When the trial’s results were published in November 2021, BioViva boasted that it had done just that. “Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars devoted to dementia research, we have seen very little progress … until now,” founder CEO Liz Parrish declared in a press release. Working at the fringes of medicine, she claimed her company had succeeded where countless others had failed—by reversing the effects of aging.
Gene therapies, which modify a patient’s cells, are at the forefront of medical research. Testing is highly regulated. In the US only a few dozen have been authorized, for treating serious conditions such as cancer, vision loss, or muscular dystrophy. But in 2015, the same year it was founded, BioViva became the first company in the world to try to use a gene therapy to reverse aging, injecting a treatment it had developed into a single person. The patient? Liz Parrish, the company’s founder and CEO. This wasn’t part of a clinical trial, and it didn’t happen in the US; this wild, one-person experiment took place at a clinic in Bogota, Colombia, far from the oversight of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Shortly afterwards, on Reddit’s Futurology forum, Parrish announced that she had received this treatment in South America. She also announced that BioViva would be working to bring life-extension therapies like these to the general public. Parrish had seemingly uncovered the fountain of youth—or at least had convinced her followers of as much.
After her self-experiment, Parrish carved out a successful career promoting the potential of gene therapies for life extension, speaking at events across the world (including at WIRED’s own health summit). I first saw her in person at one of these events: the Longevity World Forum in Valencia in 2019. I would have guessed her to be in her late thirties, although by then she was almost 50. When we chatted afterward, she insisted I squeeze her arm to feel the toned muscles underneath—the product, she said, of an experimental, and as yet unapproved, gene therapy for follistatin, a protein involved in muscle growth, which she received alongside the therapy for telomerase, one of the enzymes given to MJ. AT press release issued in 2016 stated that her experiment had wound back the clock 20 years, while a paper published last year claims that, thanks to subsequent gene therapy treatments, Parrish now apparently has a biological age of 25. She is, in fact, 52.
Parrish bemoans the lethargy with which these longevity treatments are making their way to the public. Regulatory authorities are the enemy of progress, she claims; they need to stand aside and let those who are willing try anti-aging treatments. This is not only pragmatic, according to Parrish, it is ethical. Millions of people die every year of something that might potentially be cured: aging.
Parrish has codified her philosophy into something she calls “best choice medicine.” In the US, federal and state “right-to-try” laws allow doctors to offer experimental, unproven treatments to terminally ill patients. Parrish wants to see the same provisions extended to unapproved anti-aging gene therapies. When we met at her home in Bainbridge Island, Washington, last summer, she told me that the elderly should be allowed to put their lives on the line to improve their children’s chances of reaching a healthy old age. It’s the Silicon Valley “move fast and break things” mantra brought to medicine.