Liz Parrish Wants to Live Forever

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She flew down early on a Monday with out telling her husband or children the place she was going or what she was doing. By the time she landed in Bogotá it was late. The sky was hazy and darkish, the air surprisingly cool, the roads crowded and chaotic.

Her hosts had ready a mattress at their house, however she couldn’t actually sleep. The 2 gene therapies she would obtain the subsequent day—contained in dozens of vials packed in dry ice—had simply arrived from the U.S., and everybody stayed up late speaking about how they may change the course of historical past. When they drove her to the clinic on Tuesday morning, she stared by means of the window and tried to tune out the world, after which she hunched over her cellphone and texted her children: “I love you.” Few individuals concerned within the experiment, if any, even knew she was a mom.

In research she’d learn and movies she’d seen, mice that had acquired the remedy she was about to get had been reborn, their fur glistening, their muscle mass newly taut. The change was virtually fast—a matter of days, weeks.

But lab mice are completely different than individuals. She knew that numerous medication that work on them do nothing for us. “I was hoping for magic,” she says. “Of course I was.” She imagined the needles piercing her pores and skin, the clock instantly spinning in reverse, the ravages of time and climate and hardship visibly undone. She thought of what all this might imply sometime, for her and everybody else: the tip of loss of life.

The room on the clinic was clear and spare. There was a mattress and, on her proper, an IV drip, and there was a altering space the place she slipped right into a white robe with a blue sample of atomic particles. In a video of the process that she agreed to point out me virtually 3 years later, her lengthy hair spilled over the pillow as she lay down. She tried to lighten the temper by telling jokes, the identical factor she’d achieved through the births of her 2 youngsters. The others within the room—a physician, a nurse, and 2 males with video cameras—chuckled. Then they began placing within the needles.

Over a interval that lasted effectively into the evening, there can be greater than 100 injections, in her triceps and thighs and buttocks and even her face, just under the cheek. The tempo was agonizingly gradual. “So you’re saying this will still get to my organs, right?” she requested the physician as he inserted a needle under her kneecap. It would, he assured her.

Some of the vials had been nonetheless frozen, and the physician pulled them out one after the other, cradling them in his palms till they thawed. “Ready for this?” he requested as she rolled over to reveal her shoulder blades. She hugged a pillow. “Hurry up,” she laughed. “I can’t wait to get this done.”

It was after midnight when she received the final injection. She was hungry and out of jokes and uncertain of what would come subsequent. It was September 16, 2015, and an odd sort of medical historical past had been made: in an untested process that will have violated federal laws within the U.S., Elizabeth Parrish, a wholesome 44-year-old from Bainbridge Island, Washington, the founding father of a small biotech startup known as BioViva, had acquired what she believed was a stronger dose of gene remedy than another individual ever had. She did it to combat what she known as the “disease” of growing older. She was, in her personal phrases, Patient Zero within the quest for radically elevated longevity.

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Parrish in Washington (Annie Marie Musselman)

Two days later, after monitoring her for fever or vomiting, the physician determined she was protected to fly. Parrish, who’s tall and blond, of Scandinavian descent, wore a surgical masks to the airport and went dwelling. Even then she didn’t inform her household what she’d achieved, letting them imagine that it was simply one other journey for her new enterprise. “I didn’t want my husband to be stressed out, and I didn’t want him to stress me out,” she says. “I just needed everything to be normal.” When I requested later if I may interview her husband, she requested that I not. “I would really like to keep my family out of it,” she mentioned. It was a part of a sample: She most popular that I by no means come to her dwelling, so we talked on the cellphone or met in close by espresso retailers. She requested that I schedule interviews by means of BioViva’s satellite tv for pc workplace in London. She wasn’t notably used to individuals taking note of her—and now, after she’d genetically modified herself, they did greater than ever. The scrutiny made her uncomfortable.

Two weeks after Bogotá, when Parrish’s firm issued a press launch in regards to the experiment, it didn’t let on that she was the guinea pig. “BioViva Treats First Patient with Gene Therapy to Reverse Aging,” the discharge mentioned. “The subject is doing well and has resumed regular activities.” She did her finest to do exactly that. She learn books and wrote e-mails and did laundry and made dinner and walked the canine within the woods and took her children to high school. She didn’t train a lot—not more than regular, lower than medical doctors would possibly suggest. She stored a journal. She regarded within the mirror. She waited for one thing to occur. Every day for months she took a photograph of her face, but when there have been any modifications, she couldn’t see them.


Until 1 drizzly morning in January 2013, lower than 3 years earlier than she turned Patient Zero, Parrish was “mostly normal,” she informed me, simply an bizarre mother and a part-time working housewife. That day she dropped her husband off on the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal, throughout the bay from Seattle. Then she took her nine-year-old son to a physician’s appointment. The boy had been getting up lots at evening to go to the toilet, and she or he and her husband observed that he stored getting thinner. At the clinic, a physician checked his blood, checked his urine, after which checked out Parrish with a grave expression. “You have to go straight to the emergency room,” he mentioned. “He has Type 1 diabetes.” Type 1, as soon as referred to as juvenile diabetes, is a persistent situation wherein the pancreas fails to provide insulin, the hormone that enables sugar to enter cells and provide power. For a baby to stay alive and wholesome, the brand new actuality is a lifetime of fastidiously managed blood-sugar ranges and, in some instances, countless injections.

Parrish dialed her husband and handed the physician the cellphone, unable to ship the information herself. Her son begged her to let him go dwelling. Instead they drove straight to the ferry and rode throughout the uneven waters of Elliott Bay, watching in a daze as downtown Seattle rose earlier than them. Her husband was ready close to the ferry dock; collectively they sped to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Things like this weren’t imagined to occur to her children. “I was such a nervous parent,” Parrish says. Before the household’s transfer to forested Bainbridge Island, when the youngsters had been younger they usually lived in Seattle, she’d made her home the neighborhood hangout—partly in order that they wouldn’t be out of sight. Soccer was allowed, however she didn’t allow them to attempt riskier actions like river rafting or climbing. And but none of that had helped her son.

Seattle Children’s Hospital sprawls throughout 25 acres within the metropolis’s rich north finish. It’s constantly ranked among the many finest pediatric services within the U.S., and its 403 beds are full of the nation’s neediest instances—children with most cancers, coronary heart illness, neurological issues, mind harm. The nurses and medical doctors gave Parrish and her husband a multi-day crash course in diabetes administration. They assured her that her son had a manageable illness. “I can’t say enough good things about Children’s,” Parrish says. But experiencing the routines of contemporary American medication additionally left her indignant.

Even earlier than her son’s analysis, Parrish had obsessively learn medical information and science journals and the Facebook web page I F#ing Love Science, monitoring scientific research like some individuals observe sports activities. Working with individuals she’d met on the web, she had launched a nonprofit group, Stem Cell Voice, to teach the general public about stem cells and in the end push regulators to get life-changing remedies put into observe quicker. Her son’s situation prompted Parrish to take a deeper look, and she or he turned bothered by a disconnect. Science appeared to be accelerating—we’d decoded the human genome, cloned human stem cells, and began rising alternative organs—however medication was standing nonetheless, she thought, held again by an overzealous FDA that required years of trials and a whole bunch of tens of millions of ’ value of R&D earlier than new remedies had been accepted. Now that her son was mendacity in a hospital mattress, the delays had been private.

“Why don’t we biobank his pancreas?” she requested her son’s nurse. She figured they may save a part of it, freeze it, and await a future when it may very well be reengineered to provide insulin once more. Didn’t they know what was doable now with stem cells?

“Look around,” the nurse mentioned, attempting to provide Parrish some perspective. Her son would survive. Many of the encompassing beds held children who wouldn’t. “But that was even more unacceptable,” Parrish says. “I just remember being so angry, so angry that kids were dying.”


The household went dwelling to Bainbridge, and Parrish went right into a darkish place. She imagined her son lifeless. She imagined his funeral. She imagined her loss of life. She tried to meditate however as a substitute noticed herself strolling downstairs and discovering his physique, replaying the picture of him being lifeless again and again.

Before lengthy her son went again to high school and her husband to work, and Parrish went on-line, channeling her sense of urgency right into a hunt for cures. She traveled to medical conferences, the place she stopped researchers within the halls with a query: “Can this help kids?” she requested. “How can it help kids?”

In September 2013, Parrish flew to Cambridge, England, for the 6th biennial convention of the SENS Foundation. SENS, which stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, is co-led by the anti-aging motion’s most recognizable face, Aubrey de Grey, a beer-loving polymath with an extended, ragged beard. De Grey, who starred in a 2014 documentary known as The Immortalists, has a background in laptop science and biology, and he makes use of cash he inherited, together with donations from Silicon Valley titans like Peter Thiel, to fund rigorous analysis into growing older. The convention attracts researchers and philosophers and scientists like George Church, the famed Harvard geneticist. All the attendees are thrown collectively within the Queens College dorms.

Parrish, one among roughly 200 individuals in attendance, raced after consultants after they completed their talks, peppering them with questions, discussing the way forward for genetics with Church—whose initiatives at Harvard embody attempting to resurrect the woolly mammoth by cloning—earlier than she actually even knew who he was. She watched displays on calorie restriction and gene modifying and tissue regeneration, and she or he heard speaker after speaker point out one thing known as telomeres—tiny items of genetic materials described because the physique’s inside clock. People right here had been dreaming brazenly of an immortal future, of cures for all illnesses, and when Parrish requested antiaging researchers her regular query, some appeared to say, Yes, this science may assist children. Of course it may. Curing loss of life would assist everybody. “What do you need?” she requested. They wanted more cash.

Money’s simple, Parrish thought. She’d helped her husband within the household’s software program enterprise, and she or he’d watched different tech corporations carry it in. Funding this analysis appeared much more necessary than creating an app. Though she didn’t have the proper levels and she or he’d by no means launched a startup, she was determined for cures. She had a thoughts for science. She knew she may allure individuals. She determined to begin an organization.

Without realizing it, Parrish was simply forward of Silicon Valley and its newly middle-aged billionaires, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page amongst them. Less than 2 weeks after SENS 6, Google launched a life-extension unit known as Calico, seeding it with a reported $1.5 billion. A 12 months later, the hedge-fund supervisor Joon Yun established the $1 million Palo Alto Longevity Prize. In 2016, the Bay Area startup Ambrosia started providing parabiosis remedies—transfusions that blend the blood of older adults with blood drawn from youngsters and younger adults—for $8,000 per liter. Last 12 months, Silicon Valley’s new Longevity Fund, led by 23-year-old Laura Deming, raised a fast $22 million, and the Bay Area’s Unity Biotechnology, which goals to zap dying cells from the physique earlier than they will accumulate, accomplished elevating a $151 million spherical of funding from the likes of Thiel and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The Valley had discovered a brand new downside to hack. If the physique was a machine, loss of life was simply an engineering problem.

A fellow conferencegoer from SENS 6 informed Parrish that there was somebody she actually needed to meet. His identify was Bill Andrews. He was an ultramarathoner, a microbiologist, and a number one professional on telomeres—maybe the one individual within the antiaging world with the standing of de Grey, with whom he would costar in The Immortalists. Parrish known as Andrews virtually as quickly as she received dwelling from Cambridge. She doesn’t keep in mind the small print of their first dialog, simply that he had solutions. “We really hit it off,” she informed me. “We talked and talked and talked.”


For Bill Andrews, now 66, the search started in 1962, when he was ten. He was in his entrance yard in Southern California, wanting up on the evening sky by means of a secondhand telescope—his Christmas present—with an eight-inch reflector. Andrews’s father, who was tall and considerate like he’s, had observed his son’s intense curiosity in science. “He came out to the front lawn,” Andrews recollects, “and he said, ‘Bill, when you grow up, you should become a doctor and find a cure for aging. I don’t know why nobody’s done that.’ ” Andrews by no means forgot his father’s phrases. “I plan to live forever,” he writes in his new e book, Telomere Lengthening. “A lot of people claim that aging is something that we can do gracefully. It’s not. Aging is one of the worst things that can happen to a person.”

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Illustration of telomeres on the guidelines of human chromosomes (Hybrid Medical/Science Source)

Even earlier than Andrews went to school, and effectively earlier than he earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology on the University of Georgia, he had questioned the prevailing theories about growing older. “Everybody used to think that we age because of exposure to the environment,” he says, the consensus being that we merely broke down “like old trucks sitting in a field.” But that didn’t appear proper. Why did individuals dwelling at excessive latitudes age on the identical price as individuals on the equator? Why did canine and cats age at completely different charges?

“I thought there had to be a clock that ticks inside of us, and that’s the only way to explain aging,” he says. Andrews was in his forties by the point he heard a couple of idea that made sense. In 1993, at a California lodge close to Lake Tahoe, he attended a chat by Calvin Harley, then the chief scientific officer of the Geron Corporation—which takes its identify from gerontology, the science of growing older—and listened in awe as Harley argued that repetitive DNA sequences known as telomeres function the physique’s mobile timepieces. Afterward, Andrews raced to the entrance of the room and requested Harley for a job. He received it.

Telomeres sit on the ideas of chromosomes, contained in the nuclei of human cells. Whenever a cell divides and its DNA is replicated, the telomeres turn out to be incrementally shorter, shrinking and shrinking till they’re almost depleted and the cells can divide no extra.

Telomeres and telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens them, had been found within the late 1970s and early 1980s by scientists Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak. They made impartial breakthroughs by finding out pond scum and yeast cells, and their work turned out to be so consequential for different organisms that it gained them a Nobel Prize in 2009.

At Geron, Andrews and his crew had been tasked with discovering the human telomerase gene—which in principle may produce the enzyme and assist replenish depleted telomeres. They regarded for the telltale sequences in most cancers cells, then Andrews used a pc program he had written to research the buildings of promising candidates. In simply over 3 months, they discovered the proper gene: TRC3, later renamed TERC, or telomerase RNA part. A 12 months later they found the essential protein part, hTERT, or human telomerase reverse transcriptase. They started testing it in petri dishes, watching regular cells divide endlessly. They examined turning hTERT off in most cancers cells, stopping the manufacturing of telomerase, killing the most cancers cells by accelerating their growing older. Soon Geron researchers had been rising human pores and skin from the cells of outdated individuals on the backs of lab mice, then treating the tissue with telomerase and seeing wrinkles, blisters, and age spots disappear.

In 1995, Geron revealed its telomerase discovery within the prestigious journal Science. It filed a raft of patent functions, a few of them in partnership with the University of Colorado. The firm thought it may need 2 breakthroughs on its palms—a treatment for most cancers, which might contain inhibiting telomerase in most cancers cells, and a treatment for growing older, which might contain including it or inducing it to wholesome ones. It selected to deal with most cancers first.

“That just shocked me,” Andrews says. “People have been looking for something to cure aging from the beginning of time, and this was the closest thing yet.”

Andrews left Geron and, in 1999, began Sierra Sciences, a biotech firm centered totally on growing older. Bankrolled by 5 main traders, he started racing to discover a pharmaceutical resolution—in essence, a telomere drug. With dozens of staffers by the mid-2000s and a month-to-month price range of 1,000,000 , they recognized greater than 900 chemical compounds that measurably induced telomerase. Immortality appeared proper across the nook. Then the 2008 monetary disaster hit, and funding dried up.

By 2013, when Liz Parrish known as Andrews, Sierra Sciences was working on about $100,000 a month, stored afloat largely by the mental property it licensed to different corporations. Until Andrews may spherical up critical cash once more, an FDA-approved telomere drug can be nowhere in sight. When Parrish phoned, he was 61, 1/2 a century older than when he’d first determined to treatment growing older, and the clock was nonetheless ticking.

There’s an attention-grabbing recording of Parrish and Andrews’s early conversations: a short-lived podcast that Parrish began when she launched the corporate that preceded BioViva, which she’d known as BioTrove Investments. The 2 of them go over the fundamentals of telomerase, hTERT, and an idea known as the Hayflick Limit, a scientific precept established in 1961 by Leonard Hayflick, a professor of medical microbiology, and his colleague, Paul Moorhead.

Until then it was believed that human cells functioned like micro organism—that they may divide without end. Hayflick proved this wasn’t true. He noticed that human cells in a petri dish may divide a finite variety of instances, round 50, earlier than stopping and getting into a sort of zombie state referred to as senescence. A teenager’s cells, basically, can maintain doubling longer than an aged individual’s.

“Somehow, the cells know how old they are,” Andrews says on the podcast. “The number of divisions levels off. That’s the Hayflick Limit. What’s now known is that it’s caused by telomere shortening.” Parrish asks how telomerase impacts the Hayflick Limit. “Well,” Andrews solutions, his voice selecting up, “it obliterates it.”

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Bill Andrews (left) and Aubrey de Grey (Myleen Hollero)

Andrews goes on to say that gene remedy is the best technique to get across the restrict, however that the FDA is unlikely to approve such a remedy as a result of growing older isn’t categorized as a illness. He cautions that the results of activating telomerase in all of 1’s cells are unknown, and that gene remedy is a critical dedication—you possibly can’t simply undo it. “Maybe that might be OK,” he says. “We just don’t know yet.”

He additionally mentions a 2010 research led by Ronald DePinho, then of Harvard University, wherein the results of turning on the telomerase gene in lab mice was a visual and dramatic return of youthfulness. “Whether it’s a true reversal of aging requires more studies,” he concludes. “But it sure looked good. I’d sure like to be one of those mice.”

Parrish laughs. Perhaps she already is aware of that Andrews will conform to assemble a part of her gene remedy. “Yeah,” she says. “I think we all would.”


Six months earlier than Bogotá, in March 2015, Parrish made her first public look as CEO of BioViva. The setting was a enterprise park in Scottsdale, Arizona, that serves because the assembly place of People Unlimited, a self-described “educational, lifestyle, and social organization for people passionate about living unlimited life spans.” This was a pleasant crowd of some dozen, many on the older facet, they usually had been particularly open to Parrish’s message.

The group, whose 3 leaders had beforehand run an outfit known as the Eternal Flame Foundation, had simply misplaced one among them, a preacher named Charles Paul Brown, who had begun assembling his flock within the 1960s after experiencing what he known as a “Christing of the flesh” and supposedly turning into immortal. Acolytes had paid 1000’s of a 12 months to be taught from him and his spouse, Bernadeane, and their buddy and enterprise accomplice, James Strole. But Brown had suffered from Parkinson’s and coronary heart illness, and he died at 79. A People Unlimited spokesperson admitted that Brown hadn’t actually practiced what he preached—he hadn’t exercised sufficient, for 1 factor—and Strole and Bernadeane continued on, attempting to encourage the flock with out him.

Parrish took the stage at People Unlimited carrying a collared shirt and black blazer, discovering her place between a child grand piano and a muddle of different musical devices. She’d all the time hated public talking. But she was turning into a special individual now.

“The reason I got into this was to cure childhood disease,” she mentioned. “I never thought I’d be speaking on longevity. But when I started to look into the science, I started to realize it was time to fight a new war—the first old man’s war. By curing aging, we can help many of the diseases that children have.”

With outstanding fluency, she ran by means of a historical past of mortality. Humans as soon as died largely from infectious illnesses. Then we developed antibiotics. Now we die largely from the maladies of growing older—most cancers, coronary heart illness, Alzheimer’s. We have to develop a brand new sort of breakthrough expertise, she mentioned. We want gene remedy.

A brand appeared on the display screen behind her. “This is my company, BioViva,” she mentioned. She opened her arms grandly, smiled broadly, then giggled. “We want to change everything.”

To get U.S. authorities approval “to bring gene therapies to you,” Parrish went on, “I would have to go raise almost a billion dollars. It would take about 15 years of testing. And when I’m looking out there, I’m seeing people who don’t want to wait 15 years.” The crowd started clapping, and Parrish fed off it. “How do we actually change this paradigm? Well, what we do is we burn and raze everything to the ground. And we start over.” People hooted and cheered.

In the U.S., she continued, bioethics “go kind of like this: A doctor shall not harm, and yet a doctor shall put you on every pharmaceutical. They’ll put lines into your body. They’ll keep you alive until you absolutely can’t stay alive anymore, and then they’ll let you go, and they’ll feel like they’ve done a good job. I want to change that. I want to say that their experiment has effectively failed. We will now move into what they consider experimental medicine.”

By the time of her speak in Scottsdale, Parrish had already known as investor after investor, lastly securing 1 who may present the $250,000 wanted to pay for a gene-therapy experiment in Bogotá. She already knew the take a look at topic can be her.

She had additionally assembled a crew of medical doctors and scientists at BioViva, together with a radiologist named Jason Williams who had signed on as the corporate’s chief medical officer. Williams was noteworthy for 2 causes. First, it was Parrish’s understanding that he had expertise with the usage of a gene-therapy remedy meant to inhibit the protein myostatin, which regulates muscle development. (Experiments that inhibited myostatin had resulted in comically ripped “mighty mice” at Johns Hopkins University, in addition to the start round 2000 of a really strong boy in Berlin, who medical doctors known as Superbaby.) Second, he had lately opened a clinic in Bogotá after clashing with the FDA over unapproved stem-cell remedies that he was offering in Alabama.

One of the primary issues BioViva would do concerned “a very special gene therapy,” Parrish informed the People Unlimited viewers. “It’s special because it’s the only gene therapy that’s actually reversed aging in animals. It reversed aging in every human tissue it’s been applied to.” She smiled once more. “This is our biggest hope. Why it has never been used in a human body, I have no idea. I guess that’s why I came along.” The crowd cheered once more. “Thank you, thank you,” she mentioned.


As Parrish knew, Strole and Bernadeane had been planning one thing massive for 2016: a gathering in Southern California they might name RAADfest—the Revolution Against Aging and Death Festival—which might carry collectively the true believers of People Unlimited with the extra scientific set from SENS 6.

“I understand we’ll be meeting in 2016,” Parrish informed the gang at People Unlimited. “My company will shoot to have results of age reversal by the time we meet.”

As it occurred, the information of Parrish’s gene remedy broke earlier than RAADfest. In late 2015, Antonio Regalado, a reporter from MIT Technology Review, started poking round, calling BioViva’s scientific advisers and urgent for particulars about what had occurred within the experiment. At least one of many unpaid advisers, who in lots of instances had met Parrish at conferences and had been charmed sufficient to be listed on BioViva’s web site, now had questions of their very own about what she had achieved.

She determined to get forward of the Technology Review reporter, who didn’t initially know that she had been the experiment’s take a look at topic. On a Sunday morning in October, 3 days earlier than his story was revealed underneath the title “A Tale of Do-It-Yourself Gene Therapy,” she logged into Reddit, introducing herself as “the woman who wants to genetically engineer you” and because the CEO of BioViva. “I am not a medical doctor or scientist,” she wrote. But BioViva had simply handled its first affected person for growing older. “AMA,” she typed—ask me anything.

The first commenter requested her favourite pizza topping. “Sun-dried tomatoes,” she answered. “:)”

The subsequent individual requested: How did you choose the primary affected person? “I am Patient Zero,” she answered. “I have aging as a disease.”

Testing BioViva’s merchandise first on herself, Parrish mentioned, had been the one moral selection. She had been injected with each hTERT and a myostatin inhibitor. The Redditors praised her bravery. “I am proud to have taken part in helping millions of people, even if it has bad results,” she wrote. “I am happy to be Patient Zero. It is for the world, for the sick children and sick old people.”

Was there a most cancers danger? somebody requested. BioViva can be monitoring all identified most cancers biomarkers in her physique, Parrish answered. But inserting the telomerase gene in lab animals hadn’t elevated their most cancers charges, she mentioned.

“Do remember that the most important risk factor for cancer is growing older,” she wrote. “Most cancers occur in people over the age of 65.”

What about bizarre individuals: Would they be capable to afford the remedy? “Gene therapy technology is much like computing technology,” she replied. “We had to build the super computer, which cost $8 million in the 1960s. Now everyone has technologies that work predictably and at a cost the average person can afford.”

As the AMA went on, the questions began to turn out to be extra existential. “If/when this becomes reality for the general public,” somebody requested, “how will this affect population rates?” And what in regards to the bodily limitations of the planet? What in regards to the chance that we may create 2 lessons of individuals: an overclass that would afford to pay for these therapies and an underclass that dies proper on schedule?

BioViva wasn’t “trying to determine who should live or die,” Parrish wrote. “Everyone has a right to life without suffering.” A person assailed her logic: “It’s not obviously true that life-extension technology will reduce the number of lives lived in suffering.… You are trying to create technologies which, if successful, are likely to change the distribution of deaths among the population, and the potential wider effects of that change deserve some consideration.”

She responded shortly. “As life span increases, fertility rates go down all over the world,” she wrote. “Humans will create better technology and space travel will increase.” She quickly signed off. The good outcomes that had appeared apparent to her had been apparently much less apparent to the remainder of the world.


By the time the MIT Technology Review article got here out in October 2015, 1 member of BioViva’s scientific advisory board, University of Washington gerontologist George Martin, had resigned. Another, George Church, pressured his assist for correct scientific trials and appeared to downplay his ties to BioViva.

“I advise people who need advice, and they clearly need advice,” he later informed The Guardian—whilst his lab accepted the blood samples Parrish despatched in after the Bogotá experiment. Early telomere advocate Michael Fossel, a doctor who wrote the 1996 e book Reversing Human Aging, together with The Telomerase Revolution in 2015, and who now ran a biotech firm that deliberate to make use of hTERT to fight Alzheimer’s, supplied damning reward for Parrish on his weblog.

“We cannot help but applaud Liz’s courage in using herself as a subject, a procedure with a long (and occasionally checkered) history in medical science,” he wrote. And doing so “undercuts much of the ethical criticism that would be more pointed if she used other patients.” But the usual path, together with FDA-approved trials, assured 3 issues: security, efficacy, and credibility. In Parrish’s case, what had occurred was extra like a single trial with a single topic, which wasn’t rigorous sufficient to offer credible proof of something. “It is easy to act, it can even be easy to act with genuine compassion,” Fossel concluded, “but it is hard to act effectively and harder still to ensure that compassion is not only the intent, but the final reality.”

Parrish’s Reddit AMA and Regalado’s story had been adopted by a flood of weblog posts, YouTube movies, and interviews with websites like Singularity Weblog and Longevity Reporter. The Guardian and Discover journal known as.

“The experiment seems likely to be remembered as either a new low in medical quackery or, perhaps, the unlikely start of an era in which people receive genetic modifications not just to treat disease, but to reverse aging,” Regalado had written. In the perimeter the place Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey usually dipped their toes, the place actual science blended with one thing approaching faith, Parrish turned a right away hero. Conference bookers invited her to provide keynote speeches all over the world. She was quickly flying to Moscow, New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Oslo, Oxford, and even Astana, Kazakhstan. She started dwelling part-time on Bainbridge Island, part-time out of a suitcase.

She informed her finest buddy what she’d achieved, then her dad, who’s in his seventies and has early signs of Parkinson’s illness. He informed her she did the proper factor. And but, for one more seven months after the Reddit AMA, whilst extra information tales ran and Facebook lit up together with her identify, Parrish nonetheless stored the information from her husband and children.

Then at some point within the spring of 2016, her son got here dwelling from center college with a query. He’d learn on the web that she’d genetically modified herself. Was this true?

She couldn’t withhold any longer. “I was like, ‘Oh, honey, I did,’ ” she recollects. The boy, now soccer obsessed and efficiently navigating life with diabetes, took it in. Then he began singing: “Mom’s gonna live forever. Mom’s gonna live forever.”

Parrish says her husband was furious when she lastly informed him, however she nonetheless felt positive that her actions had been mandatory. It wasn’t proper to disregard an issue, particularly 1 as massive as loss of life, and simply depart it for the subsequent era to attempt to resolve. She did this for the youngsters, she informed her husband. “I’m teaching them how to live.”

It was clear that one thing had modified inside her, however as time handed it was lower than clear whether or not that one thing was bodily. She hadn’t turned again right into a 25-year-old. Nor, on the brilliant facet, did she seem to have most cancers. Her biomarkers—triglycerides, C-reactive proteins, muscle mass—had been promising however in the end inconclusive, since they had been the outcomes of only one individual, and never revealed in a peer-reviewed research.

In April 2016, BioViva issued one other press launch: “First Gene Therapy Successful Against Human Aging.” The outcomes of Parrish’s telomere assessments had been in. Comparing blood that was drawn earlier than and after her process, a specialist lab in Houston had decided that her white blood cells’ telomeres—whose size was measured by counting the variety of DNA base pairs—had elevated by 9 p.c. The launch mentioned that this was equal to reversing 20 years of growing older. But there was no revealed research to go together with it, and the information was simple to dismiss.

Throughout Parrish’s ascent to telomere superstardom, Bill Andrews remained largely silent about her gene remedy—till lately. “I take full blame,” he informed me. “I was a chickenshit. You can quote me on that.” He doesn’t remorse getting Parrish enthusiastic about telomeres, and he doesn’t remorse his half in her gene remedy. What he means is that, as a result of he informed her he couldn’t be concerned in any experiment—as a result of he didn’t wish to jeopardize his years of analysis if it went awry—he wasn’t there at her facet to verify she did it proper. “She’s really made telomere biology come out to the forefront,” Andrews says. “She’ll never be left out of the history of telomere biology.” But the very fact is, she appears just about the identical as she did earlier than, and what she did wasn’t a scientific trial. “I can’t even tell if she used a legitimate protocol” when she used the gene remedy, Andrews says. “We didn’t get enough data. We don’t have anything we can really measure.” To Andrews, Parrish is an instance of somebody who was extremely courageous, however not somebody who turned younger once more.


When RAADfest 2017 opened its doorways final August, Parrish was midway by means of her 46th 12 months. She wore a black gown and purple lipstick and an Apple Watch, and in her purse she had an iPh1 with an app that allow her observe her son’s blood-sugar ranges in actual time, day or evening. For the 2d 12 months in a row, Strole and Bernadeane had been internet hosting RAADfest on the Town and Country San Diego, an outdated 42-acre resort lodge with swimming swimming pools and plastic flamingos and a conference middle that was just a few ft from the sting of Interstate 8.

liz parrish
Parrish talking at RAADfest 2017 (McKenzie Funk)

Beneath the Town and Country chandeliers, gray-haired attendees took gradual steps on light carpets, making their technique to the primary stage or the exhibition space, referred to as RAADcity, the place entrepreneurs hawked nutraceuticals, deuterium-free water, stem-cell banking, ozone therapies, and $100,000 “health-optimization packages.” Bill Andrews generally stood subsequent to an almost full-size portrait of Bill Andrews, which marketed an antiaging pores and skin serum known as One Truth 818. One man walked round carrying a shirt that mentioned MAY I BID ON YOUR CRYONICS LIFE INSURANCE?

Parrish tried to keep away from RAADcity. All the unscientific claims made her uncomfortable, she informed me. She strode tall by means of the convention middle, trailed at instances by a movie crew from the BBC, and strangers and mates stored stopping her. I watched her discipline questions from a younger girl on crutches, then maintain palms for 1/2 an hour with a hunched outdated girl from People Unlimited who was begging for entry to BioViva’s gene remedy. A younger man from New York City whose mom was terminally sick adopted Parrish round, writing down every little thing she mentioned. Just a couple of years in the past, at SENS 6, this had been her. Now she was on the opposite facet, attempting to provide individuals hope.

What Parrish had been saying about genomics—that we had been on the verge of a revolution—appeared to be coming true. On the primary day of RAADfest, simply as a biomedical engineer from George Church’s lab at Harvard gave a chat on utilizing the genome-editing device Crispr to change genes on and off, attendees noticed a headline pop up on their telephones: “Gene Editing Spurs Hope for Transplanting Pig Organs into Humans.” Just a few weeks later, the FDA would approve the primary gene-altering remedy to combat leukemia, a remedy from Novartis known as Kymriah. Two months after that, it might approve the same gene remedy for the blood most cancers non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That fall, gene remedy would even be proven to save lots of youngsters with the deadly mind illness adrenoleukodystrophy, and medical doctors in Europe would use gene remedy to regrow the pores and skin of a younger Syrian boy, saving his life.

At the primary stage, I watched Parrish give a rousing speech about medical selection—“You have a right to do with your body what you wish!”—and get a standing ovation. Then I listened as Aubrey de Grey anointed her with a shock endorsement. Pacing the stage in a purple shirt and light denims, he described a revelation he’d solely had effectively into his maturity: not everybody agreed that loss of life was crucial downside on the earth.

“You don’t enter into discussions with people about obvious stuff, right?” he mentioned. “I never said, What color do you think the sky is?” He now understood that it wasn’t sufficient to elucidate how people may prolong life—additionally they needed to clarify why. He may do the science half. Strole and Bernadeane may do the motivation half. “RAADfest is a success because of the combination of those two things,” he mentioned. “But the best thing we could possibly have is to see that combination in a single person. And I believe that Liz Parrish does that better than anybody else.”

Parrish barely caught de Grey’s speech. She was spending quite a lot of time within the eating corridor, huddled at one of many spherical tables with Andrews, speaking in low tones about offers and contracts. A mysterious investor, or fairly the mysterious worker of an unnamed potential investor, appeared and disappeared. Another man, with a shaved head and a thick construct, generally hovered, too.

For 2 years, Parrish had been claiming that BioViva would quickly open abroad clinics—maybe within the Caribbean or Latin America, maybe someplace nearer to Europe. Not lengthy earlier than RAADfest 2016, she and Andrews had made a coordinated announcement: they had been partnering in a brand new enterprise known as BioViva Fiji. They confirmed off an architectural rendering of a generically trendy gene-therapy clinic, all metal beams and large home windows and wooden accents. They appeared to be ready on funding—Andrews’s regular state of suspended animation, and now, it appeared, Parrish’s, too. When the Fijian press caught wind of BioViva Fiji, authorities informed journalists that it didn’t exist, not even on paper. And at RAADfest 2017, neither Parrish nor Andrews appeared too eager to speak about it anymore.


It took a couple of months earlier than I understood what I used to be seeing within the eating corridor. It was the prelude to a breakup, a pleasant (and maybe non permanent) parting of the way. In December 2017, a brand new firm known as Libella Gene Therapeutics, run by a bald occupational therapist from Kansas, Jeff Mathis, introduced that it had secured an unique license from Bill Andrews for his AAV Reverse (hTERT) transcriptase enzyme expertise. Libella was now recruiting sufferers for a first-ever research in Cartagena, Colombia. “By inducing telomerase,” a press launch mentioned, “Dr. Andrews and Libella Gene Therapeutics hope to lengthen telomeres in the body’s cells.”

There was no point out of BioViva, no point out of Parrish, no point out of her self-experiment. Parrish and her ambiguous outcomes appeared to be lacking from the story. Telomerase had “never been put into humans, except at low doses,” Andrews excitedly informed an interviewer. He was sure it was going to work. The upcoming trial in Cartagena, he mentioned, “is actually the first opportunity in over 25 years of research where we’re actually going to be able to show that everything I’ve been doing was worthwhile.”

“We fall into time,” Parrish likes to say. It’s meant to sound futuristic. We all the time maintain ourselves busy, she means. We fill the house. It’s her inventory reply to a query immortalists usually hear: If we dwell without end, gained’t we get bored? It may additionally clarify how she turned Patient Zero, and the way nothing and every little thing has modified since then. Life retains hurtling ahead.

On a latest sunny day on Bainbridge Island, Parrish and I met for lunch so she may inform me about BioViva’s new route. She regarded like a wholesome and regular 46-year-old. She mentioned she felt like she had at the very least slightly extra power than earlier than. She wished to order the soup, however it wasn’t vegan, so she went for a salad.

“So, BioViva is now a bioinformatics company!” she introduced. It was pivoting. It wasn’t attempting to do scientific trials in the meanwhile. Even offshore, away from the FDA, they value tens of millions of , and elevating that sort of cash to do conventional trials would quantity to the sort of slow-moving medication she was attempting to beat. BioViva can be an information platform for different corporations, gathering and analyzing the knowledge they gathered from their trials. She talked about a budding partnership with the dealer Integrated Health Systems, which has a sparse-looking web site, put collectively previously few months, that claims to attach biotech corporations and paying sufferers with medical doctors who focus on gene remedy. She talked about one other potential partnership with an organization in Hong Kong that does machine studying. She didn’t have something to say about Libella. She simply wasn’t centered on what they had been planning in Colombia.

Parrish appeared much less guarded than earlier than. Lately, she informed me, she had been attempting to spend extra time at dwelling together with her son, like within the days earlier than his analysis, earlier than she began touring consistently. “I’m just so stuck on this kid,” she informed me. “He’s getting so big. I’m so proud of him.” She informed me about his soccer crew. She stored checking his insulin ranges with the cellphone app. She appeared genuinely glad. It was as if she’d stopped attempting fairly so onerous to dwell without end, however she was nonetheless attempting onerous to dwell. 

McKenzie Funk (@McKenzieFunk) is the writer of Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming. He lives in Seattle.


(Editor references)

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