LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 19 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.
PRIZES IN AGING RESEARCH, UPDATE
I spoke about Aubrey de Grey and his plans to organize a prize for aging research in the last newsletter. A little on that:
I've queried a number of people since then, and things will apparently be happening within the next few weeks. The initial plan on the table is to roll out a faster, smaller initial prize for research to test the waters and demonstrate the utility of a prize to a number of interested backers. This will likely be the "Methuselah Mouse" prize mentioned at the link above. As this first prize runs and garners public support, a larger prize will be organized for direct human anti-aging research. The organizing group is thinking in terms of a year to pull this together.
There will be opportunities for all of us to help with the smaller research prize. They will be accepting donations at all levels to help swell the prize fund. I will certainly be breaking out my checkbook; I can't think of a better way spend that money. I'll be encouraging all of you to do the same!
Beyond that, a number of friendly webmasters have agreed to provide publicity for this effort and do their level best to get it noticed by the wider press. I'm currently working on a list for further publicity efforts. We shall see where it all goes; I will be keeping you fine folks updated as things progress.
POSITIVE STEM CELL RESEARCH, CROSSED FINGERS
A summary of the most interesting piece of research I've seen in a while is at the following link:
Why is this so tantalizing and promising? Well, for one, it promises a tremendous simplification and boost in the field of stem cell research. Up to this point, it was thought that there are many different types of stem cell. Not all of them are as potent or as useful for developing therapies. Many, like embryonic stem cells, are restricted by passed or pending legislation. This has in fact been a major point of contention, here at the Longevity Meme and elsewhere - that conservative forces were blocking vital medical research. See the following link for some of the examples I've been bringing up in past months:
If, as suggested, there is only one type of stem cell instead of many, then these legislative problems disappear immediately. Any adult stem cells could be utilized to grow any type of body tissue; this would be the start of a vast field of regenerative medicine. Replacement organs, regrowth of damaged tissue through simple injections, and many other wonders that we have already seen in development or medical trials would one day be commonly available.
We can hope! However, this stem cell research is as yet unsupported. It is very promising to a lot of people, and ears are perking up in the industry. We should see it proved or disproved fairly soon. It's worth remembering that the mechanisms of the human body have proven to be a LOT more complicated that was thought at least once per decade since something like 1850. In many ways, this stem cell research is almost too good to be true. But we can hope.
SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS AND THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT
Scientific progress: it's a wonderful thing in my opinion. Progress means that we live in houses rather than caves; that we live in comfort rather than hardship. We shouldn't forget that the vast majority of people slaved just to stay alive for a few short decades in past centuries, living in filth and disease.
Many people do forget. They discount and belittle the tremendous benefits that science has brought to humanity. They would shackle the engine of progress and halt the advance of science. They have their reasons; fear of change often heads the list. These people (Luddites, Conservatives, Greens and so forth) have existed throughout history, but have always been defeated. A good thing too! But defeat simply seems to mean that the next generation will live better, longer lives while fighting hard to prevent their children from enjoying the same benefits.
Today, humanity stands on the brink of real, meaningful anti-aging medicine. Readily available therapies to repair and prevent the damage we suffer simply from living could be mere decades away. Yet, people in positions of influence and power devote their time to blocking research and speaking out openly against extended health and life.
This isn't isolated; this isn't just a matter of distaste for advances in medicine for healthy life extension. It's part of a bigger war against scientific progress in all forms. We see it in the globalization debate, in local, national and international politics, in arguments over genetically modified foods. Influential and well-funded factions want to stop or even turn back the clock of progress for everyone. While they can live as they like in their own lives, they have no right to force their views on the world. Alas, they continue to try.
We cannot afford to lose these battles! The anti-aging medicine of the future is by no means a done deal. Human science makes us is capable of achieving so much that has simply not been done. We could have had permanent bases on the Moon, irrigated the Sahara and catalogued all life on the deepest ocean floor over the last 50 years. We have not. Likewise, there is no guarantee that advances in medicine will bring radical life extension rapidly enough to help those of us reading this now.
We must stand up and support what we believe in: more medical research, better medicine and healthier, far longer lives!
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
More on Heat Shock Protein Research (May 18 2003)
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.
More on Only One Type of Stem Cell (May 18 2003)
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.
How Aging Relates to Diabetes (May 16 2003)
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.
Link Between Aging and Age-Related Disease (May 16 2003)
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.
Greater Potential For Adult Stem Cells? (May 15 2003)
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.
Canada Moving Ahead With Stem Cell Research (May 15 2003)
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.
Premature Aging Syndrome Research In Mice (May 15 2003)
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.
More on Anti-Aging Confusion (May 14 2003)
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.
Distributed Computing vrs Diseases of Aging (May 14 2003)
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.
Sage Crossroads on Embryonic Stem Cells (May 13 2003)
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!
Medical Benefits of Nanotechnology (May 13 2003)
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."
More on Confusion Over Anti-Aging (May 12 2003)
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.
Stem Cell and Theraputic Cloning Legislation (May 12 2003)
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!
More on That Yeast Longevity Research (May 11 2003)
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.
US Falling Behind in Stem Cell Research (May 10 2003)
(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.
Research in Brain Aging Genetics (May 10 2003)
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.
On Hormone Replacement Therapy (May 09 2003)
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!
Bionic Eyes and Early Success (May 09 2003)
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.
Intriguing Finding for Male Longevity (May 09 2003)
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.
Site Outage (May 09 2003)
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.
Lots of Government Money For Nanotech (May 08 2003)
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.
Longevity Gene Discovered in Yeast (May 07 2003)
Research into the genetic regulation of aging has been in the news recently. Voice of America reports on researchers who have turned up an age-regulating gene in yeast. As always, the is early days, but this sort of research is always illuminating in some way. It parallels similar aging research in fruit flies and nematode worms, for example. More genetic research translates usefully from yeast to humans than you might imagine. The article also discusses ongoing research into reproducing the beneficial healthy life extension effects of calorie restriction without the need to eat fewer calories.
Another Cancer Therapy on the Way (May 06 2003)
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.
Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (May 06 2003)
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.
Leon Kass on Ageless Bodies (May 05 2003)
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!
A Prize For Aging Research (May 05 2003)
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!
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?