Now in 2016 it is becoming increasingly clear that therapies are emerging which could seriously impact aspects of the human aging process.
One of the most cutting-edge therapies that are now being tested is the use of viral vectors to lengthen telomeres, the DNA caps at the end of our chromosomes. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of the company Bioviva USA inc, is the first person to treat human aging with this technology, using herself as a test subject.
Contrary to much buzz within the anti-aging field, this is certainly a valid treatment for a part of the aging problem in organisms, by preventing DNA from shortening. Back in 2012 this experiment was first set up in mice by Maria Blasco et al, using adeno viruses to lengthen telomeres in mice. The treated mice lived longer on average with no increased cancer rates, showing proof of principle.
Parrish, a youthful 45 year old, underwent the first therapy in 2015 andresults are encouraging as her white blood cell telomeres have so far gone up from 6.71 to 7.33 kb as measured now in 2016.
Since aging is not considered a disease and is not a recognized medical target, Parrish therefore had to undergo the therapies in Colombia to avoid FDA constraints on this pioneering work. She has done a phenomenal job trying to change regulations for gene therapy in medicine. While her results are so far only proof of principle, we are looking forward to seeing results of future studies demonstrating what rejuvenating effects this will have on the human body.
By showing gene therapy to be safe this will also open up the door for older people who are in need of urgent treatment. In fact the oldest people who manage to avoid cancer and coronary heart disease experience a severe decline in function due to loss of stem cells, something regenerative medicine will address. Parrish is young in that context, as she has 77 years left until she catches up with Jeanne Calment, the world longevity record holder so far.
Personally, I think the most immediate paradigm-shifting benefit of telomerase gene therapy is reinforcing an attitude change in the biotechnology sector and society in general. By showing meaningful intervention in the aging process is possible, inevitably other companies will follow up tackling other age-related issues.
The preconceived notion that humans generally die of age-related diseases in their 80s is becoming a thing of the past, The past century saw a myriad of changes such as the beginning of space exploration, and I have no doubts this will be the century of biogerontological research and real extension of the maximum lifespan in humans coming to fruition.
The future of humanity depends on the people willing to lead this emerging sector of treating aging, and organizations like SENS, BGRF, and Heales are working on this. If human biology allows for youthful good health the first decades of life, this youthful physiology can also be restored and maintained. With sufficient investment it will happen.
Molecular biology student, Member of Heales.
Find out more in the press release at EurekAlert