LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 20 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.
FOLLOWING UP ON THE CRYONICS INDUSTRY
Since I talked about cryonics in the last newsletter, I thought I should point out this very good article on Alcor from the Arizona Republic yesterday:
It's neutral, balanced and provides a good introduction to cryonics (and recent events within the cryonics industry) for the beginner.
Cryonics is, unfortunately, the only chance that many people will have to escape the certainty of death by aging or incurable disease, since even the most optimistic insiders predict a ten to twenty year wait for the first technologies of healthy life extension. As such, even if the chance of success is unknown, cryonics should be encouraged and supported as an industry. All the recent publicity should help the industry grow, become more professional and provide a better service to its customers.
BAD LEGISLATION WATCH
It looks very much like the current US administration, not yet succeeding in stamping out theraputic cloning at home, is attempting to push the United Nations into engineering a global ban on theraputic cloning research.
This is a very bad thing. As a quick recap, theraputic cloning (or SCNT) is a technique used in most stem cell based therapies and regenerative medicine research. Scientists in many different countries have, using these technologies, demonstrated cures for heart disease and Crohn's in humans, cures for Parkinson's in mice, techniques for repairing shattered bones, and cures for forms of blindness and deafness. Most of these therapies are entering or in early trials now. Many other promising lines of research on different diseases are in earlier stages in the labs. In short, theraputic cloning is not speculative medical science: it works, it works amazingly well, and it will soon be available to all of us.
If it is not banned.
In the past two years, many countries (including the US) have adopted restrictive legislation that has damaged scientific progress in this important are of medicine. In the US, a complete ban on theraputic cloning research is still awaiting a senate vote:
Now, the US administration is pushing for a global ban. Not content with damaging research and drying up funding at home, they want to do this worldwide. It's never too late to write to your elected representatives on this matter! Please feel free to express your outrage at the way in which this government is attempting to stifle the development of cures for the many diseases of aging. Follow the link above for information on how to contact your representatives.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
In other news, I have accepted a directorship with the Immortality Institute, a non-profit group that shares many of the same values and goals as the Longevity Meme. I have been participating over at the Immortality Institute for a while, and this is a formalization of that relationship rather than anything new. I will still be leading the independent growth of the Longevity Meme, and I will continue to advise Immortality Institute members to focus on "first things first." In my view, we need to work hard together to win the fight against aging before we can worry about what the next steps beyond this might be. Until we as a society have removed the near-term threat posed by age-related conditions, degeneration and disease, it seems premature to be discussing very long-term trends and concerns.
If you haven't yet visited the Immortality Institute, or looked over the forums there, I encourage you to do so. The website hosts a thriving, intelligent, friendly community of folks who support healthy life extension.
I should note that the Immortality Institute founder and directors have done a great job in the past in responding to calls for activism from the Longevity Meme. They have written letters to politicians and generously publicized and donated to the Methuselah Mouse prize fund (one of my favored causes), amongst other responses.
BUILDING THE METHUSELAH MOUSE CHALLENGE GRANT
While we are on the topic of the Methuselah Mouse prize, I should say that everyone involved is very happy with the rate of progress in publicity and growth of the fund. The more attention focused on this poorly funded area of research, the better.
Remember that the now $10 million X Prize for commercial suborbital flight started with a $10,000 grant in 1996, a mere seven years ago. The smart crowd expects one of the participating teams to win the prize sometime next year, after a total research investment of some $160 million. The Methuselah Mouse prize founders are working hard to repeat this level of success. Success in extending the healthy mouse lifespan, and in reversing the conditions and diseases of aging, will do wonders for human healthy life extension research. To get results, public support and research dollars are required: research prizes are a good way to go about getting both. You can read a longer explanation of the good that research prizes do at the Longevity Meme:
To this end, a $15,000 challenge grant is being assembled to match public donations and stimulate growth of the prize. If you are interested in helping to put together this challenge grant (and seeing your name in lights), send me e-mail at and I will put you in touch with the right people.
As usual, I would never ask you to do what I do not do myself. I have committed to contributing $100 a month over the next year to this grant. All it will take to fill out the bulk of the grant would be a dozen of you to step up and make this same commitment for a better, healthier, longer future. Think about it!
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
UN Seeks Global Theraputic Cloning Ban (October 19 2003)
(From the Guardian). It seems that the United Nations, urged on by the strongly anti-research US administration, is moving in the direction of a global ban on all forms of cloning, including theraputic cloning used in regenerative medicine and other potential healthy life extension therapies. This, needless to say, is a very bad thing. Current US policies and threatened legislation have already caused great damage to scientific research in these fields. This directly affects the development of healthy life extension medicine and damages your future health and longevity.
Alcor Thriving Despite Controversy (October 19 2003)
The Arizona Republic has published a fair number of good articles on cryonics in past months. Here is another informative, balanced article on Alcor that summarizes recent events and provides a high level insight into the nuts and bolts of cryonic suspension. As I have said before, I think that all publicity is good publicity for cryonics as an industry: public attention leads to growth, more revenue and greater professionalism. Cryonic suspension is an important experiment in life extension, and the only chance that many older or dying people have (you can learn more at Cryonet). We need to see it improve and grow.
Following Up On The Shermer Article (October 18 2003)
The Speculist has published a commentary on the Michael Shermer article at SciAm that was posted here yesterday. The essence of it would seem to be that Shermer is not fully aware of developments in the field, which is a fair enough criticism. I feel that the core point of Shermer's article stands, however, which is that far, far more needs to be done to prevent the aging and death of everyone alive today. We stand close to great medical breakthroughs, but there is little funding and a lack of public interest and knowledge: education and activism are key to our future health and longevity!
Nanomedicine Volume II Published (October 18 2003)
You may have read Robert A. Freitas' article "Death is an Outrage" here at the Longevity Meme. The author is well known for his scientific groundwork on nanomedicine for healthy life extension; the latest volume in his work has just been published. Whether or not you are a scientist, the book website - where you can read the full text of volume I - and the author's site provide fascinating insights into futuristic medicine. These technologies may be turning up sooner than you think, as money is pouring into basic nanotechnology research these days.
Hacking the Maximum Lifespan (October 17 2003)
This is an interesting interview over at NeoFiles, a conversation with Michael Anissimov (director at the Immortality Institute) and Aubrey de Gray (biogerontologist, founder of the Methuselah Mouse prize) on healthy life extension, attitudes, research and recent history. It covers a range of topics, with an optimistic, realistic view of what lies ahead. The future of healthy life extension involves a lot of work, but there is potential for a large payoff in terms of radical increases to healthy lifespan. Beyond this, the interview has a wealth of links to other resources - it should keep you reading for a while.
Interview With Cynthia Kenyon (October 17 2003)
This interview from the New Scientist has been doing the rounds. In it, Professor Kenyon discusses the prospects for near term healthy life extension and her work on extending the lives of worms in the laboratory. As a note, Professor Kenyon is associated with Elixir Pharmaceuticals, a company founded to work on theories of life extension relating to insulin systems. There are some links between this sort of work and that done on the genetics of calorie restriction by the likes of BioMarker, another small healthy life extension research company.
Another Reminder As To Why We Fight Aging (October 17 2003)
From Scientific American a reminder that everyone now alive - six billion people - will die within the next 120 years ... unless we succeed in developing working healthy life extension therapies. While there is progress in the labs, nothing aside from calorie restriction is working and available for use yet. Conservatives, bioethicists and politicians are trying hard to make sure it stays that way. This is a fight, a fight for our future health and longevity: on the one hand, we must support, advocate and fund medical research, and on the other hand we must protect scientific advancement from those who try to block progress.
Bioethics Council Tells Us All To Die Young (Again) (October 16 2003)
The President's Council on Bioethics has issued Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. The chapter on healthy life extension ("ageless bodies") gives a good primer on current technologies, research and potentials, and how therapies can be used in the near future to extend healthy lifespans. It then heads off into la-la land to tell us that we should not develop these therapies; in other words Kass and the Bioethics Council are still telling us that we should all suffer and die young.
Aubrey de Grey Speaking at Pop!Tech (October 16 2003)
The Pop!Tech conference is getting underway today, and Dr. Aubrey de Grey of the Methuselah Mouse project is one of the speakers. Dr. de Grey is a noted biogerontologist and vocal advocate for healthy life extension research. You can find out more about his work, publications, opinions and research goals at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence website (or "How to Develop a Cure For Aging" for us less scientific types). You can express your appreciation for the hard work Dr. de Grey is doing to lengthen our healthy lifespans by donating to the Methuselah Mouse prize fund.
Canadian Public Backs Stem Cell Research (October 15 2003)
An article at Canada.com discusses the wide public support for embryonic stem cell research in Cananda. This is set against the backdrop of an ongoing, stalled debate over anti-research legislation in the Canadian Parliament. It looks likely that any bill might die rather than be passed, and arms of the Canadian government are proceeding with the allocation of research funds in any case. On the whole, not a shining victory for progress, but a victory nonetheless. I hope that this sort of scenario will be repeated elsewhere, and other Western governments will give up on attempting to ban this research.
Larger Cholesterol, Longer Life (October 15 2003)
Betterhumans reports on research into genes that control cholesterol in the body: long-lived people are more likely to have a genetic variation that makes larger cholesterol particles. Longevity is improved because larger cholesterol particles confer greater resistance to age-related clogging of arteries (which in turn means resistance to heart attacks and strokes). This research offers another avenue of opportunity to improve healthy lifespan by attacking one of the most common causes of death and disability in old age.
More on Suspended Animation (October 14 2003)
(From the New York Times). This is a good article on recent developments in the cryonics industry, focusing on the latest provider to enter the scene ... or rather trying to enter the scene in the face of local government interference. From the article: "'These companies need to be regulated or deregulated out of business,' said Rudy Thomas, head of Arizona's Board of Funeral Directors." This sort of unthinking opposition is ugly, but pretty much par for the course, unfortunately. We can hope that balanced articles like this help to bring more thoughtful attention to cryonics and the role it plays in life extension.
Scaffolds Aid Regenerative Medicine Research (October 14 2003)
ScienceDaily reports on progress in materials technology for regenerative medicine research: polymer scaffolds that encourage stem cells to differentiate and grow into three-dimensional tissue. The work on scaffolds has been going on for a while, and is an important step forward towards the goal of growing replacement organs as needed from a patient's own tissues. An unlimited supply of transplants, or ways to repair failing organs inside the body, are essential parts of engineering longer, healthier lives.
Trading Donuts For Decades (October 13 2003)
From SunSpot.net, a general interest article on calorie restriction. As you should all know by now, calorie restriction is the only currently available method, proven beyond a doubt, of extending your healthy lifespan. It's really not as hard as much of the mainstream media make it out to be. From the article: "It's no big deal. After two weeks, you're not hungry anymore." Practicing calorie restriction brings a range of other proven health benefits, so you really owe it to yourself to at least look into it. If you want to benefit from the medicine of the future, you have to be alive and healthy when it arrives!
Interview With Bruce J. Klein (October 13 2003)
Betterhumans is running an interview with Bruce J. Klein, founder of the Immortality Institute. Like the Longevity Meme, the Institute works towards enabling a future of longer, healthier lives for all. Education, raising awareness, supporting medical research and spreading the word are all important forms of activism at this stage; public attention drives funding, and funding drives science. The Immortality Institute website is home to a friendly, active online community interested in healthy life extension and other technological advances - you should certainly visit and take a look.
Adult Versus Embryonic Stem Cell Research (October 12 2003)
The state of knowledge on the capabilities of adult and embryonic stem cells is in flux, and this article from UPI summarizes current confusion. While it is clear that adult stem cells have some theraputic applications, scientists are not sure that this is true regeneration. Researchers do not yet know whether adult stem cells can be made to have the full, demonstrated potential of embryonic stem cells. Since scientists are still actively seeking answers in these fields, it is clear that we should not abandon embryonic stem cell research before answers are in hand.
Teams Lining Up For Methuselah Mouse Prize (October 12 2003)
The first four teams have signed up to compete for the Methuselah Mouse prize for healthy life extension research. (Clicking on the "more" buttons on that page will tell you more about the competitors and their research backgrounds). Seven years ago, the X Prize was a $10,000 fund. Today it is a $10 million prize about to be won by one of more than twenty competing teams, so I see great things in the future of the Methuselah Mouse project. Have you donated yet? This is a great opportunity to help your future health and longevity.
Emphasising The Importance of Exercise Again (October 11 2003)
Regular exercise is of great importance to natural longevity, along with calorie restriction, a modest amount of supplements and a good relationship with a good doctor. In the interests of further encouraging you all to stay healthy for longer, here's a Yahoo article showing that exercise tends to reduce annual medical bills by an appreciable amount. If the promise of saving money and being healthy doesn't get people exercising, then nothing will. Remember: the only way to benefit from the medicine of the future is to stay alive and healthy until it arrives!
Australians Also Working On Stem Cell Therapies for Blindness (October 11 2003)
Hot on the heels of Australian heart therapy successes, The Age reports on progress towards regenerative medicine for blindness. Researchers think that a working stem cell based cure for some forms of blindness could be as little as five years away. Australia has a much less hostile legislative environment for these forms of research, which is why we are seeing progress there. Now if only politicians in the US and Europe would take note of the damage they are doing to research in their own countries!
Nanomedicine Aims At Cancer Cure By 2015 (October 10 2003)
From the Washington Times, a round up of quotes, opinions and information on the role of nanomedicine in the fight against cancer. Earlier this year, the National Cancer Institute announced the ambitious, applauded goal of eliminating suffering and death due to cancer by 2015. Advances in nanomedicine may mean cancer may finally be removed as a threat this time next decade. It's worth noting that a cure for cancer is an essential component of healthy life extension: the longer we live, the more we become vulnerable to cancer, even with the help of regenerative medicine.
Dr. Steven Austad Honored (October 10 2003)
Dr. Steven Austad, a noted gerontologist, has received the Robert W. Kleemeier Award for outstanding research in his field. Dr. Austad has spoken favorably on healthy life extension and the need for medical research in the past (notably to the President's Council for Bioethics), and he is well regarded in the field. The world needs more good gerontologists to carry research into aging forward; more funding and more scientists would help to make healthy life extension medicine a reality in our lifetimes.
Pauling Institute Funded To Study Aging (October 10 2003)
The Portland Business Journal notes that the Pauling Institute has recieved funding from the NIH to study the molecular basis of the aging process. All funding is welcome, but we should remember that this is a small award in the grand scheme of things. Very little funding goes to aging and healthy life extension research, and this situation has to be improved. Without more funding, real anti-aging therapies are likely to arrive too late to help you and I. The way to change the funding picture is activism and education: if enough voices clamor for healthy life extension medicine, then the funding will come.
Posthetics Advance Alongside Regenerative Medicine (October 09 2003)
Regenerative medicine uses biological tools (like stem cells) to heal and restore fuction; prosthetics uses implants and machines. This article from Science Daily notes increased research funding in California for implantable prosthetics to fix blindness, stroke damage and paralysis. These are admirable goals, and it is good to see different lines of research converging on the same objective: helping people to live healthily for longer.
Australians Repeat Heart Stem Cell Successes (October 09 2003)
The Syndey Morning Herald reports on successful trials of regenerative medicine for the heart in Melbourne, Australia (found via Transhumanity). This follows impressive successes in recent months - in the US and elsewhere - using this first generation stem cell therapy. Approximately 50,000 people are killed by heart problems each year in the US alone, but this therapy is blocked by the FDA despite the obvious and pressing applications. What better time to write to your representatives and ask them why US doctors are being held back from saving tens of thousands of lives each year?
Indian Group Moves Ahead With Regenerative Medicine Research (October 08 2003)
While the US languishes under the threat of anti-research legislation, scientists in some other nations are moving ahead. The Times of India covers recent stem cell and regenerative medicine research by Reliance Life Sciences, who say they are ready for animal trials with some of their technology. Meaningful progress in regenerative medicine will mean longer, healthier lives for all of us: much of the damage done by aging and age-related conditions will become repairable or preventable. The scientists who work hard to bring these benefits to us certainly deserve more recognition, funding and public support than they are getting.
Exercise Is Key At All Ages (October 08 2003)
There are a few basics when it comes to taking care of your own health: diet, a good physician, a modest supplement regimen and exercise plan. That last one often seems to slip through the cracks; perhaps because it's more work (by definition). As this article from EurekAlert reminds us, exercise is very important to long term health at all ages. You'll have to take good care of your body if you want to be hale and hearty when the first real healthy life extension medicines appear. Work to be healthier now, and support the march to faster, better medical research - that's the way to go!
Lucky Lab Accident May Lead to Immune System Regeneration (October 07 2003)
Lucky lab accidents that lead to advances in science are more common than you might think, but it takes a savvy scientist to see the benefit of what at first appears to be something going awry. Here (from the UGA News Service) is an article on what might be the first steps towards regenerative therapies for damaged immune systems. From the article, "researchers may one day be able to selectively turn on T-cell production — making numerous diseases far less virulent or even extending life."
Women's Longevity Due to Avoidance of Risk (October 07 2003)
From the Fort Francis Times, a short note on a recent study that suggests the well known gap in longevity between men and women is due to risk management. Women are more likely to avoid risky, damaging behavior and take better care of their health and bodies. I encourage you to read the three steps to healthy life extension and think about how simple and easy it is to take better care of your health. Doing well makes you more likely to be alive, healthy and active to benefit from the life- and health- extending medicine of the future.
A Walk To Cure Aging? (October 06 2003)
Fundraising walks to support medical research are common, well understood events. Walk for the Cure, Walk to Cure Juvenile Diabetes, AIDS Walk and many others have been very successful in raising awareness, educating the public and bringing in charitable donations. So why not a Walk to Cure Aging? I, and the Immortality Institute founders, think this would be a very worthwhile event to organize, a good step forward for healthy life extension. To this end, we are soliciting opinions and advice from you all. Please do follow the link and add your comments; we'd love to hear from you.
More Progress In Alzheimer's Research (October 06 2003)
From Science Daily, news of another new direction for Alzheimer's researchers to explore. The large sums invested in Alzheimer's research are starting to pay off, judging from recent publicized breakthroughs. At least three separate and distinct paths to blocking or curing the disease are currently under exploration, and scientists are making good progress: this is what happens when the funding comes through. If activism for healthy life extension research can become as vocal and effective as activism for Alzheimer's research, this is the sort of progress we could expect to see in obtaining longer, healthier lives.
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?