The first in a series of research prizes for anti-aging research has been launched. The Methuselah Mouse prize rewards researchers for discovering new ways of extending healthy life in mammals -- and then applying them to us humans. The project will benefit greatly from your tax-deductible donations, and you are unlikely to see a better use of your money for aging research in the near future. I have donated $1000 on behalf of the Longevity Meme, and I encourage you to donate what you can. See this Betterhumans article for more information on the enormous benefits that research prizes bring to scientific endeavors.
The PDF format transcript of the latest SAGE Crossroads webcast is now up. It's a wide-ranging interview with Dr. Miller, a gerontologist of note. If you want to know what the aging research community does, thinks about and is working towards, you'll find this article very informative. He touches on everything from calorie restriction through to legislation and public opinion on aging research. It's interesting to note that Dr. Miller runs into the same problem that I see in the public: that people think aging research will prolong frail, unhealthy elderly life, rather than extend healthy, active life. This is a false perception, one that we have to fight.
I certainly wasn't intending to post about the recent scientific success in cloning a mule, but it seems that this research has unearthed some useful insights into cancer and the aging process. We will probably see more of this sort of fortunate discovery. As researchers learn to manipulate cells and genes more adeptly, they can't help but learn more about other processes in the body.
In contrast to a recent article suggesting that "natural" memory loss due to aging was a consequence of social differences, here is one from Betterhumans proposing a new biochemical cause. In essence, researchers are suggesting that an early symptom of Alzheimer's (these "brain tangles" made up of a damaging protein) is more widespread than thought, and is largely responsible for minor age-related memory imparement. This is certainly intriguing: as for any purely physical cause, it is open to prevention and cure. It seems quite possible that the fight against Alzheimer's may lead to the end of memory problems and a much greater understanding of the underlying physic basis of thought and memory.
From the Washington Post: scientists have discovered the master gene in stem cells that gives them the ability to form all other types of human cells. This means we are closer to being able to create stem cells from any human cell, which means we are closer to the grail of true regenerative medicine. If we can understand the mechanisms that make stem cells work, therapies for many diseases and conditions of aging will soon follow. All in all, even though it is early, basic research, this is very good news. More on stem cell basics can be found at InfoAging.org.
From the unusual starting point of Bob Hope, this BBC article lightly touches on all of the current major scientific developments in healthy life extension. Calorie restriction, advances in general healthcare, genetic studies and regenerative medicine. The cryonics industry even gets a mention near the end. These are exciting times: we are very much at the beginning of the birth of a new medical industry, one that will benefit all of us enormously. The promise of longer, healthier lives is ahead of us, and we have to reach out to support the research that will lead there. As one researcher says in the article: "We have just opened the box - and now we are peering in."
From the Sacremento Bee, an article on the rising numbers of centenarians. That the number of centenarians is doubling each decade is a mark of rapid advances made in medicine. The article discusses current research into the causes of longevity: the genetics and lifestyles of centenarians are under scrutiny. This will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of aging and the promise of longer healthy lives for all. The existence of hale and active 90-year-olds indicates that frailty and disease are not a fundamental part of the aging process.
Health24 tells us some of the not so secret secrets of longevity. In essence, keeping your weight down and staying active are key to natural longevity. But we all knew that already, right? Of course, natural longevity is only going to get us so far -- we want more. Supporting medical research for healthy life extension is vital! The key to much, much longer lives is the medicine of the future, not the natural techniques of today.
A group from the University of Iowa have shown that it is possible to turn off or silence mutant disease-causing genes without affecting the behavior of the normal gene. This is a very important finding: it lays the groundwork for genetic approaches to many, many different diseases and conditions of aging. This includes cancer; so this is yet another possible cancer therapy in the works (we're up to about ten or so announced in the last twelve months, I think).
(From Betterhumans). There are many necessary steps in bringing a new therapy to the market. One of the most basic ones is demonstrating that you can do many times over what you have already accomplished a few times in early trials. It looks like stem cell therapies are over this cost-effective mass production hurdle, which is very encouraging. As you should all know by now, stem cells and theraputic cloning look to be the strongest basis for powerful near-term regenerative therapies: the medicine that will extend our healthy lives.
Continuing todays theme, here's a short article on attitudes towards death and life extension from The Age in Australia. Once again, I disagree with the points made: we should always fight to extend healthy life while respecting individual choice. I think that the interesting thing to note here is that a series of small professional meetings on life extension matters have been held over the past few weeks in Australia. Kudos to the organizers; we certainly could see more of that here in the USA.
An article over at Betterhumans examines views towards death in the life extension community. I have to say that I don't really agree with the author on many of his points. I personally feel that death is an unacceptable risk to the continuation of my existence. I want absolutely certainty in the future of my existence, therefore I don't want to die. I am uncertain about religion, afterlife and pattern identity theory, therefore I fear death in a sane and rational way. This attitude doesn't render me any less capable than the author of this article when fighting effectively for healthy life extension and the medicine of the future.
An article from nj.com looks over the past decade of research and trials in a particular -- and very promising -- class of cancer vaccine. I've said before here that cancer is no longer a grave threat to life in developed countries. The end result of decades of well-publicized research and high levels of funding has finally come: numerous effective therapies are about to arrive in the market. This success story can be repeated for anti-aging research and regenerative medicine, but only if we manage to make these fields as popular and as well funded. Activism and advocacy are very important.
Here's one I missed from earlier in the month. The John Moores University in Liverpool, UK is undertaking a large study on aging. The stated intent of the research is to help in slowing or reversing the aging process. This is very fundamental research aimed at filling in the gaps in scientific knowledge of the aging process. It is good to see more projects like this one launching place around the world. It is a sign that more and more people in science are taking anti-aging research seriously.
The Science of Aging Knowledge Environment (SAGE KE) is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the latest research and the people behind it all. (You've no doubt seen links to the SAGE Crossroads sister site on the Longevity Meme in past months). The articles and other information fall somewhere between a popular science magazine and a scientific journal in readability, so it should be of interest to a broad segment of the audience here.
From the LEF News, a fairly brute-force study concludes that we should be looking into the functions of the ovaries in mammals for more clues to biochemical controls involved in the aging process. Scientists have already determined that a small number of genetic changes (which lead to differences in biochemical processes in the body) extend life in nemotode worms, flies and mice. This research is complementary, indicating other avenues of investigation. It's certainly a sign of the times that it seems crude to be performing experimental transplants rather than genetic therapy or biochemical assays.
Quite the interesting find from NC State University News. Researchers have looked into age-related decline in memory and are suggesting that it really doesn't have as much to do with the mechanics of aging as we thought. Instead, they suggest that it also has a lot to do with the way in which older people think, react and interact with society. It also may be the result of artifacts in the way in which memory tests are given and monitored by researchers. This is a thought-provoking article, to say the least: but no reason to stop advocating research on ways to reduce the harm done by aging, of course!
I talk about Alzheimer's fairly often here, since it's representative of a class of conditions that are of great concern to healthy life extensionists. Conditions of the brain, and conditions caused by buildup of misformed proteins are worrying for those of us who want to live longer, healthier lives. As the medicine becomes available to keep us healthy and physically younger, we have to worry about encountering these aging conditions. This article from The Telegraph gives a promising view of the current state of Alzheimer's research and medicine.
This is an interesting article (from OSU Research News) about the costs of managing failing health caused by aging. The personal costs (financial and otherwise) are tremendous. This is exactly the sort of thing that younger people try very hard not to think about. You should be thinking about this, however. This is your future unless we all band together to help change it! While the article focuses on health insurance, the real way to minimize the costs of aging is the development and introduction of widespread, low-cost anti-aging medicine.
I occasionally post administrative stories as they seem appropriate and representative; this one caught my eye and I thought I'd share. The University of Texas Health Science Center (in San Antonio) will add another $50 million building to its center for the study of aging. It is good to see this sort of article in the press, because it reminds me of similar articles about academic nanotechnology research centers five years ago or so. Just look at where nanotechnology is now! You can chart the course of research by the buildings that go up -- so this article is an indicator of positive things to come.
AustralianIT is carrying an introductory-level article on the current state of human cryonic suspension. Gratifyingly, unlike many recent articles following the suspension of a certain sports figure, it is positive and realistic in tone. Suspendees recognize that cryonics is an experiment that may not succeed, but any shot at a long, healthy future life is vastly better than decaying to nothing in the ground. Those of us in the community over a certain age have to give at least some serious consideration to cryonics: if anti-aging medicine doesn't come fast enough, it's the best of the two remaining choices.
A much better feature article is up this week at SAGE Crossroads. The current state of aging, anti-aging and longevity research is examined, with an emphasis on calorie restriction and understanding basic cellular mechanisms. (Regenerative medicine doesn't get much of a mention). It's a good article: some well-made points in there about the detrimental effects of snake-oil salesmen in the "anti-aging" industry. I certainly can't argue with anyone who makes their main point a call for more funding and legitimacy for longevity research.
Betterhumans reports on research that gives more support for telomere theories of aging. These state, in short, that telomeres -- junk DNA that caps the ends of our chromosomes -- protect our DNA from damage until they are "worn away" with the passing of time. After that, our cells start to accumulate defects and damage more rapidly. A good explanation of the basics can be found over at Wikipedia. It is interesting to keep track of the different theories of aging as they move forward; it is very likely at this stage that all are correct in some sense. The overall picture is still elusive, however.
I've noticed that it takes a few days for more compehensible articles on new medical research to appear. Here is a good one from SiliconValley.com on the recent research into heat shock proteins in the humble nemotode worm. They are claimed to be a direct link between aging and age-related disease, which makes this very important research. Quotable quote: "Aging is slowed down," said Kenyon. "When the normal worms are in the nursing home, really, these guys are out on the golf course or backpacking in the woods. . . . They're vigorous and active." I hope that we'll be hearing more about this research in the coming year as other groups start to investigate.
In a follow-up to recent articles, the New Scientist provides a clear and concise commentary. A study has suggested that all stem cells are in fact fully potent and that differences seen to date are just an illusion caused by different methods of handling and growing these cells. A lot of people have their fingers crossed, hoping that this is true (the science is far from settled yet). It would greatly simplify matters, and remove all legislative obstacles to vital stem cell research. It sounds like more groups are getting involved in looking at this research, which will speed up the march towards regenerative medicine and therapies for age-related conditions.
Hot on the heels of that last article, Yahoo News explains recent research on the link between aging and the onset of diabetes. This is important science; this sort of diabetes affects a very large fraction of the elderly populace and understanding the mechanisms is the first step towards prevention and cure. A number of interesting questions are raised about the way in which cellular mechanisms work (or fail to work as we get older). All in all, an important block in our understanding of the aging progress: congratulations to those involved.
Over at EurekAlert, and article discussing recent research into the fundamental mechanisms connecting aging with aging conditions (Alzheimer's, etc). Since the recent discovery of life-extending genetic differences in worms, flies and mice, scientists have been working hard to understand what happens next. How do these genetic differences delay aging effects? UCSF researchers provide an elegant mechanism; we may see life-extending therapies resulting from this within a decade if the current pace keeps up.
It seems to be stem cell news day today. Along with theraputic cloning, stem cells are one of the most promising lines of anti-aging, regenerative medicine. Unfortunately, the research is under attack by legislators in the US. This article from the New Scientist describes a very interesting, but unconfirmed, research result. A researcher is claiming that all stem cells, adult and embryonic, have the same potential and are in fact the same type of stem cell. If true (a big "if" so far), this would cut away all the problems in the field with a single stroke, clearing the way for faster progress towards therapies.
An article at Betterhumans notes that the Canadian Institute of Health Research is moving ahead with funding embryonic stem cell research. They were holding off while Canadian politicians debated a ban on this research, but the bill has still not passed. So the CIHR is forging ahead as they had said they would -- good for them! This research is essential to the future of regenerative medicine (and you can find out more on stem cells from this introductory section at the very useful InfoAging). Every year it is delayed is another year of uncured diseases and deaths from age-related conditions.
The National Cancer Institute has announcing research on progeria (a premature aging disease) in mice that reinforces the genetic findings for human progeria last month. With the ability to study the condition in mice, scientists should be able to make faster use of this information. Tests of gene-based therapies in mice lead fairly directly to medical trials in people. Understanding of progeria will lead to a cure for this horrible condition. Beyond that, there is also the tantalizing promise of greater insight into the normal mechanisms of aging.
Following up on Monday's article on deep divisions between merchants, doctors and researchers, here's another good one from the Seattle Times. Quotable quote from the NIA: "Wait for research that demonstrates this is safe and effective." (Of course, if they actually funded a decent amount of aging and anti-aging research, we wouldn't all be waiting around...) I'm a late adopter, as you all know. I'm unwilling to try strategies to extend my healthy life if they have not been proven and proven again by reputable scientists. So far, only calorie restriction, good diet, modest supplementation, modest exercise and fighting to support medical research pass that test.
This article from The Register illustrates how spare processor time from ordinary home computers is harnessed for medical research. A great deal of computing time is required, but fortunately we can all help! In this case, donated processing power is used to run valuable tests for potential anti-cancer drugs. I recommend trying Folding@Home, a Stanford project that sets its sights on Alzheimer's and other similar conditions. Download the client and join our folding team today -- this is a painless way for people like you and I to participate in vital research for a better, longer life.
A pro-regulation and slightly unbalanced article on embryonic stem cells and their potential is up on Sage Crossroads. The current limiting legislation is discussed, along with quotes from scientists and some other items. The potential of this medical research and technology to save lives and extend healthy life is barely mentioned. Sad to say, but Sage Crossroads at its worst sounds very much against the advances it is supposed to be supporting!
The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (a fine and upstanding group) have put together a snappy overview page of the effects nanotechnology will have on medicine. We're seeing the start of it already in the building of better tools and a greater understanding of proteins and genes. Faster diagnosis, quicker cures and better health: all this we can look forward to. There are some links to good further references, and here's a nice quote to finish with: "Health will improve and lifespans increase."
Here is an interesting, balanced article from the Arizona Republic on conflicts within and surrounding the anti-aging (science and research) and "anti-aging" (supplements and potions) industries. I believe that a lot of damage has been done to the prospects of scientific advancement in this field by quacks and over-eager supplement merchants. On the other hand, the current campaign by scientists against the "anti-aging" side doesn't promise to clear muddied waters anytime soon.
From the San Francisco Business Times, a good article on the current state of stem cell and theraputic cloning legislation. As you all know by now, this research is the best way forward to real, meaningful life- and health-extending medicine. Unfortunately it is under threat. The US senate is considering an outright ban (already passed by the house). California has passed a bill explicitly permitting some of this research, but as the medical marijuana controversy has shown, federal agencies will ignore state law and arrest people anyway. So step forward and do your part to support real anti-aging research today!
Here's a somewhat more concise article from the LEF News on recent research on the longevity of yeast. It all ties in to the genetics of calorie restriction: why does it work, how does it work? If we know how low calorie diets cause changes in gene expression in the body -- which they appear to do -- then this opens the door to faking it. Therapies could be developed to more reliably induce the same life-extending changes. No need for the low calorie diet, and there would still be the possibility of further improvement and understanding of health and lifespan. This recent genetic research into calorie restriction is very exciting indeed.
(From HealthScout News, scroll down to look at the last article on this page). Most notable quote: "U.S. scientists say the country is quickly falling behind other, less restrictive nations in this vital area of research." In short, government legislation has been damaging stem cell research since it was adopted in 2001. The legislation was originally -- somewhat dishonestly -- touted as a compromise, but in practice is little better than a complete ban on federal funding. Other funds have been scared away by this legislation and the threat of worse to come. It is crucial that we find ways to ensure that this vital research continues: our future health and longevity is being poured down the drain by those who are supposedly our representatives in government.
Betterhumans carries this article on recent work into the genetic basis of aging in the brain. This is very low-level, early, fundamental research, but it is turning up interesting results already. It is essential for us to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that cause changes in our bodies with age. With this understanding, researchers are far less effective in their search for regenerative and anti-aging medicine. With greater understanding, we can more reliably develop effective therapies to combat aging.
This article from Science News Online is a comprehensive and very informative look at the current state of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is heavily pushed by some sectors of the supplement and medical industy -- they sense money to be made, of course. However, if is unclear as to whether HRT is going to do any given individual more harm than good. The volume and coherence of scientific studies that would make me feel comfortable are simply not there. As always my advice is to be a late adopter; wait for science to study and come to definitive conclusions before trying anything that will affect your health. Listen to your physician, and research, research, research. It's your life and health, after all!
I occasionally post articles on mechanical ways of defeating the depredations of aging. It seems that progress on that front is slower than regenerative medicine; which is probably fine. My sense is that it will be considerably harder to duplicate parts of the human body in other materials than it will be to figure out how to make the human body repair itself. In any case, this article from the BBC gives insight into the state of the art in artificial sight -- surprisingly advanced and gratefully received by the beneficiaries of these devices.
Here's some interesting basic research reported at the LEF News. All the best research raises new questions, leaving scientists looking for new answers. In this case, it seems that men who are genetically prone to higher levels of an anti-inflammatory protein are more likely to live longer lives. This raises some interesting questions in connection with common age-related conditions that involve persistant inflammation. Very intriguing, and I'm sure some of my readers have their own theories on this already.
As you may have noticed, we had a lengthy site outage yesterday. Our apologies to everyone who was inconvenienced. It looks like a vital router immediately upstream of our hosting provider gave up the ghost. The upstream people were slow in getting their act together, and there was little we could do at our end. As anyone in the hosting business will tell you, this is all part and parcel of the fun of publishing on the Internet.
As reported at MSNBC, the US government will be spending a much larger amount of money on basic nanotechnology research over the next few years. This is of interest to us life extensionists because so many of the fundamental medical technologies we are waiting for are based on a greater understanding of nanotechnology. As the field of nanotechnology advances, so does most modern biotechnology as well. Many recent breakthroughs in anti-aging and aging research have resulted from better understanding and better tools for working with the very small: genes, proteins and cellular mechanisms built out of a few molecules.
Research into the genetic regulation of aging has been in the news recently.
Cancer is on the way out as a threat to our health. The results of three decades of intense funding are paying off in many ways. This article from CNN describes a new and startlingly effective mechanism for curing inoperable cancer. It is expected to being human trials as early as next year. By my count, that makes four new potential cancer cures -- real, complete cures -- announced in the last month alone. By the standards of twenty years ago, we are living in a time of medical science fiction. Cures for cancer! Just think what the next few decades could bring if we can only get aging research to be taken as seriously.
This article from Canada Newswire discusses funding for the new Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) program; only $400,000, but it's a start. This is a government program, directly by the Canadian equivalent of the NIH (more or less). As I've said before, this sort of money is a drop in the bucket compared to funds directed to better known health issues. As regular readers know, one of the drums I beat on is the call for better public, corporate and governmental recognition and appreciation of aging and anti-aging research. This must happen for progress towards a cure for aging to be comparable to progress in the fight against AIDS and cancer.
From The New Atlantis, Leon Kass holds forth on biotechnology and the promise of eternal life. As regular readers by now know, Kass believes that everyone should suffer and die: as the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, he makes it his mission to block new medical research and any promising means of extending healthy life. He and many others work openly to ensure that we will not develop anti-aging medicine, that we will age, become ill and die. To be silent is to lose the promise of greatly extended, healthier, better lives to the actions of these foolish, short-sighted individuals. So speak up and be heard!
The folks over at Betterhumans are apparently reading my mind again. While I was writing a newsletter on the role of prizes in stimulating aging research, Simon Smith was writing an article on exactly the same topic. Great minds and all that. Read them both, and you'll agree that anti-aging research needs a prize to help lift it from the doldrums of obscurity and underfunding. Similar prizes have transformed the private aerospace industry, and once upon a time helped to build the entire aviation industry. They have been very successful, so we should be following suit with a prize for aging research!
My attention was drawn to this article from the New York Times. It gives a view of the future of nutritional advice: the most effective diets for health and longevity are determined from a reading of your genes. This field of "nutrigenomics" is just getting underway now that the cost of obtaining genetic information is coming down. It promises to make a big difference to the effectiveness with which people can maintain their own health.
Yahoo News reports on promising early studies in regenerative medicine by StemCells, Inc. This young company is working on stem cell and gene therapies to heal parts of the body that normally will not regenerate. This particular study shows that StemCell Inc's work has strong potential for regenerating normally irreversible nerve damage. It is very warming to see this sort of amazing medical progress continuing despite all the attempts to stop it. We must ensure that it and similar work can continue unimpeded!
From Science For Seniors, news of progress in understanding osteoporosis, the commonplace decrease in bone density with age. Osteoporosis is high up on the list of long-term worries for healthy life extensionists, alongside degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's. Bone mass loss is slow but eventually crippling, so it is definately a concern. According to this article, the research raises the strong possibility of a stem cell based therapy to cure this condition. Kudos to the researchers!
Prizes in science encourage progress; just look at the results of the $10 million X Prize in rocketry. Many companies compete to win, and the field as a whole is advanced far more than if the original $10 million were spent directly on research. This article is a proposal for a similar prize for research that produces mice with the longest lives. This sort of thing is an excellent idea, and well worth funding in and of itself. It's publicity, advocacy and incentive all wrapped up in one: very smart.
The New Scientist discusses recent work that shows there might be a comparatively simple fix for the general mental and visual decline that sets in with old age. This is fascinating stuff. The conclusion that all the brain cells are working fine but the problem lies in communication mechanisms is particularly eye-opening. This ties in with work from last year showing that people do grow new neurons as they age. If the aging decline problem is in communication between brain cells, rather than in the cells themselves, then it should be far easier to fix.
LEF News is reprinting a businesswire article on Elixir Pharmaceuticals. This company has picked up very rapidly on recent progeria (a rapid aging syndrom) genetic research. They are jumping right in to see how this knowledge can be used to fight normal aging. It's great to see this sort of thing happening: this is exactly why we need more young, enthusiastic, funded companies in the aging research space. Success breeds further success, so we wish Elixir the best of luck in their work.