BioViva makes progress in anti-aging quest

Image: Telomeres
Telomeres, highlighted in green, serve as protective DNA caps for the cell’s chromosomes. (Illustration courtesy of BioViva USA)

The way BioViva founder Elizabeth Parrish sees it, biological aging is a disease – and she’s willing to bet her life on a cure.

Last fall, the 45-year-old Seattle-area woman underwent an experimental type of gene therapy aimed at addressing some of the big effects of aging, including loss of muscle mass and a shortening of the chromosomes’ telomeres. The procedure was reportedly done in Colombia, to get around U.S. regulations.

The idea of having gene therapy done on yourself raised eyebrows in the biotech community, but Parrish was unfazed.

“I 100 percent believe that it will work, or else I wouldn’t have done it,” Parrish told GeekWire during an interview in February. “I didn’t try to flame out in glory. The research shows that it should absolutely work.”

Now BioViva is reporting that it does seem to work, at least on Parrish’s telomeres. And that’s likely to fuel a debate over the widening scientific quest for greater longevity – conducted not only by BioViva, but by other ventures such as Human Longevity Inc. This week, Human Longevity announced a 10-year deal with AstraZeneca to analyze 500,000 DNA samples for anti-aging clues.

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‘Genetic superheroes’ shielded from diseases

Resilence Project
A graphic illustrates how some rare individuals seem to be shielded from childhood diseases for which they carry the genes. (Credit: The Resilience Project)

Hundreds of diseases have been linked to genetic factors, but now scientists say they’ve found some people who stay healthy even though they have disease-causing genes.

So what’s their secret?

If researchers could answer that question, they might be able to come up with new treatments and even cures for gene-linked maladies such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease or sickle-cell anemia.

The good news is that researchers have identified 13 adults who are resilient to severe childhood diseases that are in their genes. In a study published by Nature Biotechnology, researchers report that the 13 were found by analyzing genetic data from nearly 600,000 individuals.

The bad news is that it’s impossible to get back in touch with those lucky 13. When they gave their DNA samples to be analyzed, they didn’t give their consent to be recontacted. As a result, they’ll have to remain anonymous.

“It’s almost as if you got to take the wrapping off the box, and you couldn’t open the box up,” said study co-author Stephen Friend, president of Seattle-based Sage Bionetworks.

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Paul Allen boosts bioscience in Science

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Paul Allen, at right, looks over a slice of brain tissue with Allan Jones, CEO of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. (Credit: Vulcan)

Seattle billionaire Paul Allen is making a pitch for out-of-the-box bioscience from one of the scientific community’s most respected soapboxes: the editorial section of the journal Science.

In a guest editorial, Allen argues that biological science could blossom as much in the years ahead as computer science did when he and Bill Gates founded Microsoft:

“In 1975, when relatively powerful microprocessors first became available, many young entrepreneurs — including myself — were inspired to create companies, platforms, and programming tools that helped make computing available to everyone. This in turn helped spark the information revolution. Today, thanks to the increasing sophistication, speed, and power of computer modeling and other new tools such as optogenetics and multiple forms of microscopy, we are on the brink of another revolution — this time in bioscience.”

Allen himself is putting hundreds of millions of dollars toward furthering the field, through investments in the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Allen Institute for Cell Science, the newly announced Frontiers Group and other efforts.

But the revolution is not assured, Allen goes on to say.

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Gene-editing startup Editas files for IPO

Image: Feng Zhang with student
Broad Institute researcher Feng Zhang, one of the founders of Editas Medicine, works in his lab with graduate student Patrick Hsu. (Credit: Justin Knight / NSF)

Editas Medicine filed the paperwork for an initial public offering today, marking a first for the growing number of private ventures that aim to take advantage of a powerful gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9.

Among Editas’ private investors are Bng0, an investment company with funds from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Google Ventures, the venture capital fund associated with Alphabet; and Khosla Ventures, the fund fronted by startup whiz Vinod Khosla. The company is collaborating with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics on cancer treatments that take advantage of immunotherapy.

Editas was founded by several of the pioneers in the use of CRISPR-Cas9, a method that lets researchers snip and edit a wide variety of genomes to correct glitches or insert new code.

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