Thank you for this opportunity, Doctor. What are your thoughts on the longevity field?

First of all, I'm glad that there is one. When I was a med student back in the 80s, aging was not only considered unavoidable but also "normal" or "natural". If someone was over 80 and dying without a “disease that had a name” then the cause of death was "natural causes".
Did that bother you?

Yes, and even more so that some of my professors seemed to try less to help older patients, as if "their time had come" or something. I couldn't accept that we all are like having a time bomb inside us and "when the time comes", we will have to die, and there is nothing we can do about it. Not to mention the constant decline of our capabilities as age progresses.
Why? Don't things get older as time passes and eventually break?

You see? This is always my disagreement. We are not "things" like the walls of a house that undergo wear and tear from the elements and their paint chips away or their surface deteriorates. Or like an old car that gets rusty. We are living organisms, and we inherited the ability to repair ourselves constantly. Most of our cells are constantly replaced with new ones. Even our entire blood is replaced every 4 months.

You are an eye surgeon; are the cells of the eyes replaced by new ones?

The "official" answer that any ophthalmologist will give you is that cells, such as the cells on the surface of the cornea, are regularly replaced. However, some other cells, such as certain nerve cells in the retina, may have limited ability to regenerate or none at all. That's the old school of thought.

You mean that nerve cells can be regenerated too?


With a drug or a surgical procedure?

The only tool powerful enough to do so is gene therapy. Everything in a living organism—how it looks, how it acts, how it heals—is controlled by its genes. Small molecules and such can't have such an impact. You have to manipulate the genes, and thankfully, this is the era in which we are able to do so to our advantage.

From your answer, I'm guessing that you are not a huge fan of vitamins and supplements.

Well, you said it yourself: supplements. All these have meaning if you are deficient in something; then you should definitely get a supplement to treat your deficiency. And if you overdo it, it will definitely have side effects. In any case, no supplement or vitamin will extend your life. The same goes for most of the interventions that I'm constantly hearing about. Sleep, exercise, proper diet will help you, but there is no way they will extend your life beyond what people accept as the limit to human life. The only tool powerful enough to do that, and I could also say meaningful, is gene therapy.

People often perceive gene therapies as something exotic.

Actually, I think not many people have even heard of gene therapies or know what they are. The reason is that so far, gene therapies are targeting rare inherited monogenic diseases that too few people have heard of. This is something that has to change, and that is one of the reasons that we founded GENORASIS. Not only do we want to help as many people as possible by targeting more common diseases, but we also want to get the word out there and popularize those treatments. People have to know that they exist and that they are powerful enough to cure conditions that we thought were incurable.

Tell us about GENORASIS and what exactly you are trying to achieve.

We founded GENORASIS last year with Liz Parrish with two main tasks in mind. First, to help as many people as we can, starting with a disease that is considered incurable and affects millions worldwide. Second, to make gene therapy more widely known to people, with all the implications that entails: encouraging more people to seek those treatments and making the prices, which are currently high, more affordable. Additionally, in my opinion, there is a necessary step before achieving the ultimate cure for aging: curing some of the diseases that come with age. For our first target, we chose the decline of the optic nerve, the cable that connects our eyes with our brain, which occurs unavoidably with aging, as well as a silent disease that leads much earlier to blindness called glaucoma. Glaucoma affects about 100 million people worldwide, and the weakening of the optic nerve that comes with age affects all of us.

And you have a cure for that? To actually restore vision to blind people?

We have an enhanced gene therapy that can be delivered to the eye through a safe, fast, and simple procedure. We have preliminary results from scientists, and we have a deep understanding of why that works, but we have to follow all the intermediate steps to get the actual cure to human patients. That includes a proof of concept study in animals, followed by a process to get into clinical trials, and then approval from the FDA.

How long would that take?

It is a fairly quick process for such an important task. I don't want to commit to specific numbers in this interview, but the FDA has The Accelerated Approval Pathway. They aim to facilitate efforts like ours that will offer a breakthrough over current treatments, where you can get approval significantly earlier than the end of the clinical trials if the treatment shows definite improvement in patients.

What do you need to succeed?

Like in any breakthrough, you need two things: a great team and money to finance the research. We have the best team possible for such a mission. People who have dedicated their lives to fighting aging and aging-related diseases, who understand the importance and the pressure of time. I'm honored to have such renowned scientists like Bill Andrews and Aubrey DeGrey on our team, and of course Liz, whose restless passion and courage make all of this possible. As for money, you always have to remind investors of the importance of our mission.

Don't they know it?

Investors may have some awareness of our mission, but it's crucial to continually emphasize its significance and potential impact. Our cure has the potential to be very profitable in addition to its profound societal benefits.

Could it have other applications?

Many. The purpose of this specific gene therapy is nerve regeneration and neuroprotection of nerves of the central nervous system. Apart from the optic nerve and glaucoma, it could help regain function and movement in people with spinal injuries and even some cases of hearing loss. The possibilities are endless, and the audience it addresses is very broad.

Do you have a final comment to end our interview?

Since we are on the topic of investors, and without wanting to diminish the significance of other investments, I believe that fighting aging and age-related diseases is the most important of all possible investments. By investing in companies like ours, you buy time and function. If you live longer and in good health, and are able to see, hear, and move, then you can pursue any other endeavors you desire.

Thank you, Doctor Papazoglou.

It was my pleasure.