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Gene Therapy: The Road To Immortality Or Eternal Doom

First Posted: Mar 25, 2017 05:27 AM EDT
Gene Therapy: The Road To Immortality Or Eternal Doom
Application of gene therapy for achieving longevity is full of medical and ethical conundrums.
(Photo : InformOverload/YouTube screenshot)

Gene therapy in theory implies the administration of healthy genetic components into an organism with the aim to cure a disease. Conventionally, it is applied or at least proposed to be applied in the treatment of incurable chronic diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders. But what happens if gene therapy is used to regress the effects of aging or, in other terms, achieve immortality?

Though it sounds too sci-fi and non pragmatic, some people have already started experimenting with the notion. Elizabeth Parrish, who earlier used to work for software companies in Seattle, made the headlines after she voluntarily took gene therapy to cure "aging," Wired reported.

Of course, aging is not a disease. However, as time passes, our body, its miniscule cells and the organelles and biomolecules present inside it (including DNA) get damaged. The wear and tear of these subcellular components is inflicted on the overall physiology of the body. This is why people tend to develop certain age-related diseases.

Scientists have proposed that the age-related DNA damage can be reversed by restricting the shortening of telomeres. Back in 2015, Parrish voluntarily tested the very same telomerase gene therapy on herself. By that time scientists have indicated that the said therapy is capable of increasing longevity in worms and mice. Its human application was and still is restricted due to ethical concerns.

Subsequent analysis of Parrish's genetic samples indicated that the gene therapy has managed to increase the length of telomeres by 600 base pairs, which is supposedly equivalent to living an extra 20 human years. Inspired by her results, Parrish opened up a company called "BioViva" that works on implementing the persisting knowledge on gene therapy for the treatment of diseases and aging, Genetic Literacy Project reported.

The company was criticized by the entire scientific community regarding its carelessness in handling, implementation and distribution of the technology (gene based drugs) developed on the basis of extremely sensitive data -- the gene therapy data. On the flip side, if BioViva manages to achieve what no one else dared to do, then the company and Parrish herself may become the pioneers of gene therapy-based drugs.

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