LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
November 17 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.
CREATING A SUITABLE OUTRAGEOUS EXTREME
The middle of the road, "reasonable" position in public or political debate tends to gravitate to midway between what are perceived to be the two opposite outrageous extremes, regardless of the actual merits of any of these positions.
With this in mind, it is occurring to me that part of the ongoing problem in the modern political debate over healthy life extension is that our "outrageous extreme" has always been a tentative, reasonably proposal that medical research carry on and that near-term technology would seem to allow us all to live a little longer…say, to 150. When the outrageous extreme from the other side - from the Bush administration, Leon Kass of the President's Council on Bioethics, and others - is that no-one should be permitted to research ways of extending healthy lifespan, we can see that the average between these two positions is not very favorable to our future health and lifespan. We wind up where we are right now: anti-research factions in governments worldwide are restricting and legislating against all of the most promising fields of medicine, while attempting to force through complete bans on stem cell research, theraputic cloning and other promising technologies.
We need a better outrageous extreme.
As it turned out, Aubrey de Grey (of the Methuselah Mouse Project) may have inadvertently provided one. In a recent interview that touched on the far future and medical possibilities, he offhandedly said that a 4000 or 5000 year lifespan might be possible for individuals with the use of sufficiently advanced technologies. This isn't, in fact, unreasonable; we can postulate what sort of technologies this would require now, based on the laws of physics and present day medical knowledge. There are a goodly number of practical futurists and present day scientists who have written on this topic, from Eric Drexler to Robert Freitas. The "5000 year" figure has since been picked up by the mass media and mentioned out of context in a number of articles ("some scientists feel we can attain 5000 year lifespans" was spotted last week, for example).
Working towards a 5000 year lifespan might just be in danger of becoming our new outrageous extreme in some circles, and I'm sure you'll agree that it serves this purpose far better than the old one. The political (or media) average between this and the "no research for healthy life extension" position looks a lot better for our camp. An example of this principle in action occurs in this article:
When media and politicians persistently get things wrong, we can at least ensure that they get things wrong in a way that advances healthy life extension!
ON NATURAL LONGEVITY
Almost all of the discussion, publication, business and health advice you read these days is aimed at extending your "natural longevity." By this, I mean the length of healthy life you can experience right now through the right lifestyle, modest exercise, good diet, modest supplementation and sensible preventive medicine. The difference between working on your natural longevity and letting it go can be measured in decades. Think of the number of people who die from heart disease at 50 or 60 versus those who go on to have a healthy 80, 90 or 100 years. The difference between these two extremes is - barring bad luck - in your hands. No wonder so much ink is spilled, energy expended and dollars spent on this topic! This representative article from Dr. Mercola just the other day is a good example of the type:
In one sense, these gains in health and length of life are enormous. At the very ends of the lifestyle scale (50 and 100 years), it's a doubling of healthy lifespan. Who wouldn't want to live healthily for twice as long?
In another sense, the potential gains from natural longevity are limited. If you want to live healthily for 150 years or 200 years, you're out of luck. Who, at a healthy 80, would just want to up and quit? Your lifestyle choices gained you 30 healthy years you might have otherwise squandered - how terrible that it must now come to an end just when you were getting started! 30 years is barely long enough to have a good, fulfilling career…and most of the people I know have at least two or three potential careers locked inside for lack of time, just waiting to get out.
Regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies offer the first hope that moving beyond natural longevity can be possible in our lifetimes. Within two decades, with sufficient public demand and research funding, we could see our potential healthy lifespan make great leaps and jumps. As we follow these leaps in medical technology, the years passing healthily, further medical miracles will be developed. All we have to do is stay alive, active and healthy to benefit from them.
That said, we come back to natural longevity. That 30 extra years resulting from a good lifestyle is quite likely to make the difference for many of us between boarding the ship of accelerating medical technology for a long, long, long and exciting ride, or simply missing the boat. Perhaps those 30 years of natural longevity will turn out to be an enormous difference after all.
Take care of your health, people - it really matters.
GET INVOLVED: COME CHAT AND TALK
Of course, all the wonderful medical technology I talk about won't just materialize out of thin air. It requires years of hard work by motivated, well-funded scientists. More than that right now, it requires advocacy, education and widespread awareness in society: loud activism, public understanding and victory in political debates must precede massive funding.
Real scientific anti-aging and healthy life extension research is poorly funded and not widely recognized. Many precursor or stepping stone technologies in medical research right now, like theraputic cloning, stem cells and regenerative medicine, are under attack from bioethicists, luddite groups and conservative politicians. Cures are blocked, or pushed off out of reach. This must all change if we are to see longer, healthier lives in the near future.
You can help to make a difference to the future of medicine by getting involved at any level. You don't have to be a doctor, a researcher or even a dedicated activist. Many times, you can make a difference just be raising your voice or by joining the growing healthy life extension community and being yourself. Reading this newsletter and answering the calls to action at the Longevity Meme is a start:
There are more interactive things going on, though! The Immortality Institute hosts regular weekly online chat events on healthy life extension and related issues with some very interesting notables from the community. You can see an archive of past chats at the link below:
Upcoming events are listed on the Immortality Institute home page:
If you haven't dropped by the Immortality Institute forum and joined in, you certainly should:
It's a large, active, friendly community and you're certainly welcome to jump in and test the waters. You'll find discussion and insider information on the Methuselah Mouse Prize, discussion of the latest healthy life extension news, posted resources, organization for activism and a bunch of smart, helpful people who are working for longer, healthier lives.
Have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?
Founder, Longevity Meme
CR Society Starts New Online Community (November 17 2003)
The CR Society, a friendly, supportive group of folks interested in calorie restriction, have started up a new "CR Community" mailing list: read the announcement and then go ahead and sign up. If you found the main CR Society communities were a little too focused on calorie restriction, facts and techniques, then this may be just the thing for you. Calorie restriction, as you might have noticed, has been showing up much more often in the press of late. This can only be a good thing, especially for companies currently investigating the underlying science.
Dr. Mercola On Maximizing Natural Longevity (November 16 2003)
An interesting column from Dr. Mercola on methods to maximize your natural longevity via diet and lifestyle choices. He doesn't mention calorie restriction, as he did in a recent column, but he does cover a few good suggestions: cut out grains and sugars, include antioxidants and focus on preventing the effects of aging. We must remember, however, that this extension of healthy lifespan is small compared to what will be possible through stem cell and regenerative medicine.
More On New Stem Cell Lines (November 16 2003)
Boston.com is running an informative article about a recent expansion in the number of available stem cell lines for research. As the article puts it, this is "the most dramatic achievement to date in a burgeoning international movement to circumvent restrictions on stem cell science set by the Bush administration and other governments." The search for cures would be progressing so much faster without government interference! A complete ban on this sort of research is still pending in the Senate; please do contact your senators to express your opinions.
The Skinny On Calorie Restriction (November 15 2003)
CBS New York investigates calorie restriction. It's always very pleasing to see aspects of healthy life extension pushing their way into the mainstream; this raising of awareness can only help generate more widespread support for medical research. In many ways, simply acknowledging the possibility that you can lengthen your healthy lifespan is a major step forward for the mass media. If you are not currently practicing calorie restriction, you should certainly look into it for the sake of your future health and longevity. You'll find a helpful introduction here on the Longevity Meme.
On The Mechanisms Of Calorie Restriction (November 15 2003)
The Genome News Network offers some greater insight into recent research on the underlying biochemical mechanisms of calorie restriction. Research over the past year has brought several mechanisms to light, and scientists are starting to pull the pieces together. This article ties together threads on calorie restriction, organic compounds in some foods (like fruit and red wine) and sirtuin proteins in the body. This progress bodes well for development of therapies that mimic the life-extending effects of calorie restriction (such as those worked on by BioMarker).
Regenerative Medicine Cures Diabetes In Mice (November 14 2003)
As reported by the BBC, scientists in Massachusetts have managed to cure type 1 diabetes in mice by regenerating islet cells in the pancreas. Research into curing type 2 diabetes, a prevalent degenerative disease of aging, should also benefit from this breakthrough. I think we can all agree that the march of medical progress is a wonderful thing, and we should be supporting researchers as best we can. With more publicity and funding, medical science can advance further and faster.
Reviewing Progress Of Stem Cell Research (November 14 2003)
Christopher Reeve and some of the first scientists to work with stem cells review progress in research on the Voice of America. The dominant theme of the article is that we could be much further ahead if not for government interference and anti-research legislation. It's frustrating to see so much political effort go into blocking the development of cures for the diseases of aging and regeneration of serious injuries. As Reeve says, he "never thought that politics would get in the way of hope." Please think about contacting your elected representatives to express your frustration with their attacks on your future health and longevity.
One From The Naysayers (November 14 2003)
I post this short opinion piece as a reminder of the widespread opposition to healthy life extension and medical research. The title of this article is "live better, not longer," setting up a false choice right at the outset. Advancing medical science enables us to live both better and longer; it's not one or the other. Is aging, suffering, disease and death really so desirable to some, supportable by the flimsy principles outlined in this piece? We, as advocates for longer, better, healthier lives through science, have a lot of work to do.
Longevity, Science, Mysterious Centenarians (November 13 2003)
A long, mixed, informative article from the Seattle Times covers the breadth of current scientific research and insight into aging and how to work towards preventing it. If anything, it reinforces the impression that healthy life extension science is just getting started. We've just dipped our toes in the ocean of knowledge, and there is a great deal to learn and accomplish yet! The naysayers (like Leon Kass of the President's Council on Bioethics) should be given short shrift: full steam ahead with the science, we say.
Another Longevity Gene Identified (November 13 2003)
At Betterhumans, news of the discovery of another longevity gene and a theory for the way it operates in the body. Genetic studies targetting centenarians (performed in this case by Elixir Pharmaceuticals, a healthy life extension research company that successfully closed series B venture funding last month) are starting to yield useful results. Identifying longevity genes and mechanisms of operation is an important first step towards developing therapies that act directly on aspects of the aging process. Knowledge is power, and the more we know about aging, the more we can do to fight it.
Do No Harm To Basic Research (November 12 2003)
An article at Tech Central Station examines the ongoing damage inflicted on vital medical research by US government policies, especially those of the current anti-research administration. Stem cell research and regenerative medicine, the basis for extending healthy lifespans in the near future, are being squashed. Your future is being cut down as you read this, made shorter and less healthy by a small faction of misguided politicians and bioethicists. You should stand up and make yourself heard! I encourage you to contact your elected representatives and ask them why they actively harming medical research.
Report on Testosterone Therapy (November 12 2003)
From Yahoo! News, an article on testosterone therapy, which has been touted as having "anti-aging" benefits. As it turns out, as for human growth hormone, the science is very uncertain: true risks and benefits are not yet known. What is certain is that we should not be looking to these last generation one-size-fits-all chemical therapies for healthy life extension - we should be looking ahead to personalized therapies, stem cell and regenerative medicine. The few trialed therapies in this new branch of medicine have already proven themselves far more effective and useful in fixing specific age-related damage.
Seattle Times On Calorie Restriction (November 12 2003)
The Seattle Times discusses calorie restriction today, interviewing a range of practitioners along the way. As the article notes, calorie restriction is currently the only scientifically proven way to extend healthy lifespan. It provides additional health benefits beyond that, including weight loss and resistance to the common degenerative conditions of aging. It's certainly something that you should look into, and the CR Society is a good place to start. They're a friendly, helpful, active online community and the CR Society website provides access to a wealth of useful resources.
No Fixed Maximum Lifespan (November 11 2003)
An article in the New York Times reports on demographic research that confirms there is no fixed upper limit to healthy lifespan. Even in Japan, the country with the longest lifespans, the average life expectancy continues to increase by a quarter of a year each year. This represents the effects of current biomedical progress. To reach indefinite healthy lifespans, the ultimate goal of healthy life extension, this rate of increase must be boosted. We believe that regenerative medicine will make this possible, which is why funding must increase and legislative interference cease.
When Will We Control Aging? (November 11 2003)
In the wake of the latest webcast from SAGE Crossroads, here is a piece by Chris Mooney on "heated debate over the forseeability of human life extension." Varying from optimists like Aubrey de Grey (of the Methuselah Mouse project) to pessimists such as Leonard Hayflick, it's a short insight into the current state of biogerontological thinking. While reading, it's worth bearing in mind this old truism: when a scientist says something is possible, he might be right, but when he says something is impossible, he is almost always wrong.
More On Stem Cell Heart Regeneration (November 10 2003)
CNN reports on successful German trials in heart regeneration using adult stem cells. It is a comparatively simple procedure: a low cost fix for heart disease could save 50,000 lives a day worldwide, and scientists seem to have this in their grasp. The technique has already been successfully trialed in the US, but is currently blocked by the FDA. I encourage you to contact your elected representatives and ask them why they are letting thousands of people die rather than allowing this successful stem cell therapy to proceed.
Transhumanism and Healthy Life Extension (November 10 2003)
A George Dvorsky column at Betterhumans discusses the philosophy of Transhumanism and its implications for day to day living and extending healthy lifespans. Transhumanist groups (like those listed in the Longevity Meme resources) and a variety of colorful characters have been at the leading edge of advocacy for healthy life extension for decades. If you believe in working for a better future and an improved life, you should certainly take a look at transhumanist organizations and writings: they've been working hard to see us all live longer, better lives.
Holy Grail For The Drug Industry (November 10 2003)
The New York Times tells us that "if the drug industry has a commercial Holy Grail, it might be an anti-aging pill, one that would let you live longer and prolong your youthful vigor." The article spends some time on the difficulty of measuring anti-aging effectiveness - this is, as is noted, "a bear of a problem." Determining the effectiveness of therapies is vital to the process of developing and commercializing new medicine. This topic was brought up in an article at SAGE Crossroads fairly recently as well, and you'll find more information there.
Regenerative Medicine For Teeth (November 08 2003)
The Times Picayune reports on an NIH grant for stem cell based tooth regeneration. The scientist in question has already managed to grow new tooth buds in mice, and believes he can produce a therapy to do the same in humans. Regenerative medicine based on stem cells and theraputic cloning offers the hope of regrowing and repairing age-related damage to all parts of the body, thereby greatly extending healthy lifespans. This field should be receiving far more funding and attention, rather than legislative attempts to block and ban the underlying technologies.
Massachusetts Senate Votes For Stem Cell Research (November 08 2003)
Federal legislation is having a crushing effect on medical progress, but some US states are voting to allow embryonic stem cell research. Massachusetts is now one of them, as this Daily News Transcript notes. This battle over vital medical research - in the US, in other countries, at the UN - is still in the comparatively early stages, and anti-progress forces are doing far too well. We must fight loudly and fight hard to ensure that medical progress continues. The future of health and longevity depends on therapies still in development; the diseases of aging can only be cured if politicians stand aside.
CNN On Calorie Restriction (November 07 2003)
CNN discusses calorie restriction in an introductory fashion - it's a good article to give to your friends as general health advice. Calorie restriction has been proven to extend healthy lifespan in mammals, and there is strong evidence that does the same in humans. (It is surmised, for example that Okinawans have a form of mild calorie restriction to thank for their famed longevity). The article also mentions the large national CALERIE study, funded by the NIA - this study should soon be turning out more data in support of calorie restriction as the smart choice for living healthily for longer. Less calories, more life!
Suspended Animation Rebuffed (November 07 2003)
As the Sun Sentinel reports, Suspended Animation, Inc. didn't fare well during a review from the Boca Raton's Planning and Zoning Board. Despite the outpouring of support, the board recommended rejecting the application to build a cryonics research laboratory. This will go on to the City Council early next year for a final vote. This is an unfortunate setback, as cryonics is the only chance at a longer, healthier life in the future for many people. Cryonics as an industry needs ongoing research, and we hope that Suspended Animation can find a way forward in the face of anti-research opposition like this.
Further Explorations of the Biochemistry of Aging (November 07 2003)
(Found via Transhumanity). Scientists are making good progress in uncovering the biochemical mechanisms of cellular aging, as reported by Cancer Research UK. This has implications for cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as for aging research. The work builds on recent studies involving telomeres, protective caps on the end of chromosomes. Scientists have now uncovered the mechanisms that prevent a cell from further dividing once telomeres have worn away. This is an important step forward, hopefully the first of many more.
Dodging a Bullet at the UN (November 06 2003)
(From MSNBC). It looks like we all dodged a bullet today, as the UN narrowly avoided adopting a global theraputic cloning ban. Theraputic cloning is a vital technology for regenerative medicine; a ban would have amounted to banning cures for Parkinson's, nerve damage, heart disease and many other demonstrated successes in the laboratory. In other words, shorter lives and more suffering by legislative fiat. The UN has put off any further consideration until 2005, but please note that the US and other governments are still set on banning this technology. Please take a few minutes to to see how you can help.
The Reeve Factor (November 06 2003)
We've talked before about the ways in which Christopher Reeve is helping healthy life extension research through his advocacy. He is a very impressive character, a genuine American hero, and his work is making an impact on the legislative threat against stem cell medicine and theraputic cloning research. This article in the New Yorker touches on all of these points. Don't forget to thank Christopher Reeve for his crusade against anti-research politics and advocacy for stem cell medicine. His efforts are helping you to see a longer, healthier future; it's only right that you take a few minutes to help him in return.
More On Suspended Animation, Inc. (November 05 2003)
The Sun-Sentinel is carrying a piece on Suspended Animation, Inc. and their fight with the Boca Raton City Council and animal rights activists. You can find out more about cryonics in the Longevity Meme resources section. As a reminder, you should take a few minutes to help out Suspended Animation, Inc. in their fight to perform needed medical research. Caving in to anti-research activism is a sure path to shorter, more unhealthy lives: our future health depends on advances in medicine, in this and many other fields. Don't let the anti-progress crowd win!
European Parliament Moving Away From Stem Cell Ban? (November 05 2003)
(From BioMed Central). The European Parliament is starting to sound a little more reasonable about stem cells, but this long, drawn out process will at best lead to "strictly regulated" research. Most European nations still have or are introducing very restrictive laws regarding stem cell research. Recent developments can only be painted as a good thing in comparison to a complete ban: this research is still being blocked, held back and slowed by politicians. For an introduction to stem cells and healthy life extension, you might want to read our introduction here at the Longevity Meme.
Yet Another Potential Cancer Cure (November 04 2003)
This would be number sixteen in the past year, as noted in this press release at Yahoo! The broad range of possible cancer therapies currently in the works as an example of success in medical research advocacy, support and funding. These many amazing developments did not spring from the void: they are the result of decades of hard work by activists, scientists and funders. Serious money is only devoted to medical research when a large segment of society clamors for the results. Cancer research is a success story that we can and should repeat in the fight against aging. With hard work, indefinite healthy lifespans can be within reach.
Sirtuins, Low Calorie Diets and Longevity (November 04 2003)
An article at Betterhumans examines ongoing research into the genetic and biochemical causes of longevity through low-calorie diets (like calorie restriction). Practicing calorie restriction is currently the only scientific, proven beyond a doubt method of extending healthy life span. The goal of this research is to produce drugs and therapies that mimic - and improve on - the healthy life extension effects of calorie restriction. Companies like BioMarker are looking hard at this sort of thing, alongside academic groups such as the one mentioned in this article.
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?