LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 08 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.
UPDATE ON THE METHUSELAH MOUSE PRIZE
As a reminder, and for those of you who have recently signed up to the newsletter, the Methuselah Mouse prize is an attempt to stimulate the medical research establishment into finding a true cure for aging. It is also an attempt to increase public awareness of the possibility of reaching a true cure for aging - with the right levels of funding - within a few decades of research. The prize fund is soliciting tax-deductible donations, and I for one consider it to be a very worthwhile cause. The Longevity Meme provides a commentary on research prizes in general, and reasons for donating to the Methuselah Mouse prize specifically:
You can find out more about the Methuselah Mouse prize and make donations at their website:
The Methuselah Mouse prize was featured in the mainstream press recently in a positive way. A number of Australian dailies featured the story, which was also picked up by the BBC in the UK. Here's a link to the BBC article:
The prize fund and awareness of the prize are both growing quite well. The totals have topped $20,000 in the short time since the Methuselah Mouse prize was announced. Articles about the prize have appeared in a number of academic, scientific and mainstream press outlets. A number of people who read this newsletter have contributed generously, in fact, for which we are all grateful.
This early growth for the prize compares favorably with the first days of the X Prize; after seven years, this has reached a $10 million fund and is close to being won by one of more than twenty competing teams. For a view of the sort of effort, dedication and community that research prizes can inspire, have a look at the X Prize website:
We hope that a similar future is in store for the Methuselah Mouse project. Just as low-cost sub-orbital flight comes before truly opening up space travel for the benefit of humanity, reversing aging in mice comes before attaining a real cure for human aging. We must crawl before we can walk, and the Methuselah Mouse prize encourages the scientific community to take the necessary steps. If you are interested in living a longer, healthier life, you owe it to yourself to donate to the prize fund.
PUBLICITY FOR DR. AUBREY DE GREY
Publicity for the Methuselah Mouse prize has also been publicity for biogerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey (co-founder of the prize) and his views on aging research. In the latest article to be posted to the Longevity Meme, Dr. de Grey outlines his views on the scientific community, attaining an indefinite healthy lifespan, the state of aging and anti-aging research, and how we should proceed to find a cure for aging:
Dr. de Grey's exhortation to strike out directly for a cure for aging, coupled with a scientific roadmap to the end goal, is at once ambitious and compelling. He makes a good point in noting that current relationships between funding sources, the public and scientists do not encourage ambitious research proposals.
I hope to see positive developments come from an increased exposure of Dr. de Grey's views in the scientific community; part of the current problem is that the biomedical field is so large that bold statements, important research and worthwhile plans can go completely unnoticed unless they end up as an article in the BBC!
"CAN DO" VERSUS "WILL DO" - LOOKING 20 YEARS AHEAD
It's been more than two years since I first immersed myself on a day-to-day basis in following the development of age-retarding medical technologies and social movements that support them. Today, the prognosis looks good. By this, I mean that there do not appear to be any major technological hurdles preventing the development of therapies that will double the average human lifespan within 20 years. These therapies would likely have a monetary cost to the patient comparable to major surgery today. More years would come with commensurately longer health, strength and ability to enjoy life.
Skeptical? Then spend a couple of months reading the Longevity Meme news feed:
Leaf through Betterhumans and Transhumanity at the same time, both sterling news outlets:
A lot of medical science is going on in the background while the mass media focus on politics and nonsense. The integration of computing power and fast software development with biomedical research is producing a tremendous acceleration in the rate of progress.
Major surgery today isn't cheap, and major surgery twenty years ago was even more costly. The first healthy life extension technology will be brute force and expensive. It will consist of stem-cell therapies to regenerate damage, transplants utilizing new organs cultured from the patient's own cells, and the first wave of effective protein- and gene-based therapies for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. This sounds very futuristic, but none of these items are science fiction. All are in the labs, in trials, or on lists of funding proposals right now. Many have been seen in news articles referenced by the Longevity Meme this year.
My 20 year estimate is based on 10 years to get technology past FDA (or equivalent government body) certification, followed by and three attempts by businesses to hit on a successfully commercialized product. In this future, you will get your aging body refitted as needed and it would certainly cost, at least at first. The free market means that the cost of goods always drops as they are refined, improved and become more widely available. Compare the cost, risks and effectiveness of heart surgery today with heart surgery 20 years ago, for example.
So yes, from a technological point of view, I see the future as being rosy. We CAN DO radical healthy life extension, make huge gains in the length of life and health. Scientists know how and general roadmaps have been put forward for refinement and criticism. It becomes a matter of time, funding and hard work on the part of medical researchers. It could happen.
There is, however, still a big "maybe" hanging over the future of healthy life extension medicine. Will influential anti-progress, anti-technology movements within Western and other societies succeed in preventing the development and use of age-retarding medicine? They are certainly trying. Greenpeace advocates a halt in the development of nanomedicine. Strong factions within the current US administration are attempting to ban stem cell research (and have openly spoken out in opposition to *any* modern life-extending technology). Theraputic cloning, a basis for developing cures for a wide range of fatal diseases and conditions associated with aging is banned in much of the EU.
This wanton, effective destruction of progress is a very modern sickness, despite the obvious predecessors. The Luddites, for all their fame in smashing mill machinery during the Industrial Revolution, were not very effective.
Modern Luddites, by comparison, have successfully influenced politicians in the most prosperous nations to raise trade barriers, ban promising medical research and deny access to advanced technology to Africans. Anti-progress and anti-technology groups will, if ineffectually opposed, be responsible for tens of millions of deaths each and every year by blocking the development and use of effective therapies to prevent aging. Some figures for the yearly toll of deaths due to aging are available here:
James Hughes of the World Transhumanist Association gives an illustration of the power of modern Luddites in an article here, which I quote from below:
"The year is 1943, and Mary Hunt has just found a nice mouldy cantaloupe at her supermarket in Peoria, Ill. Responding to an appeal from antibiotics researchers at the local government laboratory, she turns it in. The cantaloupe is covered with a robust new strain of penicillin, which can be grown in industrial-sized tanks, making it possible to mass produce and save millions of lives.
"But wait. Emerging from time portals to the 21st century, legions of anxious activists descend on the lab.
"Fundamentalist preachers inveigh against penicillin as an effort to play God, and save lives that God clearly intended to gather to heaven. Radical environmentalists descend, chanting the precautionary-principle mantra: No technology should ever be used until we understand all of its long-term consequences for human health and the environment. Deep ecologists warn that antibiotics will facilitate factory farming of animals, and leech into the environment. Eventually bacteria will evolve past our antibiotic defences, and become dangerous superbugs.
"And anti-technology leftists insist that penicillin will exacerbate social inequality, allowing pharmaceutical corporations to reap mega-profits. Only the rich will be able to afford the drug, and they will use it strategically to disenfranchise women and people of colour. Since infectious disease is the principal killer of soldiers, antibiotics will facilitate war and could even lead to the creation of terrible new weapons of mass destruction.
"Even if penicillin had been under such attack, we probably would still have produced it, and because of these attacks, we might have avoided some of our mistakes. But hindsight is 20-20, and all we knew in the 1940s was that millions of lives could be saved. Thanks to penicillin, they were. Along the way, we dealt with the problems that arose."
We CAN DO radical healthy life extension, but is it true that we WILL DO it? We have the technology to irrigate the Sahara, but we have not. We could have gone back to the moon and established a permanent colony, but we have not. There is much good we CAN DO, but it sometimes seems that there is comparatively little good that we WILL DO.
I view the future of healthy life extension as rosy, but only if the anti-progress, anti-technology forces - those who threaten, lie and legislate to ensure death by aging for everyone - are defeated in the field of ideas, knowledge and popular desire.
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
The Costs of Alzheimer's, Human and Otherwise (September 07 2003)
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).
Stem Cells, Problems of Choice and Funding (September 06 2003)
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!
Kronos Is Going Corporate (September 06 2003)
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.
Calorie Restriction Via Fasting (September 05 2003)
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.
Why Aging Cells Lose Self-Repair Ability (September 05 2003)
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.
Methuselah Mouse in the Press Again (September 04 2003)
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.
No-Fat Mice Resistant to Diabetes (September 03 2003)
(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!
Sensible Advice on Health, Diet and Exercise (September 03 2003)
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.
APLS On Healthy Life Extension (September 03 2003)
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.
Lifespans of Biblical Proportions (September 02 2003)
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.
More Progress in Alzheimer's Research (September 02 2003)
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.
Brazilians Replicate Heart Stem Cell Successes (September 01 2003)
(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.
Methuselah Mouse Prize in the Press (September 01 2003)
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.
Update on Canadian Stem Cell Legislation (August 31 2003)
From Globe Technology, an update on legislative battles over embryonic stem cell regulation in Canada. The debate has been a long one. Whether or not the current bill passes, Canada will still have a supportive atmosphere for this research in comparison to the US and much of the EU. Embryonic stem cell research is, as we should all know by now, essential for the rapid development of regenerative medicine for longer, healthier lives. Blocking and hindering this research directly impacts our future health, longevity and access to advanced medicine.
State Lottery Funding Regenerative Medicine (August 29 2003)
MyrtleBeachOnline reports that the South Carolina state lottery will be funding research into regenerative medicine to the tune of $6 million once matching funds are raised. This will be a collaborative project between three universities, resulting in the S.C. Center for Regenerative Medicine. Regenerative medicine (such as stem cell therapies and other strategies for stimulating healing and regrowth of damaged organs) is an important part of healthy life extension research. It is encouraging to see money invested in this field. Being able to fix damage caused by aging and injury will help us all to lead longer, healthier lives.
Nanomedicine Has Arrived Says Lancet (August 29 2003)
As Betterhumans notes, nanomedicine - a vital component of future healthy life extension therapies - has officially arrived. Work has been going on for a while, of course, but the scientific community is realizing that positive publicity is important in this age of strong and influential anti-progress, anti-technology groups. The article includes quotes from Robert Freitas, who has a commentary here on the Longevity Meme. "The near-term benefits of nanomedicine are enormous. In the longer term, nanomedicine will be the keystone of 21st century health care."
Stem Cell Technology Repairs Damaged Hearts (August 28 2003)
From Yahoo! News, an informative press release on recent work building on heart regeneration via stem cell therapy. Despite the heavy hand of the FDA, work is proceeding rapidly and with impressive results. Barring further government interference and restriction, we should be able to expect these sorts of results to be extended to the regeneration of other organs. Simple and to the point: "This study indicates that the body will work to heal itself if it has the right tools available."
More on Sight Restored By Stem Cells (August 27 2003)
The Guardian is publishing diary excepts by Mike May, the man who had his sight restored and injured eye regrown by stem cell therapy after 43 years of blindness. We can expect many more stories like this if stem cell research is allowed to proceed unimpeded by hostile legislation. This is a glimpse at the human side of advances in regenerative medicine, advances that strong conservative factions within the US government are trying to prevent. Stand up for a better, healthier future through advanced medicine and speak out today!
Cryonics Institute Ordered to Stop Cryopreservation (August 27 2003)
(From the Monterey Herald). In the wake of publicity for cryonics, Michigan state officials have ordered the 30-year-old Cryonics Institute (CI) not to perform more cryonic suspensions. This looks very much like opportunistic, publicity-seeking behavior on the part of state officials. CI plans to fight the order. "What we do is not what a mortuary does and not what a cemetery does," said David Ettinger, lawyer for CI. "We've been doing it openly in the state of Michigan for nearly 30 years."
Progeria Research and Aging (August 26 2003)
Chris Mooney discusses the background and possible benefits of recent research into progeria at Sage Crossroads. Insight into this rare and terrible condition of accelerated aging could lead to better understanding of (and therapies for) the normal aging process. As Chris Mooney and others point out, this has happened numerous times before: research into a rare condition leads to progress in the fight against common conditions that share the root genetic causes. This progress translates to treatments and therapies that can help millions of suffers. So full steam ahead on progeria research!
Partial Success In Stem Cell Blindness Therapy (August 26 2003)
From the BBC news of partial success in stem cell based regenerative therapy for blindness. The damaged parts of the eye were regrown for a man blind since early childhood. Reading between the lines, it sounds like the tissue regrowth was a complete success, but the man had not developed the necessary neural structures during childhood to make full use of the eye. Still, this is another amazing step forward for regenerative medicine. Kudos to the researchers involved.
The Red Wine Angle (August 25 2003)
An article from CNN on the life-extending properties of compounds in red wine is a fairly good example of the way science gets mangled on the way to the mainstream press. This is really a continuation of the article posted earlier at the Longevity Meme on research into the biochemistry of calorie restriction. As soon as you mention red wine, however, mainstream journalists lose focus and head off in completely the wrong direction. Drink lots of red wine and you'll be adding lots of calories to your diet, which will not be a good thing.
Dr. Jerry Lemler, In Brief (August 25 2003)
This article from GoMemphis.com gives a brief bio and background to the CEO of Alcor. There's no shortage of individuals and characters in and around the life extension efforts of the past few decades, and I like to highlight the real people behind the science. Dr. Lemler has certainly led an interesting life. He has accomplished great work for cryonics and those who have signed up with Alcor.
Aubrey de Grey on Aging (August 25 2003)
Betterhumans has published an excellent interview with aging researcher Aubrey de Grey on the topics of research, attitudes and healthy life extension. He is bullish on the future of medicine for extending healthy lifespan, but at the same time calls for more funding for research in this field. Aubrey de Grey feels that with the right level of funding, we could see real age-retarding therapies (that at least double the current average healthy lifespan) in 25 years. It is an optimistic but quite possibly realistic estimate; read the article to see why.
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?