I don’t like this one tiny bit.

I’m not a biologist, you probably know that. I’m thinking about getting a degree in biology, but presently I have no competence to say what makes sense and what does not, biologically speaking. All I say on this website about what may or may not cure ageing is the word of experts of the field, which I merely repeat in a different fashion.

However, having studied natural sciences and having been around on the planet for long enough, I’ve learned to be skeptical about solutions that seem too easy. Especially when the silver bullet seems to have been discovered much too suddenly.

As you probably remember, BioViva has recently experimented a type of gene therapy against ageing on its own CEO Liz Parrish. The aim of the treatment was to lengthen her telomeres, and according to preliminary data, it worked. I care to emphasise the fact that this experiment had a sample size of one.

Dr. Bill Andrews, founder of Sierra Sciences and discoverer of telomerase, the enzyme used by cells to lenghten their own telomeres, has always been dead set on curing ageing—a very noble goal. Thing is, Sierra Sciences and BioViva have now teamed up and apparently launched a company called BioViva Fiji, unsurprisingly located on the homonymous island. They’re building a clinic where this treatment can be administered to arguably rich clients. The reason Fiji was chosen as the location of this clinic is that the Fiji equivalent of FDA seems to have much less strict regulations.

In a video that is not so new any more (I am a slow poster), Dr. Andrews announced the creation of BioViva Fiji and made some pretty bold statements, such as a cure for ageing to be expected “really, really soon.”

You certainly know how much I wish for ageing to be brought under medical control, so you would think I should be excited at the news. I’m not. Why?

This is sketchy as fuck. Bold claims about curing ageing—something most people on the planet probably still think to be nonsense—a private, expensive clinic on the other side of the world where regulations don’t matter as much as setting up medical businesses, and a miracle treatment coming from an experiment with sample size ONE that hasn’t even been fully monitored yet. I’m betting you anything most people’s scam indicator would go through the roof, irrespective of how effective the treatment actually is. This is the kind of stuff that gives the field a bad reputation, and if BioViva were to be wrong or if nasty side effects were to arise as a consequence of the treatment, shit would hit the fan for BioViva, and I fear the shockwave would be felt throughout the entire anti-ageing research field.

It seems awfully simple. Andrews seem to think telomerase/gene therapy is the silver bullet that will fully cure ageing, and while, I repeat, I am not qualified to say he’s wrong, it seems too damn easy. All age-related diseases would boil down to your telomeres getting too short? Is he saying that other age-related damange, like the seven categories of damage that the SENS platform is supposed to fix, are not really relevant? Or can they too be fixed with a shot of telomerase? (I hope he’s not saying that about cancer, because cancer may have 99 problems, but telomerase ain’t one.)

I’m sorry, but I don’t like this. It doesn’t come across as respectable scientists pushing research foward, but rather like a group of a bit too enthusiastic people who think they’ve already solved the general case of a problem because they have got a particular case sort of maybe working. I may be a boring traditionalist, but I still prefer the SENS approach, and I’m not talking only about their approach to defeating ageing, but also to doing science.

2 thoughts on “I don’t like this one tiny bit.

  1. I’m not attacking or defending BioViva or Sierra Sciences. I might be able to give a little additional context, however.

    Andrews has done this previously. He’s used income generated as a result of his early work (which while groundbreaking may have been of only very minor benefit in humans) to help fund new research. While that path has tremendous potential for corruption, what science needs more than anything right now is money.

    We hear Aubrey de Gray talk about “sticker shock”, excellent scientists have to do multiple post-docs before they can get any funding. You might blame the economy, but at the same time things like “Exploding Kittens” (the card game) generate millions of dollars in a month or three.

    Back to Andrews’ tactics, last fall he found some compounds that were, off-the-cuff, about 80 times more effective at activating telomerase than the previous ones, and was considering another product to continue his funding, and to hopefully help people in the meantime. He was very enthusiastic about it. When BioViva came out with it’s results, it’s no surprise he partnered with them, and is contributing his funds-raising style as a result.

    Meanwhile, BioViva has samples of Ms. Parrish’s blood from before the experiment, and at intervals between. They’re available to established labs for testing so that BioViva’s results can be verified. They’ve been criticized for not having multiple testing processes done at exactly the same time, but if there aren’t other labs willing to do the tests at the time, that criticism rings pretty hollow.

    The Fiji announcement raises my eyebrow as well, but we won’t know for a while yet.

    Now that they have everyone’s attention what I’d like to see is BioViva ‘call B.S.’ on the skepticism around the “Liz Parrish experiment” and partner with another lab to repeat it with a different (willing) subject.

    • Thanks for your comment. I find it extremely informative.

      As a side note, I was surprised as well to see that Exploding Kittens raised millions of dollars in such a short time. That’s why for some time I thought, perhaps, the best way of funding anti-ageing research could be coming up with some catchy game, making millions, and donating them all to SENS, for example. However, I don’t think you can expect to make millions with a game as a rule. My understanding is that the man behind Exploding Kittens, Matthew Ingman, is a pretty popular cartoonist in the US. Had he been any average joe, probably nobody would know about his game. Still, maybe the game idea isn’t so bad. In a world where it’s difficult to persuade billionaires to become supporters and donate to the cause, the best option might be turning people who already are supporters into billionaires. With the right idea, it might even work.

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