LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
December 29 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.
- Looking Back on 2003
- The Methuselah Mouse Prize: A Great Step Forward
- A Year in Stem Cell Medicine: Advances and Setbacks
- Cryonics in 2003: Publicity, Not All Welcome
- Calorie Restriction, a Year of Eating Well
- Latest Healthy Life Extension News Headlines
LOOKING BACK ON 2003
It's been a year of ups and downs in progress towards working healthy life extension medicine. Researchers have produced weekly miracles of science, while politicians and special interests have labored mightily to ban it all. This newsletter itself is now almost a year old, so you'll find many of the salient high and low points of 2003 covered in past issues. Follow the link below and scroll down to read them.
THE METHUSELAH MOUSE PRIZE: A GREAT STEP FORWARD
Supported by some of the same faces behind the enormously successful X Prize, the Methuselah Mouse Prize for Anti-Aging Research became a reality in 2003. In its first six months, the prize has passed $40,000 in public donations, and has received endorsements from leading researchers and futurists.
I look forward to seeing great things in the future of this effort. You can help too by making a modest tax-deductible donation. Go ahead!
A YEAR IN STEM CELL MEDICINE: ADVANCES AND SETBACKS
Advances in stem cell medicine have been simply stunning in 2003, as have, alas, political efforts to block this medical progress. We've seen the first successful applications of simple stem cell medicine to cure heart disease in human trials in the US, Germany and Japan ... closely followed by a block on further trials in the US:
Breakthroughs have been made in therapeutic cloning, a fundamental technology needed to bring regenerative medicine based on stem cells out of the laboratory and into hospitals. Regenerative medicine has an unassuming name, but shows amazing promise in trials and research work: cures for Parkinson's, nerve damage, heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, blindness, deafness, diabetes, and serious physical injuries have all been demonstrated in trials or research settings using regenerative medicine based on stem cell technology. This wave of medical technology will - if not blocked - bring better medicine and longer, healthier lives.
Scientists are learning ever more about the biochemical mechanisms that control stem cells. At the time of writing, Advanced Cell Technology has demonstrated reliable embryonic stem cell production, while a research group from Scripps claims to be able to create stem cells from adult tissue:
With better sources of cells and newly available tools and knowledge, researchers could soon begin making even faster progress towards cures for diseases that have plagued humanity and shortened lives since the dawn of mankind. Truly, we live in an era of wonders.
Unfortunately, all these breakthroughs have occurred under a cloud of hostile, anti-research legislation in the US and Europe. The US senate is due to vote on a complete ban on therapeutic cloning in 2004, while the US will again be leading attempts to enact a UN global ban on this vital medical technology late in the year. A ban on therapeutic cloning is effectively a ban on all regenerative medicine based on stem cells: this means a ban on demonstrated cures Parkinson's, nerve damage, heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, blindness, deafness, diabetes, and serious physical injuries. It is nothing short of astounding that so many allegedly compassionate human beings are spending so much time, money and effort to ensure that the sick and elderly continue to suffer and die. You can learn more - and make your voice heard - at the following pages:
CRYONICS IN 2003: PUBLICITY, NOT ALL WELCOME
2003 has been an interesting, mixed year for the small and often misunderstood cryonics industry. Cryonics providers are companies that will freeze your body on death ("cryopreservation"), in the hopes that future medical technology will be able to revive and repair you. Cryonics offers the only hope of eventual healthy life extension for people who are too old or too ill to benefit from the medicine of the next few decades. You can lean more at:
The entry of a new research venture, Suspended Animation Inc., promises to bring much needed advances and spin-offs to basic cryonics technology as currently practiced. Better technology and product lines other than cryopreservation are badly needed, in my opinion at least, and can only help to legitimize the cryonics industry in the eyes of its detractors.
The cryopreservation of baseball legend Ted Williams at Alcor led to some very high profile publicity earlier in the year (and an equally high profile and rather ugly legal battle between his children over his choice to be preserved). Sadly, the only lasting effect of this publicity appears to be a newfound interest by government officials in regulating or shutting down cryonics providers, all for far from noble reasons. The Cryonics Institute has been targeted, for example, despite legally and safely conducting its business for the past three decades. The following link from Rand Simberg's blog makes all the necessary points on this issue:
Additionally, Suspended Animation was recently denied permission to conduct legal scientific research in their new Boca Raton facility, and is suffering through the search for a new location. The cryonics industry seemed for a while, as it has before, on the verge of some form of breakthrough in public perception and legitimacy ... but it may be just back to business as usual in 2004. Keep an eye on Suspended Animation, Inc, though: if real long-term change is coming, that company or one like it is likely to be the source.
CALORIE RESTRICTION, A YEAR OF EATING WELL
Calorie restriction groups, such as the CR Society, appear to have won the media diet wars of 2003, be it unintentionally and without really trying. Calorie restriction, eating fewer calories while still obtaining the necessary nutrients and vitamins, has long been known to extend healthy life span. Indeed, calorie restriction is the gold standard of healthy life extension research - the one technique currently available that we can say works beyond a doubt:
Calorie restriction (CR) has been showing up in mainstream media ever more often during 2003, no doubt due to a surprisingly large number of serious articles on the merits of various diets and the growing problem of obesity in modern society. CR isn't practiced for weight loss, of course, but that is one of the side effects. The final consensus in the mainstream press appeared to be that low calorie diets - like CR - beat out all others in benefits and effectiveness. This process culminated in a recent series of spots on CR at ABCNews:
The CR Society itself has been growing in size and sophistication, and the hope is that we'll see more of that in 2004. If you want to learn more about practicing CR to lengthen your life and improve your health, then the CR Society website is very much the place to start. Follow the link below:
As a final note, the National Institute of Aging is funding CALERIE, a serious, large-scale study on the long-term beneficial effects of CR that got underway in 2003.
In conjunction with work in the private sector performed by companies such as BioMarker Pharmaceuticals, this may lead to greater understanding and eventual advances in healthy life extension medicine.
That would be all for this issue of the newsletter. The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.
Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward the newsletter on by all means, or post it to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!
Founder, Longevity Meme
Japan Moves Ahead With Embryonic Stem Cell Research (December 26 2003)
The Japan Times reports on Japanese efforts to be at the forefront of embryonic stem cell research, with an emphasis on developing cures for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. The final comments on bioethics regarding embryonic stem cells are telling: an island of Japanese rationality in the midst of a sea of Western hysteria. This research will lead to cures for some of the worst conditions of aging - it will lead to longer, healthier lives. We should support the hard working scientists who are striving to improve our lives and bring better medicine to the world.
New Understanding of Brain Damage Mechanism (December 26 2003)
(At EurekAlert). This article has been doing the rounds for a few days; scientists have uncovered the major mechanism that causes brain damage when cells are deprived of oxygen (such as from a stroke), and have a way to prevent it for up to three hours. Strokes are the second leading cause of death worldwide, and a new anti-stroke therapy could be available in three years or so. This new knowledge is also very interesting in regard to cryonics: it would be a way of ensuring that the brain is not damaged in the interval between death and cryopreservation.
More on Reversine at Scripps (December 25 2003)
Betterhumans covers the recently announced work at the Scripps Research Institute on creating stem cells via a chemical called reversine. As the Betterhumans staff notes, this potentially opens the door to lizard-like regeneration of lost body parts in humans, not to mention bypassing the embryonic stem stell debate. Some scientists and observers in the field are (justifiably) skeptical, however, and want to see wider scientific confirmation and independent verification of this new process.
The State of Tissue Engineering (December 25 2003)
The Genome News Network provides an informative article on the current state of the art in tissue engineering for regenerative medicine. There is some impressive work being done at the forefront of the field: "This is not imaginary science anymore," says William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences. "Functional tissues made from cells and biomaterials are being implanted in humans." Teams of scientists have grown and successfully implanted entire organs in the lab, using biodegradable scaffolds and the patient's own cells. This is impressive medical technology: waiting for transplants may soon be a thing of the past.
The Role of Animals in Regenerative Medicine (December 24 2003)
Ronald Bailey's latest article at Reason Online outlines the prominant role that animal studies have in the march towards working regenerative medicine. He also examines the strong opposition towards work on growing replacement human tissue and stem cells in animal hosts, finding it illogical and inconsistant: "What is more immoral - working to provide transplants for sick people, or blocking the development of such transplants?" This oppposition to medical progress is a part of a wider anti-research movement at work in the US today.
Nanotechnology, Medicine and Healthy Life Extension (December 23 2003)
BioMed Central notes that nanotechnology will revolutionize medicine, starting fairly soon with improvements to diagnosis and personalised medicine. Nanotechnology is itself an enormous, rapidly growing field, and I encourage you to read up on the possibilities for astounding advances in health and longevity through nanomedicine. A good starting point is "Nanotechnology and Life Extension" here at the Longevity Meme, penned by Chris Phoenix of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology offers the eventual hope of truly low cost medicine for everyone, and will probably one day replace stem cell based regenerative medicine as the healthy life extension technology of choice.
Stem Cells Giving Up Their Secrets (December 23 2003)
At Nature, news of another advance in our ability to control and use stem cells. Based on knowledge gained earlier in 2003, scientists have used chemicals to control the timing of stem cell specialization. This is the beginning of the road to discard some of the very clumsy techniques currently used to this end. A quote: "If we want to make stem cells into therapies, we're going to need cell lines that were never grown in any foreign proteins. This work should help us take stem cells into that clinical setting."
Normal Cells Turned Into Stem Cells (December 22 2003)
(From EurekAlert). Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute are claiming success in making adult cells reverse the normal cycle of development in order to form their own precursor stem cells. If widely validated by the scientific community, this should be hailed as an amazing success in the march towards regenerative medicine and longer, healthier lives. Stem cell therapies for the degenerative conditions of aging will be far more effective if your own stem cells can be used to regenerate lost or damaged tissue. We should all keep an eye on this research to see what develops.
Is Aging Just Undetermined Disease? (December 22 2003)
A release at EurekAlert proposes that the symptoms of old age are the effects of undiagnosed and possibly unrecognized diseases. As the article points out, osteoporosis (bone loss) was not recognized as a treatable condition - as opposed to "just a part of getting old" - until comparatively recently in medical history. This is an intriguing and important way of looking at things, especially since regulatory agencies like the FDA do not recognize aging as a disease or condition, and will therefore not approve treatments. A quote: "The distinction between normal ageing and disease late in life seems to a large extent arbitrary."
Christopher Reeve on Medical Research (December 21 2003)
In this article from JTA News, Christopher Reeve discusses his recent visit to Israel and the current state of research into regenerative medicine. Reeve is a very effective advocate for the research most likely to lead to healthy life extension medicine - as well as to a cure for the nerve damage causing his paralysis - and his CRPF does good work. A quote: "What I’m fighting for is the freedom of scientific inquiry. Stem cells will probably benefit millions of people suffering from a wide variety of diseases." You should let Christopher Reeve know that he's doing a great, amazing job.
Show Your Support For CAMR (December 20 2003)
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medicine (CAMR) is a noted, active political advocacy group that is fighting for the right to develop better therapeutic cloning technologies (also known as "somatic cell nuclear transfer" or SCNT). A great deal of stem cell and regenerative medicine rests on the use of therapeutic cloning, so currently threatened bans and existing restrictive legislation are damaging a broad swathe of research. CAMR is working on your behalf to make sure that the most promising present day medical research is allowed, and that the life saving medicine of the future is permitted. You can help by taking part in their initiatives.
Just Add Water (December 19 2003)
Nature is carrying an article on a very interesting direction in stem cell research: dehydrated storage. "Instant" stem cells could one day be used as an advanced form of first aid; just add water for regenerative medicine on the go. That is a long way off, of course, but any technique that eases storage and transport of stem cells will be a great boon to research across the board. This work is an outgrowth of proven dehydration techniques used to dry and store blood cells for transfusion. It is a good sign to see healthy progress in baseline utility technologies for stem cell medicine: better tools mean faster, cheaper, better research.
Methuselah Mouse Prize Hits $40,000 (December 18 2003)
The Methuselah Mouse Prize, launched earlier in 2003, has passed the $40,000 mark. A cause for celebration indeed! This is thanks to the many people who have come forward to be early donors, leading the way for well known donors like William Haseltine and Ray Kurzweil to make contributions and endorsements. We see a great future ahead for the Methuselah Mouse Prize; it is growing faster than the X Prize did in its early days back in 1996. You can help the future of the Methuselah Mouse Prize and of anti-aging research: donate today!
Potential Cancer Cure Number 19 (December 18 2003)
EurekAlert covers another potential cancer cure in the works. There has been a recent trend, enabled by advances in basic medical technologies, towards smarter ways of fighting cancer: targeting only cancerous cells for destruction, for example. In this case, a genetically engineering cold virus attacks only cancerous cells. The latest cancer research is essential to healthy life extension, and the variety of potential cures is a demonstration of what solid funding and public backing can do. We need to do the same for anti-aging research!
Regenerative Medicine Grows Blood Vessels (December 17 2003)
(From Betterhumans). In an important step forward, researchers have grown embryonic stem cells into fully formed blood vessels. The need to create blood vessels has been a stumbling block on the way to culturing large amounts of replacement tissue (such as organs for transplant), and now it looks like this problem is well on the way to being solved. The ability to grow new blood vessels as required opens the door to a range of advanced regenerative medicine, such as transplants for age-damaged organs that are grown from a patient's own cells.
European Parliament Rejects Therapeutic Cloning Ban (December 17 2003)
As noted by BioMed Central, the European Parliament has rejected attempts to adopt a blanket ban on the medical use of cells created via therapeutic cloning. The adopted legislation (largely dealing with safety and quality issues in human tissues for medical use) defers to member states on stem cells and therapeutic cloning. "Regarding cloned human embryos, it was agreed that existing legislation in the member states should remain into force. This directive does not interfere with these states' decisions concerning the use or non-use of any specific type of human cells, including germ cells and embryonic stem cells."
On Abuses of Skepticism and Healthy Life Extension (December 16 2003)
An article by Chris Mooney at CSICOP reveals the way in which normally healthy skepticism is abused to cast doubt on valid scientific advances towards longer, healthier lives. A quote: "There are lots of cranks out there pushing unproven anti-aging remedies today. And as Shermer rightly notes, leading gerontologists have issued statements condemning such quackery. But many of those same scientists think we will be able to slow or even reverse human aging in the relatively near future." Healthy life extension cannot be dismissed or left unfunded simply because there is fraud in the "anti-aging" marketplace.
Inside a Successful Therapeutic Cloning Advance (December 16 2003)
Wired is running a fascinating report on a successful advance in therapeutic cloning technology at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). ACT uses therapeutic cloning to create sources of stem cells, essential to regenerative medicine research. Like many companies, ACT has been hit hard by the hostile political atmosphere in the US; the article should make it quite clear that current administration policies are badly damaging vital research. There could be worse to come, so make your voice heard!
The Science Behind Ceremedix and Lifeline (December 15 2003)
The LEF News has a little more on the science behind the promised new antioxidant supplement from Ceremedix and Lifeline Nutraceuticals. I normally wouldn't spend so much space on supplements - since other medical technologies show so much more promise, and their marketplaces are not filled with frauds and wastrels - but people have been asking, and this sort of material isn't easy to dig up from the primary scientific sources. For those who are interested, you should be able to follow up further from the facts presented in this article.
NJ Assembly Approves Stem Cell Research (December 15 2003)
(Reported in Newsday.com). Despite opposition from conservatives, New Jersey approved a bill permitting stem cell research in the state. It is very good to see at least a few states standing up to the anti-research legislation in the Federal government. A quote: "Organizations that sponsor research for terminal illnesses praised the bill as a major step forward for finding cures and lessening painful symptoms of deadly diseases." Stem cell research offers near term hope for extending healthy lifespan and saving many lives through regenerative medicine; the ability to repair the damage caused by aging and injury.
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