LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
August 11 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.
HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION AND TRANSHUMANISM
You may have noticed references to Transhumanism here and there on the Longevity Meme. There are links to Transhumanist websites on the home page and Transhumanist resources listed in our Resources section. What is Transhumanism and how is it applicable to healthy life extension?
Transhumanism is an offshoot or extension of Humanism, so we should certainly look at Humanism first. Humanism is an influential, time-honored philosophy that argues for certain fundamental human rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Humanism endorses the values of humane societies, built on reason and free inquiry. In terms of addressing everyday life, Humanist philosophy attempts to answer questions like:
- How should we behave toward one another?
- What is the best way to live within the constraints imposed on us by the human condition?
In essence, Humanism tells us: "We're all in the same boat here: by all means work towards your dreams, but be nice to your neighbor and don't tread on anyone's toes."
What is Transhumanism, and how does it differ from the Humanism that came before it? Transhumanism is philosophy of life; an evolving, debated collection of ideas, just like Humanism. Transhumanism builds on Humanist concepts by embracing progress. Transhumanism endorses the idea that humanity can, and should, strive to higher levels, physically, mentally and socially.
Transhumanism tells us: "While being nice and not treading on toes, the dreams we work towards can include a fleet of better boats for all of us."
Transhumanism is closely tied to an enthusiasm for ethical, responsible technological progress. This progress brings greater choice and options for improving the human condition. This is really nothing new: we have been doing just that for ages with fire, farming, steam, bicycles, antibiotics, vaccines, dental prosthesis, cell phones, and so forth. Each of these technologies enables us to overcome limits and by doing so improve our lives.
Given the emphasis that Transhumanism places on progress and overcoming the limitations that make life difficult at times, it is only natural that transhumanists support and encourage healthy life extension. Aging and age-related disease takes a terrible toll on us all; these are important, fundamental, terrible limits for us to strive against and eventually overcome. Transhumanism and advocacy for healthy life extension have gone hand-in-hand since the 1980s. At that time, few people took life extension research seriously and it was very much more fringe than it is now, both in academia and the medical research community.
Most influential transhumanist thinkers have written on the subject of life extension at some point in time, and many have done so extensively. Some of their introductory essays are republished on the Longevity Meme, in fact.
When you read about current aging research, progress in understanding the genetics of aging and scientists working towards medicine for healthy life extension, remember that groups of outspoken transhumanists have been working towards greater awareness of - and funding for - this field of research for the past 20 years. We owe them our thanks and support.
You can find out more about Transhumanism and transhumanist interest groups by following the links in the Longevity Meme resource section:
THE NAME RECOGNITION GAME
Fresh articles on cryonics and the Alcor Life Extension Foundation are still cropping up in the media with some regularity. Here is the latest, a well-balanced, informative piece:
Cryonics is mentioned in baseball commentaries, op-ed columns, as filler on late night shows. Search on Google News for "cryonics" - you'll see what I mean. All this is due to the cryonic suspension last year of someone famous: Ted Williams.
Given all the attention, wouldn't it just be wonderful to have some famed individual espouse calorie restriction, talk about healthy life extension, or advocate stem cell medicine? Actually, as it happens, we already do have a famous name supporting stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Christopher Reeve has been mentioned here before in the context of his untiring advocacy over the past year. We encourage you to let him know how much we appreciate his efforts:
Reeve has been in Israel recently, as that country has a very strong stem cell research community. In the US, Reeve speaks out against existing and proposed government restrictions on stem cell and theraputic cloning research. These are the technologies that will lead to a cure for spinal injuries and regenerative therapies for damaged organs and degenerative diseases of aging. These are the technologies that will give us longer, healthier lives.
Every time Christopher Reeve gets column inches in the media, it helps to build a more positive environment in the US for this research. It's hard for politicians to tell a famous, respected, well-liked person that research to cure their condition will be banned - and that is fortunate for the rest of us.
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
Another Way For Stem Cells To Regenerate Damaged Hearts (August 11 2003)
(From Yahoo! News). Hot on the heels of a recent successful human trial of a stem-cell based therapy for heart damage (that was promptly stopped by the FDA), here is news of research on another way of achieving the same result. A number of different research teams are all attempting to use stem cells as the basis for true regenerative medicine. Cheap, widely-available medicine that can regenerate damaged or age-weakened vital organs is the end goal of this research; this would certainly lead to longer, healthier lives.
Cryonics and the Name Recognition Factor (August 09 2003)
An article from the Berkshire Eagle is a good illustration of the benefits of name recognition to Alcor. The cryonic suspension provider has been getting a lot more press since taking on Ted Williams, a famed baseball player. Cryonics is valuable: the current indications are that we as a society are within decades of fighting aging to a standstill. For many people, however, this is not soon enough. Their only hope for a longer life is to take the chance on cryonic suspension.
Interview with Max More (August 09 2003)
Nanomagazine is carrying an interview with Max More, founder of the Extropy Institute. He and the Institute have been bullish on healthy life extension and medical research for decades. Alongside the Life Extension Foundation, the Institute was one of the earliest serious promoters of life extension concepts and activism. This interview covers a range of transhumanist and futurist topics, and a discussion on life extension and current advances in medicine occurs closer to the end. Readers who are interested in learning more about the support given to healthy life extension by the transhumanist philosophy and movement can find resources for further reading here at the Longevity Meme.
The Missing Stem Cell Debate (August 08 2003)
Here's an article from earlier in the year at GBN. It carries a strong, simple explanation of the damage currently being done by current and pending restrictions on stem cell research in the US (not to mention the threat of criminalization and outright bans). Some what-if questions applied to the microprocessor revolution of the 80s clearly show what we have to lose if we do not speak out in support of fundamental research into stem cell medicine. It is our best shot at real, near-term regenerative and healthy life extension medicine.
Regenerative Medicine For Stroke Damage (August 07 2003)
A short article at Medinews.com notes research success in a simple stem cell therapy to regenerate stroke damage in rats. This is very similar to a therapy for heart damage that was trialed successfully in humans earlier in the year (before being halted by an overzealous FDA). This first generation of simple stem cell therapies, in which the stem cells are more or less just injected into the patient and left to their own devices, are proving very promising. We could certainly see widely-available therapies by the end of the decade, assuming that the US government and others refrain from banning this vital medical technology.
Old Worms, New Aging Genes (August 07 2003)
From Science News Online, a very readable piece on the last decade of research into the genes that control aging in the humble worm. This work has had an enormous impact and is arguably responsible for the current wide range of studies on the genetics of aging and healthy life extension. These methuselah worms are the start of a process that will lead to gene-based healthy life extension therapies for humans. We need to be supporting researchers rather than legislating their research out of existence!
A Fix for Aging Eyes (August 06 2003)
The New Scientist reports on work aimed at a low-cost fix for the most common consequence of aging in human eyes. Progress in prosthetics and materials science are opening the door to a wide range of effective repairs to the human body. This field of study is advancing in step with stem cell medicine and other regenerative research strategies. These are the small steps that are essential to obtaining longer, healthier lives for all. One bit at a time, not all at once, is the way progress happens. Fixing aging eyes has been a topic much in the news of late; this is the fourth potential therapy for age-related eye conditions I've seen mentioned in recent months.
Interview With Aubrey de Grey (August 06 2003)
Aubrey de Grey is an aging researcher of note and one of the founders of the Methuselah Mouse Prize project. The Speculist is currently running an interview with de Grey on his views and work relating to understanding aging and enabling healthy life extension. Well worth reading to see what people on the front lines of research are thinking. A quote: "What Aubrey has to say is explosive - aging is curable. The answer will soon be in our grasp if we devote the necessary resources to going after it."
Genetic Research For Longer Life (August 05 2003)
From the Straits Times, a good general interest article on genetics research aimed at giving us all much, much longer, healther lives. It is very encouraging that media worldwide are showing an interest in the prospects offered by current research. From the article: "I am absolutely convinced we are going to be able to extend human life," Dr Johnson says. "This is not science fiction." Now if we could just convince the US and European governments to stop trying to ban and criminalize this vital research, things would be looking promising indeed.
Exercise and Take Supplements (August 04 2003)
From Breakthrough Digest, an article that reminds us of the importance of exercise and vitamin supplements, especially as we age. While looking ahead to the future of healthy life extension medicine, we must also take care of our bodies here and now. Fortunately it's not hard. Based on decades of scientific studies, the simple trio of calorie restriction, modest exercise and supplements appears to be the way to go. Everything else you see advertised or read about is either still in development or substantially less certain in the eyes of science. Read more about this in our introduction to healthy life extension.
Moving in the Right Direction (August 04 2003)
Simon Smith's column at Betterhumans this week is an interesting commentary on the polarization of views on life extension in the media. Most of what you read is overly optimistic or overly pessimistic. As Simon Smith points out, it is important to focus on overall progress in research rather than the up and down of individual articles. Personally, I think it's wonderful that we can be commenting on life extension in mainstream media at all.
Understanding Cell Signalling Vital to Many New Therapies (August 03 2003)
One of the important unifying threads in current medical research (as illustrated by this EurekAlert article) is the discovery and understanding of basic biochemical signalling processes with cells. Getting a handle on a specific signal is the first step to devising a therapy. In this case, it is signals regulating embryonic stem cell death, and researcher are clearly excited about the potential for therapies for neurodegenerative diseases of aging such as Alzheimer's. These are all small, important steps on the road to medicine that will lengthen and improve our healthy lifespan.
A View of the Fight Against Aging (August 03 2003)
The Globe and Mail is running a good general interest article on researchers and progress in the fight against aging. Progress is both medical and in changing atttitudes towards aging; seeing it as a treatable (and ultimately curable) medical condition, rather than as something that simply is. Many of the recent developments in aging and healthy life extension research are touched on, and some notables who oppose extending human life are quoted too. A quote: "for the first time in human history, an intense and methodical quest is under way to turn off aging with proven science, instead of snake oil."
Genetics of Longevity, A Long Haul Yet (August 03 2003)
This article from Betterhumans demonstrates that a complete genetic understanding of longevity is still a long way away. We've learned so many important things, many of which will lead to therapies, but there is so much yet to do. In many ways, modern genetics is a field just getting underway now that the proper tools - fast computers, better materials science - are in hand. Genetics is a vastly important field, but stem cell medicine (and its intersection with genetics) seems to offer a better chance of quick payoffs and effective therapies for healthy life extension in the near future.
Site Outage: We're Back Up Again (August 03 2003)
Apologies for the two day downtime; our host had something of a router meltdown. As long-time readers will know, hosting the Longevity Meme seems to have been the kiss of death for many providers. We've moved four times in the past two years, far above the average. We've been happy with the present provider (Chicago Webs) up until this point, so hopefully things will get back to the normal level of fine service in the future.
Regenerative Stem Cell Research Aims at Diabetes Cure (July 30 2003)
(From ScienceDaily). Stem cell based regenerative medicine offers potential cures for a wide range of conditions. Diabetes is one of these; in this case a cure would consist of producing new pancreatic tissue for the patient. Researchers are far along in the process of understanding how to do this. Just like cancer, diabetes as a life threatening condition appears to be on a short clock. All this research depends, of course, on the US government not enacting a ban on these technologies. The current administration has already slowed research with ill-advised legislation. Remember: you can do something about this!
Helping the Brain to Regenerate (July 30 2003)
Betterhumans talks about recent work on a new way to help the brain regenerate damage from stroke or neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. This is comparatively low-tech - simply blocking a key chemical involved in regulating neural growth - and is not a path to real cures. However, researchers would not be able to make this leap without the tremendous advances in medical technology and biochemistry over the past decade. The more we learn, the more we can do. Articles like this are very encouraging.
Common Mechanisms in Cancer and Aging (July 29 2003)
The latest news article at SAGE Crossroads is a helpful high-level overview of recent research on the common ground shared by cancer and aging in the body. Scientists have made amazing progress in the past few years in uncovering the complex biochemical mechanisms of both cancer and aging, and we see the two ever more entangled the more we dig. Understanding always leads to the ability to act, however. Researchers will soon be able to use this new knowledge to develop far more effective therapies in the fight against cancer, and the first true therapies in the fight against aging.
AFAR Gets Wider Exposure (July 29 2003)
The Alliance for Aging Research is getting better exposure these days, as this press release/article at Yahoo! News shows. AFAR does a very good job in the sort of advocacy that supports the advance of medical science for longer, healthier lives. They are more mainstream than most of the healthy life extension crowd, of course, but organizations like this play an important role in fighting to improve our future health and longevity.
Some Sensible Advice on Health and Aging (July 28 2003)
There's no such thing as too many articles that hit all the sensible, obvious, smart points about maintaining long term health. Here's one from the Edmonton Journal. You only get one body to make it through the next few decades of medical advances in regenerative medicine, so it's best to take good care of yourself. Lose weight, exercise, take supplements, practice calorie restriction and keep up a good relationship with a physician you trust. Young or old, it's the simple, obvious things that will keep you alive and well to benefit from the future of healthy life extension and advancing medical science.
Reeve Advocates Research in Israel (July 28 2003)
Christopher Reeve, movie star, vocal advocate for stem cell research and the potential of regenerative medicine, will be in Israel this week. (Article found via Transhumanity). There, he will speak out in support of Israeli medical researchers and the progress they have made in pushing the frontiers of the field. Reeve is one of the best known research advocates in the US today. He is understandably critical of US government efforts to slow and even criminalize the research that will lead to cures for his and many other conditions. His advocacy for better medicine benefits all of us too: you should certainly thank him for it.
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?