that telomerase gene therapy could extend the life span of mice by as much as 20 percent.
George Church is a leading genetics expert who teaches at Harvard and is involved in a dozen or so companies. George thinks targeted DNA changes could in fact extend the normal human life span, which has a maximum length of about 120 years. Earlier this month, at a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences organized to weigh policy on genetic interventions, Church proposed telomerase as one bearing serious consideration. “I think we are very close. I think the world is close, so long as we don’t have a setback,” he says. “The extension of life span is quite dramatic in model organisms … it would be amazing in humans.”
SOURCE – Technology Review