The Longevity Meme, in addition to serving up news and showing you the best way to live a longer, healthier life now, is devoted to raising awareness and supporting the medical research that will extend our healthy lifespans. Being informed is a very good thing, and I encourage you to use this site as a stepping stone to a greater understanding of healthy life extension. However, being informed is simply the first step. To ensure our future health and longevity, we must also take action to support and encourage medical research. We try to make activism accessible here at the Longevity Meme, so I encourage you to take a look and see how you can help.
At Betterhumans, exciting news from the Baltimore National Institute on Aging labs. It seems that the genetic changes and damage caused by Werner's syndrome, a premature aging condition, are very similar to those caused by normal aging; close enough, in fact, to say that Werner's syndrome is probably an acceleration of the normal aging process. This presents an immediate opportunity to learn far more about the mechanisms of aging, and I predict that we will be hearing more on this topic in the year ahead.
A very forward-looking article at Salon discusses the revolution just getting underway in medical research today. As the author correctly points out, we are on the verge of a flood of advancements in artificial body parts and biomedicine, designed to improve our quality of life. While many of the ideas are further into our future, the article gives a good idea as to the range of research going on today, and the near term improvements that will result.
From this Reuters article, it seems the the US government (the National Institutes of Health in particular) is still providing a very small amount of funding for stem cell research. Any money to further this vital foundation for regenerative and healthy life extension medicine is welcome, but far more is needed. Stem cell therapies offer the prospect of cures for many, possibly all, degenerative diseases and effects of aging. Given the ongoing death toll from aging, shouldn't we be funding and supporting this research far more eagerly?
The transcript of the latest SAGE Crossroads webcast, a discussion on the war over anti-aging medicine, is now online. In essence, the quackery, false claims and over the top marketing associated with much of the commercial "anti-aging" industry has damaged the legitimate, scientific fight against aging. Funding for meaningful research rests on public opinion and public understanding of the near time possibilities of healthy life extension. Large segments of the commercial "anti-aging" industry have muddied the waters, engaged in unethical practices and generally made life harder for the rest of us. Unless this problem is overcome, we will all suffer the consequences: less funding, less research, less progress, shorter and more unhealthy lives.
From BreakThrough Digest, a long article on Alzheimer's and the current state of medical research. Despite a flurry of small breakthroughs in Alzheimer's research over the past few years (not all of which are mentioned in this article), widely available options for therapy are still thin on the ground. As yet, there is no cure in humans. The best defense against developing Alzheimer's appears to be - as it is for so many diseases of aging - to adopt a good diet, lose weight, take supplements, exercise your mind and body, and stick to that regiment. Remember: nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!
From the Palm Beach Post (found via Transhumanity), news of a legislative block to the hopes of a new cryonic suspension provider. Local government wants to regulate the business under funeral parlor rules that would effectively prevent cryonic suspensions from being performed. Some pro- and anti-technology views from locals round out the article, but all in all this is a disappointing setback for the nascent cryonics industry as a whole. It could take years to sort this mess out, and the cost would likely be prohibitive to most new cryonics companies.
BioMed Central reports on the debate over administering working stem cell therapies for heart damage in Germany. Oddly enough, given current restrictive Germany legislation, work appears to be progressing further in Germany than in the US. Here, the FDA simply stepped in to block treatments and human trials. Studies and human trials in the US, Japan and Germany have shown that this therapy works extraordinarily well; it saves lives that would otherwise be lost to heart disease, damage or failure. Despite this evidence, German and US government regulatory bodies are still blocking or attempting to block human trials.
(Found via the Speculist). There have been rumblings in Arizona about regulating Alcor, a cryonics provider. Some people in the cryonics community view government regulation as a necessary or desirable stepping stone towards a larger, more professional, stable cryonic suspension marketplace. This commentary from Rand Simberg is more middle of the road; it is a sensible examination of the current situation, and points out some of the pitfalls and possibly unethical actors in this play.
Yeast, mice, rats and flies are the tools of basic research into aging and related conditions. Today, it's yeast. This article from Betterhumans discusses recent work that will lead to a better understanding of the link between aging and cancer. The chance of developing cancer increases rapidly after a certain age, suggesting a biochemical trigger of some sort. This research puts scientists on track to find - and then hopefully fix - this mechanism in humans. As I have said before, scientists are at the stage where any and all new information can be turned to positive use in the fight against aging.
The Mercury News notes that the California governor has signed bills approving stem cell research in that state. State funding is as yet not in the picture, but this approval should help to dispel some of the miasma over all stem cell research, private and government-funded, caused by current and pending Federal anti-research legislation. Stem cell research is the gateway to the first effective therapies that will repair the effects of aging, cure degenerative conditions and extend healthy lifespan. Any delay in developing this new field of medicine leads to more suffering and more death, all of which could be prevented.
(From azcentral.com). If something is worth saying, it's worth saying a few times: it's never too late to start a low calorie diet (like calorie restriction). Health benefits and a longer healthy lifespan are possible even if you start a low calorie diet later in life. The article offers cautions, but calorie restriction is still the current gold standard of healthy life extension, with decades of scientific research and positive studies behind it. This will help you live healthily for longer, but remember that is just a stepping stone on the way to far longer lives: we need to support medical research for the future of healthy life extension!
This article at Reason Online is somewhat tangential to the real business of healthy life extension, but the FDA and Life Extension Foundation are influential players in the ongoing battles over research, supplements and consumer rights. From where I stand, the FDA is one of the most outrageous examples of government waste and senseless obstruction. The FDA, alongside anti-research legislation, is causing great harm to the development of age-retarding pharmaceuticals, stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine - all essential first steps towards indefinite healthy lifespans.
In an article in Wired, the continuing effects of US anti-research legislation are spelled out. Stem cell research is still suffering in the US due to existing legislation that blocks federal funding and fear of pending legislation that would ban most current stem cell work. This research has already produced working therapies for heart disease and regenerative medicine that can cure Crohn's Disease or alleviate Parkinson's symptoms. I encourage you to write to your representatives and ask them why the US government is trying to block this promising, successful medical research.
(From NanoAging). Occasionally, I like to illustrate the amazing advances in automation that drive biomedical research. It's easy to forget that the current rapid pace of research rests on decades of hard work by toolmakers. This article discusses a recent advance in screening potentially life-extending compounds on nematode worms; seemingly boring tools like this can speed up the whole drug-discovery process by a factor of a hundred or more. That end result is certainly not boring!
The Methuselah Mouse Prize is garnering more press, this time from the esteemed science journal Nature. The prize also gets a mention in Slashdot and a Telegraph article on telomeres and healthy life extension. From the Nature article, the prize "draws attention to some very worthwhile research." The Methuselah Mouse prize is gathering momentum! This is very heartening, as it is indeed drawing attention to vital groundwork in the fight against aging and age-related conditions. Have you made a donation yet? You can read more about research prizes and the reasons to donate here at the Longevity Meme.
A mixed article in the Miami Herald (found via Transhumanity) on cryonics and the opening of a new provider. The Life Extension Foundation funds a lot of the new cryonics activity in the US, as well as more conventional healthy life extension research. It's important to remember that cryonic suspension is an educated gamble in scientific research, made by people who do not want to die but have no other medical options. It is unproven, but a far, far better option than the alternative. Most of the critics of cryonic suspension would no doubt be more receptive if they themslves were dying of old age or uncurable disease.
Science Daily delivers this good news. Theraputic cloning has been shown to cure mice suffering from the mouse equivelant of Parkinson's. Getting a treatment to work in mice is a big step forward in developing a working therapy for humans. Given the similarities between Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases, this family of therapies should have broad applications. This advance is exactly the sort of high profile breakthrough needed to help block anti-research legislation. As a reminder, a bill banning theraputic cloning research is still awaiting a final Senate vote. I encourage you to write to your senator in protest.
To the press, it's not real medicine unless it's in a pill. The first real anti-aging treatments will more likely focus on stem cell and regenerative medicine rather than compounds you can swallow. Still, this article from the New York Times is a very good overview of current efforts to develop and market working healthy life extension treatments. It's worth noting the problems that exist due to the historical association of life extension and "anti-aging" with quacks and fraudsters: something that, unfortunately, still continues today.
The Gainsville Sun reports on progress in the develop of regenerative medicine based on adult stem cells. While the article focuses on recent technical successes in proving that what works for mice will also work for humans, there are also comments on the wider field. As a heartening example: "We are gaining increasing information about the potential of these cells to restore function in brain, heart, liver and other tissues. The more we learn about this, the more horizons are expanding as to clinical applications." Now if we could just stop the FDA from blocking successful trials, things would be looking up.
In a short note for an otherwise slow news day, the Swiss parliament has voted to allow research on embryonic stem cells obtained from "surplus human embryos." This is a small step forward in the midst of hostile research environments in most EU countries. Stem cell research is exhibiting enormous potential to provide cures for many diseases, and the ability to regenerate damaged tissue in many parts of the body. Blocking and banning this research damages our future health and longevity. We should all speak out in favor of longer, healthier lives through medical research!
As noted in the New York Times, the beneficial effects of low-calorie diets are available at any age (in flies at least). This follows up on similar research in mice that shows calorie restriction brings on beneficial changes in genetic expression very rapidly. It doesn't matter at what age the diet is started. You do have to stay on the diet to maintain the beneficial effects, however. What are you waiting for? Try calorie restriction today! You'll feel better and live a longer, healthier life.
(From the LEF News). The russian researcher who correctly predicted the existence of telomeres is making some bold new predictions on the underlying mechanisms of aging. The information in this article is sparse, but we'll be hearing more as other researchers look into testing the claims and evidence. The idea of a single central, root mechanism for aging is not in favor with most biogerontologists, who believe aging is a combination of several complex processes. But this is the cut and thrust of scientific debate in a young field. With more funding, we shall see how it all turns out in the laboratory.
Tech Central Station explains the serious damage to medical research caused by FDA policies. The time and costs imposed by the FDA have risen drastically in the past 20 years, to the point at which many promising medical treatments are just abandoned. The FDA makes it impossible to develop or market them in the US. This directly affects your future health and longevity, since the FDA is endangering potential (and even working) regenerative and stem cell therapies. You can find out more at FDA Review, and should write to your representatives to protest this wanton destruction of medical progress.
AIDS research today is well-funded and has made good progress, largely as a result of early, successful activism and education about the disease in the 1980s. As Bono puts it: "Seven thousand people dying a day is not a cause. It's an emergency." But 150,000 people die every day due to the effects of aging. Why, we have to ask ourselves, isn't aging, anti-aging and healthy life extension research funded to the hilt? Finding the right answer to this question and acting on it is essential to ensure our future health and longevity.
(From mercola.com). We all know that calorie restriction is currently the only proven, accessible way to extend healthy lifespan. Getting started can be a little intimidating, however. In this article, Dr. Mercola offers thoughts, advice and a lot of good references on starting calorie restriction. While making best use of these calorie restriction resources, remember that modest improvements to healthy lifespan today are just a part of the Longevity Meme. We must also actively support medical research to develop the effective, long term healthy life extension therapies of tomorrow.
Researchers are making progress on developing stem cell therapies to treat Parkinson's (and other neurodegenerative conditions) as this BBC article shows. There have been some fairly impressive early work and demonstrations, but it seems we are still some way away from human trials of any therapy. In part, this is due to the stifling effects of restrictive or threatened legislation. In part, it is simply the case that more funding is needed. Part of the groundwork for healthy life extension is ensuring publicity and funding for medical development. This doesn't happen overnight, but please do see how you can help.
The always informative (if a bit conservative) InfoAging has updated its calorie restriction pages. Calorie restriction is the only current scientifically proven way to extend healthy lifespan. If you want to learn more about calorie restriction diets and how to get started, the Longevity Meme provides some introductory materials and suggestions. It's worth noting that a number of companies (like BioMarker Pharmaceuticals) are working on developing age retarding therapies based on the mechanisms of calorie restriction.
As you may have noticed, the Longevity Meme now supports RSS for most of the site content. RSS-enabled news aggregators and weblog tools (like NewsGator, Radio Userland, FeedReader, AmphetaDesk and many others) are becoming a useful alternative for organizing your access to news, articles, blogs and other online information. The orange "XML" logos on the Longevity Meme link to our various RSS feeds, and you can find an overview at our main syndication page. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to contact us.
The Financial Times notes that German drug marker Schering is embarking on a big stem cell research and development venture in Japan. Legislative and cultural conditions in Asia are far more condusive to this sort of aging research. Japan even has a "Respect the Aged" holiday! From the article: "When compared to the situation in the US and especially when compared to Germany, the conditions for cell research in Japan appear to be the most modern. The Japanese government has fully recognised the needs and the challenges of an ageing society."
A lot of articles on the cost of increasing longevity to government medical programs have been published in past weeks, like this one from the Telegraph. Studies note that increased healthy longevity doesn't add to the cost of government health services. In other words, politicians might now look more favorably on healthy life extension research because it won't increase medicare (or NHS in the UK) costs. This is a typical modern governmental view, unfortunately. The idea that the system should serve the people, rather than vice versa, seems to be quaint and outmoded these days.
This article in the Tuscon Citizen is an interesting glimpse behind the curtain at Alcor. There are some more snippets of information on the reasons behind recent departures and a little insight into the financial workings of this non-profit. Cryonics is very much a niche service at the moment. As I have said before, I hope that this current media attention leads to a more professional, growing cryonics industry. That in turn will help turn public attention to issues of healthy life extension funding and research.
The Immortality Institute is a growing non-profit organization with many of the same healthy life extension goals as the Longevity Meme. Education, outreach and advocacy for healthy life extension are all very important. Funding for age retarding research is determined by the popularity and publicity of healthy life extension as a cause. I encourage you to show your support for healthy life extension research and awareness by joining as a full member. Joining or not, you should certainly visit the Immortality Insitute forum to see an vibrant healthy life extension community in action. I hope to see you there!
We talk about mice a lot here at the Longevity Meme. This is because mice are the testbed for most early healthy life extension research. If a new therapy makes mice live longer, healthier lives, then it is a shorter path to implementing the same therapy in humans. Here is an article from SAGE Crossroads that discusses the current state of mice in research. Apparently, medical research processes relating to mice are open to improvements (such as standards and better procedures) that should speed up the path to research results.
An article from The Age highlights new chemical screening technology that speeds up the process of finding potential drugs by a factor of 100. In this case, the technology is applied to Alzheimer's research, but we can expect to see it used elsewhere. Automation of time-consuming and expensive portions of medical research is one of the reasons we are seeing a speeding of the pace of discovery in medical science. Unfortunately, this has been matched with an dramatic increase in the costs and delays from bureaucratic requirements on the industry (such as those demanded by the expanding, slow FDA in the US).
Acumen Journal of Sciences is running a for and against pair of articles on healthy life extension (found via the Immortality Institute). The pro-death, anti-research article is here. Medical scientists are working hard and obtaining results, but there is still a hill to climb while some doctors and researchers loudly declaim the need to block healthy life extension research. As I have said before, the biggest hurdle to overcome is public understanding and acceptance of the true potentials of medical research.
A short Reuters article discusses the upward trend in health and lifespan, a trend that appears to be speeding up. This, of course, is the result of decades of hard, successful work by medical researchers and the companies that commercialize their discoveries. The continuation and increased speed of this trend is what healthy life extension is all about! By staying healthy using the techniques and technologies of today, we can be alive and active to benefit further from the medicines of tomorrow. Medical research brings longer, healthier lives, and we should be doing all we can to support and encourage it.
The Speculist is publishing an interview with Michael Anissimov, a director with the non-profit Immortality Institute. Some of the interview is devoted to speculative issues relating to Artificial Intelligence (AI) development and transhumanism, but the principle focus is healthy life extension. The presentation within related futurist and forward-looking contexts is interesting. After reading it, you should drop by the Immortality Institute and see how you can help their efforts to win the fight against aging and death.
As reported in the Independent, rapidly increasing numbers of centenarians in developed countries like Japan are a testament to advances in medical science and quality of life over past decades. Improved health (via access to better medicine) throughout life will leader to healthier, longer livespans. This is an ongoing process: regenerative medicine, stem cell therapies and cures for neurodegenerative diseases are some of the next steps in better medicine for longer, healthier lives.
The Arizona Republic notes that Dr. Jerry Lemler will step down for health reasons. The article also follows up on recent controversy and updates a few of the ongoing Alcor stories from recent months. The publicity and change could be an opportunity for a better, more professional cryonics industry to emerge from these early organizations. Hopefully the chance will not be missed. New readers can find out more about cryonics and cryonic suspension at cryonet.org.
This article from ScienceDaily is a little more technical than I usually like to publish, but I feel it illustrates an important principle: diverse research goals are important. Synergy between different biomedical fields leads to a more rapid advance of knowledge. In this case, Alzheimer's research laid the groundwork for a discovery relating to tissue growth and regeneration in kidneys and other organs. These sorts of collaborative advances are lost if we focus too hard on narrow areas of knowledge; any knowledge of basic biochemical processes within the body will eventually be turned to good use in the fight against aging.
Since we're talking about politics today, here is a lengthy and very informative article from the Life Extension Foundation. It addresses points in a wide ranging, ongoing conflict on pharmaceutical laws, politics, the role of the FDA and an unpleasant, uninformed commentary by Jerry Falwell. Pharmaceutical importation is a complex mess of an issue, but I think we should all agree that the actions of the FDA, lobbyists and Jerry Falwell are beyond the pale. It is worth noting that - quite separately from their supplement business - the LEF does fund and support healthy life extension research.
This partisan article (found via Betterhumans) examines the way in which the current Republican US administration is blocking the advance of medical science. (Democrats are as dangerous to medical advances, just in different ways). The larger picture is that politicians in general (in the US and abroad) are hindering or blocking scientific research that will lead to longer, healthier lives. We must continue to speak up and oppose this wanton destruction of progress. It is up to us to defend our access to advanced medicine and our future health and longevity!
The LEF News reports on an NIH grant to the University of California, Davis to study the fundamentals of aging and ways to extend healthy lifespan. This is a very small drop in the larger funding bucket, of course, but it is always welcome to see research in the field getting funded at all. From the article: "The human body has no expiration date limiting how long people can live ... the goal is to develop strategies on how to improve health while extending longevity."
(From the Edmonton Journal). I really cannot overemphasise how much of a difference a good diet and lifestyle makes to your natural healthy lifespan. Overweight, unfit and dying at 60 or living to a healthy 80 or 100; the choice is in your hands. This article gives sensible advice, and you can find more sensible advice here at the Longevity Meme. Make the best of your natural healthy lifespan, and you'll be far more likely be alive and active to benefit from advances in healthy life extension medicine in years to come.
This short snippet from KUT notes a grant provided to a UT Austin professor to grow human organs from adult stem cells. It is interesting because this scientist, Dr. Roy, is prepared to give a timeline to his research. He feels that he should take five years for him to develop methods of growing a human organ from a single stem cell. This is very promising; the ability to grow organs for transplant on demand (and that will not be rejected by the immune system) is a vital technology for near-term healthy life extension.
Another advance in regenerative medicine is reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal. Ten sufferers of the deadly Crohn's disease have been cured by stem cell transplants that regenerate the damage to their intestines and immune system. The article focuses on the young man who will hopefully be number 11 and live to see a full life. This is the sort of amazing application of stem cell medicine, like recent advances in regenerating normally fatal heart damage, that we hope will become commonplace. Being able to regenerate any part of the body in this fashion will lead to large gains in healthy lifespan.
A number of articles in past weeks have discussed on the expected growth of Alzheimer's in an increasingly older population. This long piece from the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier covers most of the angles on this story. The human cost of Alzheimer's is terrible, and fixing or preventing the condition is an essential part of extending our healthy lifespans. In this respect, it is good that so much funding is being earmarked for Alzheimer's research (even if the underlying motives for government funding are not exactly pure: officials are primarily concerned about the ability of government medical budgets to meet expected treatment costs).
The Observer outlines difficulties for stem cell medicine caused by a lack of funding. There are so many conditions that could be cured, but current funding levels only allow a limited range of research. The article rightfully singles out US anti-research legislation as having caused great damage to progress in stem cell medicine. This would be a very good time to write to your representatives, since a vote on banning theraputic cloning - a core technology for regenerative and stem cell medicine - is still pending in the US senate. Prevent your elected representatives from continuing to damage your future health and longevity!
The Arizona Republic reports that the Kronos Centre is beginning to expand its reach to corporate health plans. The Kronos way of doing things is analogous to parts of the Longevity Meme: personalized medical plans and lifestyle advice that enable patients to live healthily for longer using currently available technology and knowledge. Kronos provides a specialized, costly, high-end service at the moment (and for the forseeable future), but their success will influence the way in which other medical organizations approach health and healthy life extension.
Since a study earlier on the year on the health effects of fasting on mice, we've seen this brought up in a number of places (here at Psychology Today of all places). People familiar with calorie restriction have noted that the scientific data on fasting is much less conclusive. There are health risks, and underlying mechanisms for any health benefits are poorly understood in comparison to a straight calorie restriction diet. It is unclear as to whether fasting as a low-calorie diet will extend healthy lifespan.
drkoop.com notes research into our self-defense mechanisms that work to prevent genetic damage that accumulates with age. Progress in understanding these mechanisms will eventually lead to therapies to prevent this damage from occuring. As with much currently promising research, this is still in the very early stages. The more we understand, the more we can do, however. Funding for fundamental aging research is just as important as funding for near-term regenerative and stem cell medicine.
The BBC published a good, clear article on the Methuselah Mouse prize today. I'm surprised the BBC is behind the rest of the world press in this case, considering that the prize founders are based in Cambridge, UK. All this positive attention for a research prize aimed at defeating aging can only be a good thing. We have a concise explanation of why research prizes are a good thing here at the Longevity Meme. Please do read it and consider donating to the Methuselah Mouse prize.
(At ScienceDaily). Genetically engineered mice that don't gain weight on a high-calorie diet appear to be immune to diabetes as well. This is yet another link between excess body fat and conditions like type II diabetes. There are a long list of studies that show obesity or even being overweight greatly increases the risk of suffering most conditions and diseases associated with aging: diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer and so forth. This mouse study offers the possibility of treatments for humans, although that would be years away from this very fundamental research. Meanwhile, eat a sensible diet and watch your weight!
MSNBC publishes some good commonsense articles on fitness and dietary health. Here is another one the series. It has one of the better comparisons of various (bad) modern dieting trends I've seen recently, and includes a very readable pitch for eating fewer calories. As we should all know by now, calorie restriction is the only current method of healthy life extension proven beyond a doubt by medical researchers. You should certainly look into trying it as a part of your efforts to lead a longer, healthier life.
Ronald Bailey reports on the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences conference at Reason Online. APLS is a political think-tank that tries to bring an understanding of biology and human evolution to political considerations. The article illustrates that while there are grounds for optimism on the research side, there are still a good many people in political circles who want to restrict development of effective age-retarding medicine. Nebulous fear of change is not an acceptable reason for blocking healthy life extension research, and thereby ensuring the deaths of tens of millions of people every year.
An interesting (but not entirely serious) rehash of recent articles on healthy life extension is up at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, complete with the usual mention of calorie restriction and quotes from Steven Austad and Aubrey de Grey. The Aubrey de Grey quote is actually taken out of context; you'll want to read the original interview for a more reasonable understanding of his research and long-term goals.
Another important breakthrough in fundamental Alzheimer's research is reported at InfoAging. It's been known for a while that amyloid concentrations are associated with Alzheimer's symptoms, but researchers have now discovered exactly how these amyloids get into the brain. This opens up a whole new area of study into methods of blocking this transport mechanism, thereby alleviating or preventing Alzheimer's. Recent progress on a number of fronts in the fight against Alzheimer's is very promising; scientists seem to have reached that critical mass of data that leads to the first effective therapies.
Time is on your side if you're under 30, suggests biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey in an optimistic discussion of healthy life extension. With more than 20 first-author publications in the past six years, de Grey is a leader in turning healthy life extension hopes into reality. This article is based on an interview by Shannon Foskett originally published at Betterhumans. You can find out more about Aubrey de Grey's work at the SENS Foundation.
Copyright © Aubrey de Grey.
Indefinite Healthy Lifespans, When?
I am bullish on the prospects for indefinite lifespan. If you're interested in living a far longer, healthier life, I think the discussion here should offer reasonable ground on which to build a case for true healthy life extension. In my opinion, there will be only a short interval between the time when we first have genuine life extension treatments and the time when we're improving those treatments faster than we're aging.
My personal research goal is to achieve an indefinite lifespan for human beings, and I think we have a fair chance of doing it in about 25 years with the right funding.
Given the present research and political environment, the actual timeline for achieving the first real healthy life extension breakthroughs could be anything from 15 to 100 years. Of course, we should all work hard to keep to the lower end of that range! By "real" I mean treatments that at least double the remaining life expectancy of averagely healthy 70-year-olds. Treatments that do more will very probably follow rapidly -- more rapidly than aging is occurring. For practical purposes we will by then have reached the cusp where individuals with the physiology of present-day 70-year-olds or younger will have an indefinite lifespan.
There is something important to say about these numbers. Most of my colleagues absolutely refuse to give timelines or expected results like this, because they feel that no such statement can be scientifically defended. Hence they feel that providing an answer is to misuse their exalted status as scientists. I would agree with this in all areas of science that are not medically relevant, but not in medical areas. I feel that those people with the best information have a duty to state their best-guess timeframe, because that information determines choices in life, lifestyle, medication, and so forth for everyone.
I know I can't defend the above numbers robustly but I don't regard that as a justification for silence.
Should We Extend Our Lifespans?
There is a strong consensus in the research community to step up the pursuit of healthy life extension. Only a few holdouts, most prominently Len Hayflick and Robin Holliday, currently dispute this. Most researchers feel, quite correctly, that postponing (and ideally reversing) aging is the only plausible way to reduce the vast number of people suffering from age-related disability and disease.
Despite unity in the desire to move forward, there really isn’t consensus regarding the feasibility of various branches of life-extending medicine. Opinion in the field is splintering. I'm more or less the only scientist to publicly talk about expectations and research for an indefinite healthy human lifespan, but privately a lot of us think that considerable progress is not all that distant.
In a piece soon to be printed in the Journal of Antiaging Medicine, a Dutch journalist named Theo Richel reports on a telephone survey of 64 mostly senior biogerontologists. He reveals that at least 20% thought it likely that someone would reach 150 years of age by 2100 and that the average lifespan of those born in 2100 would be 200 or more. Notice that this implies our 150-year-old-to-be is already 53 this year.
Pursuing the End of Aging
While I am not the only scientist dedicated to healthy life extension research, I am the only one addressing all of the components of aging at the same time. Some of these individual components (such as cell loss, which receives a lot of attention) are the sole subject of research by prominent scientists who do call themselves gerontologists. These researchers know they are only working on one aspect of aging and they don't know (or have much to say, at least) much about other parts of the field.
At the present time, I believe I am the only biogerontologist to address healthy life extension in a way that has a fair chance of success in the near future. Quite a few of my colleagues (such as Guarente, Kenyon, Spindler, Roth, Ames, Perls) have started companies to develop age retarding drugs. This is, of course, not because they want to make money with products that don't work, but because they really do think they can develop such drugs in a short time frame. Unfortunately, I am perfectly sure that the approaches they are taking will yield only a year or two of extra life, if that. The whole idea that we should focus on reversing aging rather than slowing aging is turning out to be terribly hard for my colleagues to take on board. I'm getting there, though. In science, so long as you are friendly and listen to your colleagues, other researchers will eventually listen to your ideas. If your ideas can then stand up to challenges and wider scientific debate, a larger group will accept them.
It's not that my colleagues don't care, it's that they can't see how to proceed. They’ve been unable to see for so long that it's taking time for them to appreciate a way to proceed when it is laid out in front of them. This is quite the normal way of things for all sciences. It can take a decade to get the scientific establishment to move on from a firmly entrenched theory, even if data falsifying the theory is clearly there for everyone to see.
Working Against the Grain
While I am admittedly working against the grain of the biogerontology field, I am optimistic about the ultimate success of real healthy life extension. My detailed plan of implemention has been scrutinized by many of my colleagues in biogerontology and not found glaringly wanting. Funding, obviously, is still lacking, or you would be hearing more from me!
Overviews of my proposed research and have been published in two main forms: one aimed at a scientific audience and one for a wider audience.
The Seven Point Plan
The way to cure aging is to rejuvenate tissues, not to try to slow down their deterioration. It seems that the technically hard requirements for rejuvenating tissue are also necessary if you want to simply slow down tissue deterioration. Intuition says that reversing aging must be much harder than slowing it down, but intuition is wrong.
There are seven main topics that we need to address in producing working healthy life extension medicine aimed at indefinite lifespans.
- A cell therapy to restore the number of cells in tissues that lose cells with advancing age, like the heart and some areas of the brain.
- Targeted (homologous recombination-based) gene therapy that will delete our telomere elongation genes. This will stop cancer development. Some rapidly renewing tissues such as blood, skin and gut require telomere elongation, however, so a cell therapy must be developed to account for this need.
- Normal (insertional) gene therapy that will introduce modified versions of our 13 protein-coding mitochondrial genes into nuclear DNA. This will prevent accumulation of mutations in the mitochondrial DNA from affecting us as we age.
- Normal (insertional) gene therapy to introduce bacterial or fungal genes that can break down damaging chemicals and proteins that the human body currently cannot handle. These include the oxidized cholesterol that causes atherosclerosis, A2E that is responsible for macular degeneration, and malformed proteins in the brain thought to be responsible for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
- Immune therapy to destroy senescent cells. Senescence in cells is an undesirable state that occurs to cells in culture after dividing many times. Our bodies don't accumulate very many senescent cells, and they're of cell types that renew easily. Tailoring our immune systems to destroy cells as they become senescent is quite sufficient.
- Immune or small-molecule therapy to disaggregate or engulf the junk material known as amyloid that accumulate outside cells. Amyloid is prominent in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers, but slowly accumulates in all of us as we age.
- Small-molecule therapy to break glucose-derived crosslinks that form randomly between long-lived molecules in the extra-cellular matrix, such as collagen and elastin.
All of these projects are underway somewhere in the world and to some extent. You can visit my website for more details. I am a not a lab worker, so my primary ongoing research goal is to facilitate these projects. This means getting people together, making scientists aware of one another's work and getting them to understand why these projects matter so much. This facilitation and coordination is a big job, because biology is such a large field that most experimental scientists are not aware of half the places in which their work would be relevant. Most of the leaders in the projects I have listed above are not biogerontologists and are performing this research for reasons totally unrelated to aging.
Beyond facilitation within the scientific community, I spend time on advocacy and explaining to the public that a real, concrete plan for fixing aging now exists. This sort of dialog with a wider audience is essential to obtain the level of funding that this research plan requires: about US$1 billion over 10 years.
Scientific and Technological Challenges
Setting aside funding issues for the moment, each of the seven points listed above presents technical obstacles and challenges. None are insurmountable, however. At this stage, only targeted gene therapy is known to be very hard to do, and there has been quite a bit of progress on that in recent years.
There are issues with what I see as current wrong directions in research. These take time, funding and effort away from more valuable paths forward. An example is the fixation most biogerontologists have on comparing long- and short-lived species in order to understand how to extend human lifespan. This is amazingly over-simplistic; no engineer with a good biogerontology background would give it the time of day.
Social and Political Obstacles
In my view, there’s really on one root social and political obstacle to funding ambitious healthy life extension research. This one obstacle is fatalism; skepticism that anything can be done about aging in time to make a difference to you and me personally. All the nonsense we hear from the Leon Kasses and Francis Fukuyamas of the world about how terrible it would be to cure aging is just a smokescreen. People only take it remotely seriously as a way come to terms with what they see as inevitably short lifespans.
The fatalism problem can be dissected into three separate components that form a sort of triangular logjam, each perpetuating the next.
- The public thinks nothing can be done to cure aging.
- Seeing public opinion, politicians will direct government funding in small amounts and to very modest, unassuming work. Funding a project that would be perceived as an ambitious pipedream would jeopardize re-election, after all.
- Scientists see the current funding environment and don't submit proposals for ambitious projects, even if they want to, because it's a waste of time -- the proposals will be turned down. When scientists talk to the public, they talk about the cautious projects that are being worked on, rather than about the ambitious projects that they want to work on. This tends encourages the scientists themselves to adopt a mindset of shying from ambitious work in the first place.
Given the way in which scientific work is presented to the public (modest and cautious, rather than ambitious) the public continues to view a cure aging as very, very far away. The scientists with the best information are telling them just this by restricting themselves to the modest, cautious line of delivery. Each of these three communities – public, government and scientific -- is behaving very reasonably in its own terms, but the end result is stasis.
Things are not quite as bad as they once were. Since researchers started to demonstrate interventions that produce very long-lived worms, we now have people talking about timeframes for developing age retarding drugs. Unfortunately, their credibility is impaired because they are only talking about adding 10 or 20 years (and the case for anything more than a year or two is in fact very weak) and b) they base this view on their work on worms. No mammalian biogerontologist is yet saying these things based on current research.
Taking all this into account, I view philanthropy as the way out of this stasis. Without meaning to be frivolous, scientists will do anything interesting for food. Injecting serious money into the field would unlock the logjam I have described here. It has to be real philanthropy though. The right work will take 10 years to succeed even in mice, 25 years in humans. Typical market venture funding biases work towards short-term goals, five years or less, and such biasing will mean that the right work will not occur.
A Prize for Anti-Aging Research
The Methuselah Mouse project is my way of breaking the fatalism logjam by making healthy life extension research on mice more interesting to the public. The approach I've taken, in partnership with the entrepreneur David Gobel, is to institute a prize for unprecedentedly long-lived mice. My hope is that by couching this work in terms that the public is comfortable with, I can get people to pay more attention to healthy life extension research in general and maybe escape their fatalism.
The type of work I hope the prize will encourage is late-onset interventions to repair or obviate accumulated molecular and cellular changes in already aged mice. This is the sort of research that is most relevant for human use. The seven treatments I mentioned earlier should, in combination, allow us to take two-year-old mice with a normal life expectancy of three years and make them live at least three more healthy years. This would certainly be something!
This goal should be possible within about 10 years with adequate funding, which I estimate at no more than US$100 million per year. Unlike the numbers for humans, I'm confident of this 10-year prediction because there are no arbitrarily hard problems to solve. In the case of human healthy life extension, safety matters mean that there are unknown levels of difficulty associated with research, particularly where it relates to gene therapy.
I regard this as the main goal of my work. It is impressive enough to make the public realize that human aging might be cured soon, and that's all that's needed to create greater funding that will translate these technologies to human patients. We can look at cancer as a precedent for this sort of activity. Fighting cancer turned out to be a lot harder than Nixon said in 1971, but awareness of cancer and the march to a cure is out there and money hasn't stopped flowing.
Immortality and the Prospects for Indefinite Healthy Lifespans
Talking about scientific research and healthy life extension inevitably brings up the question of immortality: the possibility that one could live forever if one wanted to. Immortality is a word that is often used imprecisely, but there is a big difference between an indefinite and infinite lifespan. If we fix aging completely but we still die of accidents and so on, our lifespan is indefinite but not infinite. An infinite lifespan is physically impossible, and I don't like using "immortality" to describe an absence of aging.
With regard to indefinite lifespan, defeating aging, I am optimistic. I think there will be only a short interval between the development of genuine healthy life extension treatments and the time at which those treatments improve faster than we're aging. This is all that's necessary to give us an indefinite lifespan. We currently have no idea what sort of treatments we'll need to keep us going when we're 200, but that's fine, because we have 100 years of research and development time. So long as we look carefully for signs of trouble in 180-year-olds as soon as we have any, and also at 80-year-old chimpanzees once we have them (which will be sooner, of course), we'll have time to head off that trouble before it kills anyone.
There are plenty of ways for people to get involved in the development of healthy life extension medicine. For most people, I encourage you to point your friends towards this article. Talk to your friends, family, colleagues about what life would be like without aging. Visit sites like the Longevity Meme, Betterhumans and the Immortality Institute. Listen to what they have to say and follow their lead in promoting the concepts and ideas of meaningful research that will lead to a cure for aging. I also encourage you to donate modestly to the Methuselah Mouse Prize fund; it’s a great way to make a meaningful contribution to your own future health and longevity.
If you're a biologist, come to our conferences. Read my papers on the technologies we need to develop in order to cure aging. Start working on your favorite one and let me know, so that I can put you in touch with others who are working in the same area.
If you're a journalist, please do come to our conferences and write about my work. Most importantly of all, interview senior, high profile mainstream biogerontologists and ask them to explain why they don't think my approach will cure aging in the near future.
If you're an engineer, computer scientist or other technical professional, learn some biology. I started out by making well-received contributions to biogerontology after reading the literature for a few months. Perhaps I was lucky, but it is also the case that scientists in any given field benefit from different perspectives, training and mindsets. Don't take the easy way out by thinking that you can't help just because you don’t have the right expertise!
If you're wealthy, contribute significantly to the Methuselah Mouse Prize fund, and ask me what research you could productively fund. If you're extremely wealthy, ask me more about the proposed Institute of Biomedical Gerontology.
If you know someone fitting any of the above descriptions, have them read this article!
(From Reuters). Following on the heels of successful US applications of stem cell therapy to regenerate heart damage, Brazilian researchers have succeeded in the the same procedure. Unfortunately, this working example of regenerative medicine is currently blocked by the FDA in the US. Several thousand people die in the US every day from heart-related problems. I encourage you to write to your representatives and ask them why this amazing, successful stem cell therapy is being squashed. People are dying today for lack of this therapy; one day you will be one of them.
The Methuselah Mouse prize is in the press today. This article from the Herald Sun gives a good overview of the prize, progress and aims. As it says, "the search for the elixir of life has become respectable." The Times also has an article on the prize, but you'll have to register if you are outside the UK. Have you donated a few dollars to the prize fund yet? You can read more about the prize and thoughts on why you should donate here at the Longevity Meme.