Is Liz Parrish the world’s most genetically modified person? Why it might not be such a good thing

Some recent claims had me wondering whether Liz Parrish is the world’s most genetically modified person. She and her firm BioViva are making that claim.

It’s an important question but maybe not for the reason many of us first might think.

This is not really about one person. Instead, this is a weighty question because of the risks involved and the ideas surrounding it that need challenging.

Liz Parrish, BioViva
Is Liz Parrish the world’s most GM person? Maybe. What are the risks for her and the community?

Is Liz Parrish the world’s most genetically modified person?

So what’s going on here?

Let’s start with the statements on Twitter (below) and the website of her anti-aging firm, BioViva.

Is the claim accurate? I don’t have any particular reason to doubt it.

Of course, there could be intense genetic modification going on around the world that we don’t even know about.

Specific militaries could be doing extensive somatic modifications to see how that plays out in soldiers. There could be genetic modifications going on in research that are extreme as well. This is just speculation though.

It’s also possible that the CRISPR babies that He Jiankui produced are far more genetically modified than Liz Parrish in one sense. Why might that be? They had gene editing tools introduced into them as one-cell embryos. For that reason, most or all of their cells may have genetic modifications (i.e., gene edits of various kinds). Parrish might have fewer cells modified but perhaps she had more types of changes?

Details on Liz Parrish modifications: follistatin & telomerase

What exactly has she had in the way of genetic changes? BioViva lists Liz Parrish’s series of reported genetic modifications. Let’s go through the reported genetic modifications, starting with two:

“Joining a long list of illustrious mavericks in medicine, Liz took matters into her own hands when she became the first person to take gene therapy to treat biological aging.

In fact, she took two gene therapies in 2015: follistatin and telomerase. The former to address sarcopenia (age-related muscular atrophy) and the latter to lengthen her telomeres.”

Follistatin and telomerase gene therapies are not proven to work for any particular desired outcome or to be safe. I’m not convinced either of these is a wise way to go.

For instance, as we’ve talked before here on The Niche, getting extra telomerase could be risky. Long telomeres are not necessarily better. Cancer cells have long telomeres, which can also be associated with other health issues. Yes, telomeres tend to get shorter as we age, but adding in more telomerase is not necessarily a safe or effective way to counter that.

Biomedical rebel?

In a video (above) related to the most genetically-modified person claim, she downplays the possible cancer connection and notes a PNAS paper where they didn’t see increased risk of cancer from telomerase. Still, I don’t feel very reassured by that.

The issue of cost also came up in the video, which remains a big challenge for gene therapies, whether inside or outside of trials.

Parrish is clearly a very bright person and compelling speaker who comes off as genuine. She notes her inspiration in part comes from her son having Type 1 diabetes.

In the video, she also invokes the idea of fighting for biological freedom, which can be a powerful idea. It’s possible that many people will see her as a brave, biomedical maverick or rebel who can shake things up and catalyze needed change.

Klotho and PGC-1α gene therapies noted by BioViva

BioViva adds more info on two other gene therapies she reportedly received:

“Parrish also took Klotho and PGC-1α gene therapies in 2020.

Klotho, the queen of anti-aging proteins, is pivotal to maintaining mineral balance, warding off vascular calcification, and protecting our hearts. Reduced levels contribute to accelerated aging and kidney disease. It also shows tremendous promise in neuroprotection and cognitive enhancement.”

Here again, in my view, there’s a lack of solid evidence that Klotho or PGC1α therapies would be safe and effective for human anti-aging or other goals. While there are lots of papers on Klotho and aging on PubMed, that database only lists one Klotho clinical trial paper. It does not seem that encouraging to me.

Parish and BioViva make various statements about these four gene therapies, like claiming a boost in IQ points. How would that work? Does the gene therapy get into the brain? If so, how?

What are these gene therapies exactly?

More broadly, what are the nitty-gritty details about the vectors and other elements of these gene therapies?

It’s not so clear.

BioViva does talk quite a bit about its CMV gene delivery approach. Did Parrish receive gene therapies based on some novel CMV approach? CMV is a very strong promoter system for high expression of genes in cells.

In my lab, if we introduce a gene expression plasmid with a CMV promoter into cells in a dish, those cells will often overexpress the resulting protein, sometimes hundreds-of-times higher than endogenous expression.

If CMV was used for these DIY gene therapies outside of clinical trials, was that safe? How did they ensure an optimum amount of each gene was expressed and in the desired cell type? Too much of any particular gene could easily be a bad thing for one’s health.

George Church BioViva
Geneticist George Church is still listed as an advisor to BioViva. Webpage screenshot.

More claims on GM results for Liz Parrish

BioViva makes more claims on the results from GMs:

“Her C-reactive protein levels are extremely low, an excellent indicator of reduced inflammation. Her post-treatment blood glucose control is exemplary.

This is partially due to the follistatin gene therapy and an increase in muscle mass. The MRI below shows this has occurred alongside a reduction in marbling (fat) in her thighs. This enhancement is more than cosmetic; it has lastingly uplifted her metabolic health.

Before treatment her age — as measured by her telomere length — was 62. She was 45.”

I’m also skeptical of measuring age based on telomere length.

Gene therapies outside of clinical trials are extremely risky

Could these approaches safely do helpful things for other people? It’s too early to say. I feel like these approaches have a higher chance of doing harm than good.

Taking this all together, even if Parrish is the world’s most GM person, is that a good thing for her? Is it a positive for the world? For the gene editing and gene therapy research arenas?

Is BioViva doing regulator-approved trials? A search for BioViva on Clinicaltrials.gov yielded no results. I reached out to Parrish and BioViva to ask some questions on the claims but so far have not heard back. If I do, I’ll give an update.

More experimental gene therapy in people outside of trials is extremely risky with little upside in my view. Yes, even approved gene therapy trials can be very risky and a few people have died, but some have also been concretely helped. Doing human genetic modification outside of trials greatly ups the risks. I’m also concerned about the more recent development of clinics selling unproven RNA therapies. In addition, there have been potential connections between DIY gene therapies and stem cell clinics.

In the much larger and older, unproven stem cell and regenerative medicine space, we have already seen many people be severely injured or even die from unproven approaches. These clinics also often invoke biomedical freedom.

Overall, I believe the risks from unproven gene therapies are at least as high or higher than unproven cells.

9 thoughts on “Is Liz Parrish the world’s most genetically modified person? Why it might not be such a good thing”

  1. She is well spoken, expresses her perspective and perception well. I don’t have a problem with her choice, and she does express the need for change in our medical system within the US. Her reference to medical tourism is a glaring example of the response to restricted medical choice freedom. Utah in March 2024 passed a state legislated statue allowing MDs within the state of Utah to use cellular treatments on their patients with informed consent.

    The inability for a US citizen to have a treatment with umbilical cord derived mesenchymal stem cells (uMSC), (aka mesenchymal stromal cells, medicinal signaling cells) is a prime example of the restrictive mind set of the “medical industry” players. Many express that the “pharmaceutical industry” is heavily influencing this translational medicine (active in suppressing) since it would compete with their market, especially the over the counter products.
    This science was brought to the forefront by the esteemed Dr. Arnold Caplan PhD in 1991, and has been pursued since that time. Now there are countless business clinics offering the uMSC therapy all over the world.
    The phrase I hear often is: The US has gone away from medical care and become a sick care (maintenance) system.
    I like her presentation on the YouTube interview, very direct and forthright, I don’t see any sense of deception. One of the issues is the slow adaptation of proven beneficial therapies.

  2. The fact that this “business” is in Mexico and not in the USA with rigorous academic control makes me think this is yet another scam.

  3. Jeanne Loring

    I read that George Church is listed as an advisor. In case he didn’t know this, I sent your article to him.

  4. I love the audacity to usher in new medicine that would otherwise cost hundreds of millions to get to a phase one. I have seen groups in Roatan and Mexico doing this as well. Seems like people with money will go and participate in these offshore clinics rather than stick with the sick care system and 100% death rate from aging in the USA. Lots of A-listers are signing up.

    1. StemCellSciGuy

      And yet there are no scientific studies showing efficacy for any of this. People with A-List status have access to many medical treatments in the US that let them live longer lives. Also, many of the places they are going to are in countries with higher mortality rates. So the logic doesn’t really hold up, nor the science. Aging has 100% death rate in all countries, so that is a very odd statement. There a few places where the average lifespan is higher, and to day it has nothing to do with stem cells. Nor has there been any scientific evidence in humans, or really animals, that stem cell ‘treatments’ of any kind will help you live longer. Again, medical science requires testing and evidence.

  5. Paul, I read the press release, didn’t listen to her YouTube thing. Is there any information on what she means by “gene therapies”. She is quoted in the press release as saying that “she took two gene therapies in 2015: follistatin and telomerase” and later that “my IQ increased by 10 points after taking Klotho.” 2015 is awfully early for any gene therapy, especially if it were done in vivo and not just in extracted (probably hematopoietic) stem cells. And “taking Klotho” might be short for “taking the gene therapy that changed (the expression of?) my Klotho gene”, but maybe not.
    I’m wondering if she is really claiming to have gotten infusions of these proteins, which somehow she is terming gene therapy. (That, of course, is on top of my huge skepticism about any reported results.)

    1. @Hank,
      Not many details out there. I thought that the “gene therapy” back in 2015 was related to a viral delivery approach but I’m not sure. Things are also not so clear with the more recent interventions.

      Since the term “genetically modified” is so central to the new claim “most in the world”, it seems likely to involve the actual delivery of genes, not just proteins or drugs to turn genes on. At least that was my impression.

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