LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
August 25 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.
THE FIRST GLIMMERINGS OF VENTURE FUNDING
Venture capitalists are a curious breed, with apologies in advance to any who happen to be reading this. Competition and culture within their industry (largely acting as middlemen between wealthy investors and companies in need of funding) lead to an interesting balance between risk and risk aversion. While the hope of huge returns drives people to risk enormous sums of money on unproven technologies, these same enormous sums of money inspire caution and cold feet. Venture capitalists, like the rest of us, are in search of the mythical sure thing, the foolproof investment. This is why the venture industry as a whole invests in cycles and tends to pour far too much money into any one given industry at a time. When one venture capital group takes the leap and puts money into, say, the new industry of optical networking, all the other venture capitalists will look long and hard at optical networking themselves. Pretty soon, the word will get out. New optical networking companies will form just because the venture capitalists are hooked on optical networking this quarter and funding is there for the taking.
This is the way it works, and this is why it is very gratifying to see BioMarker Pharmaceutical on the path for a first ("series A") round of funding.
BioMarker is working on medical research technology and therapies based on an understanding of the genetic and biochemical mechanisms of calorie restriction. In other words, a calorie restriction diet has been shown to cause certain biochemical differences and changes in genetic expression in practitioners. (You may recall that initial research on this topic first appeared in the news not so many months ago). BioMarker is attempting to reproduce or improve on these changes so as to extend healthy lifespan without the calorie restriction diet, and hopefully by many more years than a calorie restriction diet.
BioMarker is firmly and unambiguously marketed as a healthy life extension company. The BioMarker team is very clear in saying that they are working on the age-retarding medicine of the future. If they get funded, and fingers are crossed here, we can expect healthy life extension based on new medicine to become a hot new area for venture capital. We could be looking at the opening of funding floodgates for monies that would dwarf current investment in aging and healthy life extension research. This is a very exciting prospect indeed!
As a side note, BioMarker is not the only group working on this area of calorie restriction based research. An article posted today outlines some more recent research on the mechanisms of calorie restriction, and speculates on how they might be translated into therapies that will help us all to live longer:
PRACTICE CALORIE RESTRICTION
Of course, until these technologies are ready and available, calorie restriction is still the only proven-beyond-a-doubt means of extending your healthy lifespan. It's good for you as well! The Longevity Meme recently put up a series of Hot Topic pages, one of which is a good introduction to getting started on a calorie restriction diet. Saunter over and take a look:
Further resources and assistance can be found, as always, with the friendly folks at the CR Society.
HOW CAN WE HELP BIOMARKER?
Most of us can't help out here, unfortunately. I bring this point up just in case some of those reading have connections in the venture capital industry. I, myself, utilized the few tenuous connections I have in that marketplace and passed on some potential leads to Dr. Xi Zhao-Wilson, the BioMarker CEO. I can't say they were good leads - 999 out of every 1000 conversations with venture capitalists and other assorted middlemen in the funding game go nowhere - but I can say that I helped.
If you have connections, point them in the direction of BioMarker. It's at the forefront of the small pack of new healthy life extension companies, has credible science behind it and an amazing potential end product. If you are in the medical research, pharmaceutical, aging or healthy life extension industry, have a think about how you could help out via word of mouth or friends of friends. After all, everyone looks to be a winner if BioMarker succeeds in obtaining venture funding.
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
Interesting Research Into Sirtuins and Aging (August 24 2003)
From the Washington Post, and article on recent research aimed at stimulating a recently recognized anti-aging enzyme in cells. This research builds on recent examinations of the root causes and mechanisms of healthy life extension associated with calorie restriction. These scientists have a candidate for the underlying mechanism, and they have been trying to boost that mechanism in studies. They are meeting with some success, it would appear, and have an ambitious roadmap ahead of them. We wish them luck and speed in developing therapies based on this research.
Stem Cells To Lung Cells (August 24 2003)
This article (found via Transhumanity) describes a breakthrough in growing lung cells from embryonic stem cells. This lays the groundwork for the development of regenerative therapies for a wide range of many deadly lung conditions like cystic fibrosis and lung cancer. All in all, this is a good year for regenerative medicine; scientists have been making astounding progress in understanding and using stem cells to grow replacement tissue and organs. We can only hope that this keeps up!
In Many Important Ways, We Still Fumble in the Dark (August 22 2003)
Despite rapid and encouraging progress in many fields of aging, regenerative medicine and healthy life extension, there are countless vitally important areas in which we are still in the dark regarding the workings of our own bodies. This article from the BBC highlights one such area; changes in the brain that occur with aging. How do they affect us? How can we retain the plasticity and ability to learn that young people possess? These are questions without answers, just a few amongst many. Much more research needs to be done to allow us the level of control we would like over the changes in our bodies that happen with age.
Every Little Bit Helps (August 22 2003)
From the Harvard Gazette, an examination of the gains we can all make to our healthy lifespans through sensible health measures and risk avoidance. Gaining nearly a decade of additional healthy life may not sound like much in the context of what is expected from future medicine, but every little bit counts until that future medicine is here and ready for use. Working to stay alive, active and healthy while scientists perfect healthy life extension is the way to go!
Human Study of Parkinson's Gene Therapy Commences (August 21 2003)
(From Betterhumans). As I have mentioned before, effective therapies for curing and preventing neurodegenerative diseases are a must for long term healthy life extension: the brain is the only part of the body that can't just be replaced when medical technology allows organs to be grown to order. Interestingly, this potential Parkinson's therapy builds on research on GABA that only made the press a few months ago; the medical research process seems at times to be speeding up (at least when it is not being legislated to a standstill).
Feeling Threatened by Healthy Life Extension (August 21 2003)
From the National Review, a careles article and example of someone who doesn't want to live a longer life. Now, this is a fine personal choice; the freedom to choose whether or not to live a longer life is the very freedom that healthy life extension research seeks to give us, after all! It is unfortunate that so many commentators who would choose short lives for themselves feel the need to force that choice on everyone else as well.
Trapped Between Uncertainty and Snake Oil (August 20 2003)
A Newsday.com article illustrates the place that many people find themselves when considering healthy life extension: trapped between uncertain science on one side and outright snake oil on the other. For all the touting of growth hormones, the underlying studies and science are just too uncertain. There is only one scientifically sure method of healthy life extension right now, and that is calorie restriction. Everything beyond that is a gamble of one type or another: better to stay sensibly healthy and work towards supporting the healthy life extension medicine of the future.
Aiming At a World of Healthy Centenarians (August 20 2003)
Dr. Klatz of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine discusses the prospects for healthy life extension therapies in this reprint from the LEF News. As the article points out, even the beginnings of stem cell and regenerative medicine are showing great potential. Currently deadly diseases and conditions will one day be manageable or cured, and as Dr. Klatz says: "Turning heart disease and cancer into chronic conditions rather than killers will add 13 years to the average lifespan, and that's just the beginning."
New Direction For Alzheimer's Research (August 19 2003)
The scientific focus on Alzheimer's is starting to bear interesting fruit. This article from ScienceDaily discusses research supporting a new theory that predicts the biochemical causes of Alzheimer's to be reversible. From the article: "It might be possible to not only slow down memory loss, but to actually reverse it, to bring memory function back to normal." Progress in the fight against neurodegenerative conditions is very important for healthy life extension: the brain is the one organ that can't be replaced or renewed using near-future stem cell based regenerative medicine.
Is Politics Stifling the Best Medical Research? (August 19 2003)
SAGE Crossroads have put up the transcript of an interesting interview with Steven Hall, author of Merchants of Immortality. The state of healthy life extension research is discussed, and the transcript gives a good primer on the results of existing and threatened anti-research legislation. We have entered a time of tremendous medical opportunity and progress, progress that strong factions within the US and other governments are attempting to squash. We must not let this happen, so stand up and take action!
In Depth on Cancer Vaccines (August 18 2003)
(Found via Transhumanity). BusinessWeek goes in depth on the development of cancer vaccines, treatments that trick the immune system into destroying cancer cells. A surprisingly large percentage of all new research and a number of industry heavyweights are focused on vaccines at the moment, so results may just be a matter of time. A lot of money is being poured into this research, as well as into understanding the biochemical cellular mechanics that will make it all possible. This fundamental understanding should bring long term gains in other fields of biomedicine. All in all, a very interesting and informative article.
The Bionic Stepping Stone (August 17 2003)
BusinessWeek posts an article on the use of bionics and hybrid cellular-electronic apparatus (such as advanced machines that help patients survive liver failure until a donor can be found). This field of endeavor is producing some real success stories, both as a stepping stone to real regenerative medicine and as a source of therapies for serious illness or damage to the human body. Regaining lost capabilities and preventing deaths due to organ failure are amazing advances indeed, and all a part of the larger medical advance towards enabling longer, healthier lives.
Working Towards the Medicine of Physical Immortality (August 17 2003)
A good, balanced article from The Age gives an overview of current research and opinions within the scientific community on medical research that will lead to (effectively) physical immortality. Many commentators feel that a crude form of physical immortality - based on stem cell therapies, replacement organs grown to order and other forms of regenerative medicine to repair the effects of aging - may be only a few decades away. This is, of course, provided that the US and other governments do not continue in their misguided, damaging attempts to hinder or ban these forms of medicine. Read the article; some food for thought and sensible advice.
BioMarker Searching Out Venture Capital (August 16 2003)
As reported on the Life Extension Foundation website, BioMarker Pharmaceuticals is on the path to obtaining first round venture funding. They have a strong case and I'm certainly rooting for them. BioMarker, as you might recall, is working on translating proven healthy life extension via calorie restriction into genetic therapies for longer, healthier lives. This is one to watch, since venture firms tend to invest in sets: if BioMarker gets funding, there will likely be a dozen more real anti-aging research companies funded within the next few years.
Alcor: Just the Facts (August 16 2003)
From azcentral.com, a "just the facts" article on Alcor and its history that might provide useful background information for those of you unfamiliar with cryonic suspension. More information can be found at Alcor's website. As has been noted before, Alcor is no stranger to the media circus. More publicity for the practice and theory of cryonic suspension can only be a good thing. For many people -- the very old, the terminally ill -- cryonics provides the only slim chance there is for a much longer lifespan.
Cryonic Suspension Market Expands (August 15 2003)
Cryonics is very much in the news of late. We can hope that this will result in more attention being paid to other aspects of life extension as well. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that a new cryonic suspension provider is to open in Florida. We can chalk this up to increased public awareness of cryonics and the way the market works. As soon as any business is widely commented on, someone somewhere will decide to join in. This new company ("Suspended Animation") is certainly welcome; more competition in any industry leads to better service, lower prices and greater public awareness of the services offered.
Progress in Growing Replacement Organs (August 15 2003)
(Found via Transhumanity). Australian researchers have successfully used stem cell medical technology to grow organs in culture. Admittedly, their choice of organ would not be the first one I would have worked on, but nonetheless they have made some important breakthroughs. Specifically, they have found how to grow a blood system within the organ, vital to create working transplants. The researchers are very optimistic about the potential of their work to produce available therapies within the next decade: this is encouraging indeed.
More Bone Regeneration On The Way (August 14 2003)
Research (and working therapies in China) to regenerate bone has been much in the news lately. ScienceDaily remarks on funding for another new method using gene engineering to encourage the body to regrow bone and heal traumatic damage. Bone loss is an unfortunate but currently unavoidable consequence of aging, osteoporosis and many traumatic accidents. Low cost, reliable therapies for regenerating bone are a vital step forward on the path to longer, healthier lives.
Nanoparticle Antioxidants Extend Cell Lifespan (August 14 2003)
Scientific progress has been described as a series of successful educated guesses followed by a lot of hard work. Here is one of those successful educated guesses (from Science Daily): a researcher has found that a single dose of anti-oxidant nanoparticles quite considerably extends the life of brain cells. This is a very dramatic demonstration of the free radical theory of aging at the cellular level, much more impressive than anything achieved to date. This is very early work of course, but the researchers are already talking about developing therapies for age-related disorders based on these findings. A number of people in the healthy life extension community will be watching this work with great interest.
More on Latest Alcor News (August 14 2003)
A more balanced MSNBC article sheds a little light on what is going on. It looks like a disgruntled ex-employee of Alcor is behind this round of bad press; it's a great pity, but things like this occasionally happen. Looking on the bright side, there's no such thing as bad publicity for a process or business model (like cryonic suspension). The more we see it in the news, the better. We hope Alcor weathers this storm as it has others in the past and improves its ability to offer suspension services as a result.
Bad Press For Alcor Again (August 13 2003)
The rancorous legal dispute amongst the children of Ted Williams has produced a fair amount of bad press for Alcor. (Including another article from earlier in the week). It's hard to say what's really going on behind closed doors, and remember that what ends up in the press is what various parties want to end up in the press. At least half of Williams' family wants his body released for cremation, and have bad-mouthed Alcor in the past. It's best to wait and see what comes out in the wash rather than jump to conclusions.
First UK Stem Cell Line Produced (August 13 2003)
From the BBC: the first UK line of embryonic stem cells has been created. This is an important step forward to enable research in the UK and further afield. Of the more scientifically capable European countries, the UK has the least restrictive legislation regarding stem cell research. Regenerative therapies for diseases of aging such as diabetes and Parkinson's are one important goal. As research in the US and Japan has demonstrated, a wide range of other conditions and damage are open to stem cell therapies as well.
Science, Aging, Genetics, Calorie Restriction (August 12 2003)
The New Haven Register prints an easy-reading article on some of current attempts to unravel the genetic underpinnings of calorie restriction and aging. Calorie restriction is a demonstrated, effective means of extending healthy lifespan. Understanding the genetic effects associated with calorie restriction offers the hope of therapies that radically extend healthy lifespan without any associated diet and lifestyle changes. Biomarker Pharmaceuticals is a venture-funded company currently attempting to capitalize on this sort of research. Its existence is a sure sign that the larger medical research market is taking this very seriously.
Healthy Life Extension Commentary on Slashdot (August 12 2003)
I can't help but feel that some important threshold in public awareness has been passed when a New York Times article on the science behind greatly extending healthy lifespan is a topic for discussion on Slashdot. The article quotes Aubrey de Grey of Methuselah Mouse Project fame; he's been getting a fair few column inches of late, which is also a good thing. Slowly but surely, healthy life extension and aging research is moving closer to the spotlight.
Reversing Autoimmune Diseases (August 11 2003)
ScienceBlog discusses some fascinating research into reversing the effects of autoimmune diseases (often resulting from aging) such as arthritis and type-1 diabetes. This work incorporates many of the touchstones of next-generation medicine: personalization of therapies to individual patients, regeneration of damage, genetic therapies and tests that can accurately predict the course of a disease years ahead of time. The results in mice are very impressive indeed, and it seems that these researchers are already embarking on bringing therapies to human patients.
More On The FoxM1b Longevity Gene (August 11 2003)
This article from LEF News updates us on research into a longevity gene first reported last year. Researchers believe that the FoxM1b gene has a strong effect on cell regeneration and overall longevity, and are conducting experiments in mice to verify this. The theory is that some of the effects of aging are due to a decline in expression of this gene, leading to a similar decline in the ability of the body to repair damage. This research appears to be at a very interesting stage, with the scientists observing a new set of gene-engineered mice to see what effect enhancing this gene has on their overall healthy lifespan. Exciting stuff!
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.
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?