Are scientists on the verge of finding out how to slow down aging?

See the woman below? Her name is Elizabeth Parrish. She is the first woman – actually, first human being – to undergo genetic engineering aimed at slowing down, and potentially stopping, some of her body’s aging processes. And best of all: it actually has a chance of working.

By the end of this answer I won’t only tell you her current age, but you’ll also know what she did to herself, why, and how you can apply for the same treatment yourself (and why it’s probably one of the crazier things you could do to your body).

(My knowledge in the field largely comes from a literature review and horizon scanning I conducted three years ago for a chapter about the future of human longevity in my book – “Guide to the Future”. I mostly kept up to date with developments, and also interviewed Ms. Parrish about a year ago. I’m not affiliated with Ms. Parrish or BioViva – her company – in any way, and do not endorse or even support any treatment they’re offering.)

First, it’s important to mention that no one at the moment has a well-consolidated and comprehensive theory of aging. However, one of the most prominent theories is The Telomeres Theory, which places the blame on telomeres shortening.

According to this theory, aging is caused when the telomeres – the ends of the chromosomes which contain our genetic material – become too short. Every time one of our cells divides into two or more daughter cells, the telomeres become shorter. So they’re like a timer that tracks how many times a cell has divided, and make sure that it can’t divide too many times.

Scientists have shown that longer telomeres in human beings are correlated with longer life span. They’ve also shown that they can induce longevity in mice by genetically engineering them and artificially elongating their telomeres. In effect, that means they rewound the clock that watches over the aging process of the cells.

And that’s great, right? Now we can do the same for human beings, right?

Well, no. At least, not yet.

There have been no actual experiments as yet to show that artificial telomere elongation can actually effect human life span. And experiments on mice aren’t considered a conclusive proof. After all, in the last few decades we’ve cured mice of cancer, alzheimer disease, paralysis and a host of other diseases. And yet, we’re far from applying those same cures in human beings. Which leads us to a profound conclusion. Ready for it? Here it is: humans aren’t mice.

Shocking, I know.

The first woman to stop aging (maybe)

Some people put so much faith in the telomeres theory of aging, that they’re actually willing to wager their life on it. And that’s what Elizabeth Parrish has basically done. Parrish founded and manages BioViva – a genetic engineering company dedicated to developing cures for aging. Almost two years ago she boarded an airplane to Colombia, where she received two different kinds of treatments, both produced by her own company.

First, her white blood cells were genetically engineered, and their telomeres were elongated by around 9%. If the telomeres theory of aging is correct, and if we can count on the lab results (and neither of those is certain), then that would mean that Parish’s immune system has just grown YOUNGER by 20 years. Since she was 44 years old by the time she received the treatment, her immune system should now be 24 years old.

Secondly, Parrish’s muscle cells were genetically engineered to produce more follistatin, which is a protein that encourages muscle growth. This treatment has been proven before on human beings (albeit it was only attempted on people who suffered from muscular atrophy, and helped them indeed rebuild some of their muscle mass). It’s pretty likely that Parrish’s muscles would indeed atrophy less as she ages, as a result of that treatment.

You can do it too! (but you really shouldn’t)

And now for the best news: in the very near future, you’ll be able to undergo this treatment too.

Why do I say that? First, because it’s so easy today to genetically engineer yourself. George Church, one of the top researchers in genetic engineering, and a board member of Parrish’s company BioViva, said that a student in his lab could prepare a genetic treatment suitable for experiments in animals in a matter of days. I expect quite a few students to have fun and experiment – and maybe even share some of the good stuff with their friends.

(The same George Church, by the way, is involved with around 100 bio-medical companies, and has publicly stated that we’ll be able to reverse aging within a decade.)

The second reason you could undergo this treatment yourself, is that BioViva is now passing a survey around, apparently looking for volunteers for their next human genetic engineering experiments. BioViva is inquiring about your interest in whole body rejuvenation, muscle enhancement, skin rejuvenation, and many other therapeutics that could potentially alleviate many of the discomforts of old age.

Oh, and they’re also asking if you’ll be willing to fly to other countries to undergo the treaement beyond the border, since… well, since these treatments are essentially illegal in the US.

See, this is why I told you straight in the beginning that even if this treatment works, it’s probably the stupidest thing you could do to your body. Ever. Genetic engineering treatments mean that you are tampering with your own genes. And what happens when you do that? Usually nothing, but even if one cell out of a million goes out of control as a result of this genetic vandalism, it will start dividing again and again, creating a cancerous tumor. Definitely not good times. The risk is even greater with treatments that haven’t been tested before on human beings.

Should you do it?

So to sum up: should you do as Elizabeth Parrish and sign up for BioViva’s anti-aging treatments? I would strongly recommend against doing so. These treatments are based on a theory that isn’t yet accepted by the scientific world, and will almost certainly have unwanted side effects that will remain with you for life, since you’re playing with your own DNA.

Most importantly, though, I remind you of George Church’s words: we’ll be able to reverse aging within ten years. Personally, I believe it’ll take much longer than that – possibly thirty years or even more – but I would rather wait for the verified treatments, instead of ruining my health by applying for untested treatments that were only tried on a single human being so far.

So I’m going to wait, and will try to be patient. Immortality is worth waiting for.

(For all of you who waited patiently to find the answer regarding Ms. Parrish’s age: she underwent the treatment when she was 44 years old, which was around two years ago. I don’t know when the picture was taken, but I assume it was around that time. So – she’s probably 44 years old in the picture)

I didn’t write in the original answer about all the other theories / alleged treatments against aging. The most talked-of in the present are –

  • Reducing the level of free radicals in the body: not proven in human beings, and can be harmful at high intake levels of anti-oxidants;
  • Caloric restriction: not proven in human beings, and very difficult for almost everybody
  • Blood transfusion from young people to old ones: not proven in human beings, potentially unethical as well.

You can understand from the above list just how close scientists are to slowing down aging. There are tantalizing hints, ideas and theories, but nothing concrete as yet.

Author: Roey Tzezana, Futurist. Studying future of security,healthcare, governance

Source: Here