Longevity Meme Newsletter, May 05 2003

May 05 2003

The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a biweekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.



João Pedro de Magalhães was kind enough to contribute his "Winning the War Against Aging" to be reprinted at the Longevity Meme. It's an informative and thought-provoking look at where we are and where we are going in the fight against aging. The link is below:


This is great article for use in introducing people to the positive long-term view of healthy life extension. Forward this link on to a friend today and help to spread the word!


News and mailing list discussions over the past few weeks have pointed my thoughts in the direction of research prizes and anti-aging and aging research. You'll excuse me while I wander from the topic of healthy life extension for a few paragraphs in order to make my point.

Perhaps the most well known current prize is the "XPrize." $10 million will be given to the first group who can safely launch and land a reusable suborbital spacecraft twice in two weeks. The XPrize has been receiving press recently because it is working. No one has won the prize yet, but twenty serious attempts have been made or are currently in progress. This represents a great deal of funding, time and expertise. Far more, in fact, than $10 million would buy if used directly.


This multiplication of funds is, of course, one of the ideas behind a research prize. Great things can happen when you harness self-interest and competition. The XPrize was created to jump-start a languishing area of research and human endeavor. In that, it has already succeeded spectacularly.

This is by no means the end of the story, however. A research prize can stimulate or help form an entire industry. We can look back to another famous prize to see this illustrated: the Orteig Prize of $25,000 was offered in 1919 for the first non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. 8 years of hectic, breakneck aviation development passed before a certain Charles Lindbergh made that flight.


This was a time of enormous progress. Great strides in aviation technology took place during the 1920s, due in no small part to the motivation provided by Raymond Orteig's philanthropic gesture. Aircraft moved from rickety to reliable, from toys and war machines to travel and transport aids to greatly benefit modern civilization. I expect to see the same happen for orbital spacecraft within the next decade, largely as a result of the initial motivation provided by the XPrize.


Projects like the Orteig Prize and the XPrize serve to direct and focus the engines of business, competition and entrepreneurship to the betterment of all. They provide a way for philanthropists to revive and excite poorly funded and neglected fields of research and development. A comparatively small prize can bring tremendous change.

We need an XPrize for anti-aging research. To quote Aubrey de Grey, an aging researcher of some repute:

"Aging research is fashionable, but serious anti-aging research is not. We feel that a major reason for this is that the general public do not think that substantial human life-extension will occur in at least their or their children's lifetimes; hence it is effectively science fiction, having entertainment value but not being worth agitating for. This fatalism on the part of the public leads inevitably to lack of public funding for anti-aging work, and thence to lack of advocacy of anti-aging work by experts, which in turn serves to maintain public pessimism."

This is as good a summary of the problem as I have given in any of my more recent newsletters. Little research on defeating aging means little progress. Little progress means less public interest. Less public interest means that funding goes elsewhere, which means that there will continue to be little research. This is an unfortunate trap, to say the least! If we cannot help the industry escape, it will mean old age, crippling medical conditions and death for all of us.

If anti-aging and life extension research could break out of its current ghetto, it might be a matter of twenty years or less to obtain the first working therapies. Just look at the fantastic progress made in the Western world in turning AIDS from a mysterious death sentence to a manageable chronic disease – in only 20 years! Look at the results of 30 years of well funded cancer research and advocacy: it seems like not a week goes by these days without some new potential cancer cure announced by a cutting edge biotech company. These are the results that can be achieved with funding, public awareness, advocacy, and hard-working researchers.

If only anti-aging, regenerative and life extension medicine could be taken as seriously. This is why we need an XPrize for aging. Anti-aging research is the aircraft industry following World War I. It is the tiny private commercial aerospace industry of a decade ago. With an XPrize for anti-aging research, we would have the chance to turn that all around: publicity, competing researchers, goals that the public could understand, appreciate and cheer for. In short, it would be a fine step forward.


Aubrey de Grey and his co-conspirators have come up with an ingenious plan for the anti-aging XPrize: something so clever and appropriate I can only wish I was smart enough to think it up myself. I won't spoil it for you, so follow the link below to be impressed:


The Methuselah Mouse prize manages to hit every point that it needs to. It's easily understood by the layman, and attractive to researchers in the field. The prize can be awarded multiple times as researchers compete with incremental improvements in science. Efforts to win the prize need not take more than a few years; always an important consideration.

The big stumbling block is, of course, the money. Where will it come from, and how much is enough to get started? I fully intend to go and ask. It may just be that the online healthy life extension community can do more good than applaud and popularize this effort.

What are your thoughts on the matter of prizes and research? Our forum is always open.


You can also find previous issues of this newsletter there.


That's all for my commentary this time: a news roundup for the past two weeks follows below.


Have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?


Founder, Longevity Meme



What Your Genes Want You To Eat (May 04 2003)
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.

Progress in Regenerative Medicine (May 03 2003)
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!

Progress in Understanding Bone Loss (May 02 2003)
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!

The Methuselah Mouse Prize (May 02 2003)
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.

Aging Mental Decline Reversible? (May 01 2003)
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.

From the Front Lines (May 01 2003)
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.

Conflict in the Anti-Aging Industry (April 30 2003)
This article illustrates a portion of the ongoing internal debate between segments of the anti-aging supplement and medicine industry. The lines are not clear-cut or easily distinguished, but it is clear that there are those who stand on the side of science and proven research and those who do not. Just which side of the line any given seller is on is usually up for debate. I believe that the level of infighting, misinformation and confusion in this massive industry -- the public face of anti-aging and life extension for all intents and purposes -- is greatly hindering our goals.

Understanding Stem Cell Mechanisms (April 30 2003)
From the new and improved Betterhumans, here's an article that illustrates the power of understanding the basics. When you know why something happens at the lowest level of the human cell, you become able to tackle many problems. In this case, knowledge of a humble cellular signalling mechanism promises to lead to easier stem cell production, ways of tackling cancer, and possibly a therapy to regenerate human tissue from the worst injuries. The more we know about our bodies, the better anti-aging medicine will become. Medical research is essential to our futures, so we must speak up to protect it.

Shorter Male Lifespan and What To Do About It (April 29 2003)
From the newswire section at Salon, a short speculative piece about the underlying reasons for the shorter male lifespan. Allegedly it's because men just don't place a high enough priority on maintaining their health. This sounds plausible, although one should always be wary of pop culture explanations of this sort. That said, posting this article is an opportunity for me to remind you all to set up and maintain a good relationship with your physician. It's not costly, and studies show that it will make a big difference to your future health and longevity. Don't put it off!

Yet More Promising Cancer Research (April 29 2003)
We can only hope that anti-aging research in 2015 looks as good as cancer research does now. Numerous very promising paths to a full, cheap, painless cure for all kinds of cancer are currently in the late stages of development. Cancer research as a field is the very model of successful advocacy, funding and research over the past couple of decades. From ScienceDaily, this article reveals the fortunate insights that may lead to an understanding of the cause of spontaneous remission in cancer patients. If this can be controlled, it would be another ingenious means of completely curing cancer.

The Cost of a Cure (April 29 2003)
Aubrey de Grey, an aging researcher of note associated with the IABG, put together these notes in response to being asked about the cost of a cure for aging. Some very interesting ideas are in this proposal, and a surprisingly low cost. Of course, this is just one path of many that would have to be funded. As usual, it is clear that there are smart, capable, knowledgable people in the anti-aging research field who are woefully underfunded. It's almost criminal, and very frustrating!

Working Around Legislation, Part 2 (April 29 2003)
From the New Scientist, a story on efforts to find a politically safe way to obtain stem cells. Work with stem cells has so much promise, and so much work has been diverted or stopped by ill-considered government legislation. The time and money spent on this research (on stem cells from parthenogenesis) could have gone towards developing therapies using embyonic stem cells. Every day that therapies are delayed brings more death and suffering; we must oppose further legislation.

On / Off Diet Works in Mice? (April 28 2003)
The New Scientist is carrying a piece on an interesting dietary study in mice. Scientists claim some benefits of calorie restriction are observed in a diet that alternates double portions with fasting. The CR Society is dubious on this count; there has been some discussion there in past weeks on this topic. My advice is to be a late adopter. Calorie restriction has decades of proven science behind it. This article comes from a single recent study. Always go with the weight of evidence and wait for proof before attempting anything that will affect your health.

Senators Urge Stem Cell Expansion (April 27 2003)
From BioMed Central, a story on the current restrictive stem cell legislation. A few senators are trying to get the number of allowed lines expanded to allow meaningful research to be federally funded. (Should we be grateful, bearing in mind that these politicians are at fault for creating this problem in the first place? That's a topic for another discussion). This happens ahead of the forthcoming debate on banning theraputic cloning. Remember to contact your representatives and tell them what you think! If we don't make our voices heard, we are in danger of losing our best chances for future anti-aging medicine.

From the Front Lines (April 27 2003)
My attention was drawn to this article at LEF News. I occasionally post items from the business world; meaningful anti-aging therapies will be delivered by corporate entities after they leave the labs. Here we see what looks like the powerhouses Geron and ACT validating the younger BioMarker Pharmaceuticals. This is a good sign! BioMarker is dedicated to developing therapies to retard aging. This article means that the big guys in the industry are taking this research very seriously.

European Stem Cell Legislation Debated (April 26 2003)
Here is a CORDIS article that follows up on the ongoing European Parliament debate on criminalizing embryonic stem cell research. Quote for the day: "[T]he dignity of a human embryo weighs less heavily in the ethical balance than of a suffering human patient, and should be reflected in the eventual outcome of the debate." I urge European readers to contact your MEPs to ensure that a ban on research -- one far more restrictive than the current poorly considered US legislation -- is not enacted.

Yet More Reasons Not To Be Overweight (April 26 2003)
Being overweight -- even slightly overweight -- is being shown to be increasingly bad for your health and longevity. Not a year goes by, it seems, without researchers finding a new way in which more weight is damaging your future. This time it's cancer: being overweight means that you have a significantly higher chance of dying of cancer. So talk to your physician, look into calorie restriction and sort out your weight! It's really not hard to be healthy, and the benefits are great.

Boost For Adult Stem Cell Therapies? (April 25 2003)
ScienceBlog is reporting on experiments that might enable adult stem cells as a basis for treating neurological conditions of aging. Early days yet (I seem to be saying that a lot recently), but this is exciting research that promises answers within a year or two. Adult stem cell research is important because it is not (yet) restricted or banned by legislation. Of course, it would be even better if legislation that bans promising medical research had never been passed in the first place.

New York Gets New Aging Research Office (April 25 2003)
Betterhumans notes that the American Federation for Aging Research has opened a new office in New York. Since its founding in 1981, AFAR has provided more than US$64 million to researchers. As I've pointed out before, this amount of money is very significant to aging research, but a drop in the bucket when compared to cancer, AIDs or heart disease funding. Aging research must become a higher priority to more people in order to obtain necessary levels of funding. If this doesn't happen, we will all certainly face the threat of aging, decrepitude and death.

Theraputic Cloning Webcast Transcript (April 24 2003)
The PDF transcript of a webcast discussion on theraputic cloning is up in the SAGE Crossroads archive. Nothing new is said; the sides are worlds apart. On the one hand we have researchers who want to cure the incurable, relieve suffering and extend healthy life. On the other hand we have bioethicists who want to criminalize research and leave the sick to suffer and die. It's astonishing that someone can acknowledge the great potential of theraputic cloning for therapies, cures, health and longevity, yet still try to ban it.

Baby Teeth a Source of Stem Cells (April 24 2003)
I wasn't going to post this article from the New Scientist, but it occurred to be that it illustrates an important principle of research. Finding baby teeth to be a source of stem cells is just the sort of fortuous discovery -- obvious in hindsight -- that happens after a new field reaches a critical mass of initial research. Similar things are happening for calorie restriction, but we still seem to be waiting for the shoe to drop in aging research. More money, more advocacy, more sites like the Longevity Meme are needed!

A Pointed Article on a Bad Product (April 23 2003)
I'm always ready to say that there is a lot of junk and nonsense out there pretending to be legitimate anti-aging products and information. Here (from Newsday.com) is a pointed and enjoyable article on one such product. The take-home message here is "be careful!" Don't take anything you read online, in a store or in a catalog at face value. Always run it past a reputable source, do your own research and talk to your physician. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Your health is too valuable to waste on frauds, quacks and dubious products.

Diabetes Drug Produces Anti-Aging Effects? (April 23 2003)
It looks like a drug used to treat diabetes has been found to mimic the healthy life extension effects of calorie restriction in mice. (Reported in Canada Newswire). This is interesting, if early, research that parallels other efforts to discover a way to gain the benefits of calorie restriction without the calorie restriction. As ever, take this with a grain of salt until other researchers validate and build on the findings. Still, I'm happy to see more of this promising line of research. There should be more results coming in the next year or so from ongoing research on the mechanisms of calorie restriction.

Caleb Finch on Aging (April 22 2003)
(From the LEF News). This is an interesting article on one of earlier pioneers of modern aging research. An interesting character to be sure, he is still slugging away at important aging research today. Many aging researchers are currently in the process of establishing solid reputations like this, but there are nowhere near enough of them, and there is nowhere near enough funding! Supporting research and driving funding is just as important as practicing current healthy life extension techniques. A longer, healthier future can grow from new, more advanced medicine, but only with greater funding and support.

More Proof For Telomere Involvement in Aging (April 22 2003)
This article from Betterhumans is a clever illustration of the role telomeres play in aging. You will recall a flurry of articles a few months ago on telomeres and aging; researchers have been back in the labs since then, it seems. A good basic introduction to telomeres and why you should know about them is at InfoAging. This article opens up some intriguing possibilities for comparatively quickly testing the effects of telomere extension on skin grafts. If it works to halt premature aging in the grafts, then that would be strong evidence for trying the procedure elsewhere.

Examining the Bioethics Council (April 21 2003)
SAGE Crossroads presents an informative article on the members, views and short history of the President's Council on Bioethics. For the most part, it is a fair assessment of the unsavory views held by the more vocal members of the Council (such as Leon Kass, who believes that you should all die young and that medical research should be suppressed). I think that the author does let other members of the council off too easily. We should make no mistake: the Council as a whole is strongly anti-research and stands opposed to healthy life extension.

More on Progeria Research (April 21 2003)
The LEF News is reprinting another article on the recent Progeria breakthrough and its application to aging research. From the article: "It suggests a whole new target to study in aging research," Huber Warner of the National Institute on Aging said. "If changes in the nuclear envelope can cause these changes rapidly, you have to ask what changes might be occurring slowly, but continually, in the rest of us?" This is a small step when seen as a part of the big anti-aging research picture, but an important one. A cure for aging is built of many such small steps. We should place our support 100% behind the researchers who work so hard to ensure a long, healthy future for all of us.

Yet More Ways to Defeat Cancer (April 21 2003)
An article at Small Times (found via KurzweilAI.net) discusses some amazing research that should lead to an efficient way of nailing cancer cells in the body within the next few years. We should bear in mind that the current crop of near-breakthroughs in fighting cancer are the end result of three decades of intensive advocacy, funding and research. This can happen for aging itself if we work towards our goals and support future research. In the meanwhile, it is good to see cancer on the way out!

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