LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
January 26 2004
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.
- Healthy Life Extension Books You Should Read
- Latest Healthy Life Extension News Headlines
HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ
The past few years have seen a number of good books in print on the subject of human life extension and related issues. Health, practical matters, science, philosophy, future society and the marketplace have all been examined. Since I have yet to make any book recommendations in this newsletter, I thought it would be a good idea to put forward a short - and by no means inclusive - reading list for those who are interested in learning more about healthy life extension: the science, the community, its history and the future. So without more ado, and in no particular order, on with the list!
Beyond the 120 Year Diet (Dr. Roy L. Walford)
Calorie restriction (CR) is the scientific gold standard for healthy life extension; an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows a CR diet to be the best currently available tool to extend healthy lifespan and resist the degenerative diseases of aging. Starting CR can be intimidating, but Dr. Walford's series of books help to make the process comparatively painless. "Beyond the 120 Year Diet" is a good, easy introduction to the principles and science behind calorie restriction. Beyond that, it is a practical guide that will help you over a lot of the early pitfalls, handily answering the "what exactly is it I eat?" question and offering some great cooking tips. You can find a wealth of CR information and support at the following locations:
Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion (Brian Alexander)
I will admit to being a sucker for books that uncover the human stories behind important advances in science. If you are like me in this regard, then you will certainly enjoy "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion." It is very encouraging to see just how many researchers, behind the conservative cover one must maintain for scientific respectability in this modern age, are reaching for a cure for aging. The fight against aging is almost beginning in earnest in 2004; we are at a societal tipping point similar to the one that occurred for cancer research in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More than anything else, this book reinforces my belief that present day activism for healthy life extension will lead to real scientific results in the near future. Through education and awareness we can bring about widespread support for real anti-aging research, and the funding to make it happen. The last generation did it for cancer research, and we can do it for aging research.
You may recall that we pointed out an interview with Brian Alexander last week. It's worth reading if you didn't catch it the first time around:
The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead (Frank J. Tipler)
I am probably going to get some interesting mail for recommending this book, but it was very influential on my reading choices for a while. In my mind, healthy life extension must include working together to create a long, long future worth looking forward to. Tipler's book was one of the first serious works I read that brought together a number of disparate scientific threads - from modern cosmology to medicine, and from neuroscience to computation physics - to show that yes, there most certainly could be such a future. The sections on religion, science and the human quest for immortality are also very interesting. It's now fashionable in some circles to attack "The Physics of Immortality," and while such attacks are certainly justified on some counts, I feel it is nonetheless an important landmark. No-one is going to agree with every idea that Tipler put forward, and the cosmological arguments are now sadly out of date, but if "A Brief History of Time" is somewhere in your collection, then this book should be too.
The Immortal Cell: One Scientist's Quest to Solve the Mystery of Human Aging (Michael West)
Hunting down a copy of this book is a must for anyone interested in the comparatively young fields of regenerative medicine, stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. As regular readers of this newsletter are no doubt already aware, regenerative medicine will most likely lead to the first wave of therapies that will greatly extend the healthy human lifespan. Even if we can't prevent aging, the ability to grow healthy tissue and new organs to order will enable doctors to cure previously incurable diseases and repair most or all of the damage caused by the aging process. (If, that is, the anti-research politicians stop trying to ban the necessary research - a real and constant threat these days). This is amazing science, with some real characters behind it. You can find a starting point for learning more about the science and politics of regenerative medicine at the Longevity Meme:
Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension (Stephen S. Hall)
"Merchants of Immortality" covers some of the same ground as "The Immortal Cell," ranging a little more widely in topic and choice of interviewees. The book succeeds in bringing home the sheer waste of opportunity brought about by US and European government policies towards stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Millions of lives could be saved every year if scientists had not been held back and research left unsupported, restricted or banned. As a society, we are on the verge of curing some of the worst diseases of aging, conditions that have plagued mankind for thousands of years, yet politicians insist on attempting to ban this progress! If "Merchants of Immortality" and "The Immortal Cell" don't make you want to take up a placard and demand that scientific research is allowed to proceed unmolested, then nothing will.
As always, you can find the latest on anti-research legislation and how to speak up in opposition at the Longevity Meme:
The future of health and longevity is in our hands. It is our voices that ultimately determine which therapies are researched, which cures are developed; if we don't use our voices, then the future will be shorter and less healthy for each and every one of us.
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, or post a copy 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
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Working to Heal Nerve Damage (January 25 2004)
(From ScienceDaily). Scientists are making progress in the basics of nerve regeneration, even as other areas of regenerative medicine are racing ahead. With a technique similar to the artificial scaffolds used to grow bone, researchers have successfully regrown nerve cells. A quote: "We have shown that our scaffold selectively and rapidly directs cell differentiation, driving neural progenitor cells to become neurons." This lays the practical foundation for therapies that will repair a range of nerve damage, such as spinal injuries and paralysis.
Leaving the Blinders On In Germany (January 24 2004)
A pointed editorial from F.A.Z. denouces German government policy with respect to all the most promising modern medical research. Next to France, Germany enforces some of the strictest anti-research legislation and greatest government control: very little healthy life extension research is permitted in Germany, and frustration is clearly evident. We are on the verge of curing some of the worst diseases of aging, conditions that have plagued mankind for thousands of years, yet politicians insist on attempting to ban this progress! We must stand up in support of medical research if we wish to see near term benefits.
Defeating Cancer By 2015 (January 24 2004)
We've mentioned the declared goal of the National Cancer Institute before: to defeat cancer by 2015, eliminating all suffering and death caused by this condition. This article from USAToday emphasises that this is, above all, a realistic goal. Three decades of well funded research, education and widespread activism have brought us to this point. The fight against cancer is a success story in its closing stages: the fight against aging could be next if we look, learn and act. Following the example set by cancer research activists, we can encourage funding and recognition for healthy life extension research.
The Cryonics Timeship (January 23 2004)
The Guardian reports on the Timeship, a cryonics project that has been brewing for some time. In recent years, the founders of the Life Extension Foundation have been devoting more of their resources to improving, expanding and extending the cryonics industry - understandable, given their age and the rate of scientific progress in the fight against aging. It is a tragedy that many of the founders of the healthy life extension movement will not live long enough to fully benefit from the first wave of regenerative medicine. Cryonics should be an important medical industry; only investment, research and better business can make it so.
An Interview With Brian Alexander (January 23 2004)
USNews is carrying an interview with Brian Alexander, author of Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion, focusing on the science of healthy life extension. There are a lot of ideas and a healthy amount of name dropping in there; the author has some interesting things to say about the backdrop to the current revolution in medicine. A quote: "Life extension already exists. Scientists have made lab animals live far longer than their natural life span, up to six times longer. Translating that to people will take a long time, but it will eventually be done."
Some Adult Stem Cell Grants Coming Through (January 22 2004)
Despite the legislation restricting stem cell research in the US (and a potential ban on a necessary technology for that research), the NIH is making some grants for adult stem cell work. This article at the Alligator notes a $1.3 million grant to go towards research into regenerative tools to repair brain injuries and diseases. The brain is the most important part of the body from a long term healthy life extension point of view - it's the one organ we can't transplant or replace. More sophisticated strategies for repairing and preventing degenerative conditions of the brain will be vital.
People Who Want To Block Healthy Life Extension (January 22 2004)
(From AlterNet). Anti-progress groups have campaigned against healthy life extension in recent years: all the broken arguments against technology can be used against better medicine too. Halting research because the wealthy get the first benefits is foolish. Rich people always have early access: the high prices they pay go towards making medicine better, safer and cheaper. Should we have banned cancer therapies or heart surgery because they were initially expensive? More pertinently, what sort of person advocates massive ongoing suffering and death as preferable to temporary unfairness?
Damaging "Anti-Aging" Marketing at Work (January 21 2004)
"Anti-aging" marketing has caused a great deal of damage to funding of legitimate scientific research in the fight against aging. This "anti-aging" beer story has been doing the rounds for a week or so, and can be held up as a good example of the type. By getting the amount of press it has, it trivializes the work of legitimate scientists who investigate, treat or work towards a cure for aging and its associated degenerative conditions. The voice of real anti-aging and healthy life extension science has long been drowned out by a billion dollar industry based on potions, fraud and adventurous marketing. If even just a fraction of that money went into real research, just imagine where we would be now.
Christopher Reeve in the News (January 21 2004)
Christopher Reeve's advocacy for stem cell research and regenerative medicine has been in the news a fair amount of late. He is one of the most outspoken advocates for freedom of research for a number of years, and is very critical of anti-research legislation in the US and elsewhere. In this article from the Palm Beach Daily News, Reeve discusses near term breakthroughs, research in Israel and a wide range of other topics. Christopher Reeve is doing amazing work in support of medical research that will lead to longer, healthier lives, and we should be lining up to thank him.
Progress on Alzheimer's (January 20 2004)
InfoAging (an excellent general resource for information on aging and aging research, by the way) is reporting on progress in fighting Alzheimer's. The immense amount of research funding is starting to pay off: scientists have prevented memory and learning loss in the mouse version of the disease. In addition, other interesting results on the possible root causes of Alzheimer's are noted at the site. It's worth remembering that Alzheimer's symptoms were once considered a part of aging; not a disease and not curable. That should make you pause for thought whenever you hear people claiming that all the currently unspecified degenerative effects of aging are not worth research time and money.
Pessimists Debate Aging Science (January 20 2004)
Harry Moody and Arthur Caplan will debate whether aging should be viewed as a disease at SAGE Crossroads, an issue crucial to large scale funding and research strategies. I am sympathetic to the theory of aging as undiagnosed disease - most degenerative conditions were once seen as "a part of normal aging," after all. Moody and Caplan occupy very conservative positions in biogerontology; neither believes that near term healthy life extension is possible, so they do not advocate research funding for the fight against aging. This is a part of the self-defeating cycle described by Aubrey de Grey.
India Making Progress in Stem Cell Research (January 19 2004)
The Indian research establishment is moving wholeheartedly ahead into stem cell-based regenerative medicine. This report covers an institute working on regenerative therapies to treat corneal blindness through regrowth of damaged tissue. Elsewhere, another article notes the start of a government-funded research effort targetting stem cell therapies in neurobiology and cardiac medicine. Meanwhile, US stem cell research - despite demonstrated cures working in the laboratory - is stunted and blocked by existing and threatened anti-research legislation.
RSS Feed Upgraded (January 19 2004)
The Longevity Meme news feed has been given a long-overdue upgrade to RSS 2.0, and the other feeds will following shortly. If the update causes problems for anyone, please do let us know and we'll make the old feed format available as well. If you're already reading the Longevity Meme via RSS, why not consider adding one of our other feeds as well? Our newsletter, articles and Take Action! content are also syndicated via RSS. Keep up to date and on the ball!
Florida Research Ban Hampers Progress (January 18 2004)
The Jacksonville Business Journal examines the effects of the Florida therapeutic cloning and stem cell research ban. As expected, this has resulted in less research in the state. It discourages biotech companies from doing business in the Florida. An interesting quote from a more optimistic scientist: "I think once you can show you can cure grandpa's Alzheimer's, these issues will be resolved." Researchers have already shown that stem cell medicine can cure grandpa's heart disease, not to mention the array of conditions cured in the laboratory, but we don't seem to any closer to lifting these research bans.
Christopher Reeve on Stem Cell Research (January 18 2004)
This Sun-Sentinel article opens with a powerful quote from stem cell research advocate Christopher Reeve: "When politics and religion try to dictate to science, sick and dying people lose." Stem cell and therapeutic cloning researchers have demonstrated cures in the laboratory or early trials for heart disease, Parkinson's, nerve damage, cancer, and many other conditions. Yet these amazing advances are still under attack and the subject of anti-research legislation in the US and elsewhere. If we want to live longer, healthier lives through advanced medicine, then - like Christopher Reeve - we must step forward and say so.
Palm Beach Post on Calorie Restriction (January 17 2004)
The Palm Beach Post is running a long piece on calorie restriction (CR) that covers ground missed by recent articles in the mainstream press. Many journalists seem to focus on the difficulty of extreme CR, while ignoring the vast number of people who easily and safely practice mild or moderate CR. The weight and diversity of scientific evidence supporting CR as a way to improve health and lengthen healthy lifespan is overwhelming. If you are not practicing at least mild CR, then you should read the article and look into giving CR a try.
"Death Sucks" (January 17 2004)
The Speculist declares that "death sucks," and offers some background and justification for that statement. More seriously, he also examines why fear of death is a vital part of human existence and a spur for human progress. Supporting medical research to lengthen our healthy lifespans - to eventually defeat aging and death - is the culmination of a long process of scientific advancement that began in the stone age. We can overcome these limits, just as we have overcome many other limits in the past, and we can continue to use science to make our lives longer, healthier and better.
New Republic on "Beyond Therapy" (January 16 2004)
While we are on the subject of the President's Council on Bioethics, here is a long review and commentary on "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness" from the New Republic. The tone is carefully neutral on technology and better medicine (and of course in favor of government regulation), but it does make the underlying Council agendas clear. The Council members are pro-death, anti-research and in favor of using legislation to block access to and development of therapies that will extend the healthy human lifespan. This, sadly, is a reflection of the position of the current US administration.
Bioethics Council Issues Stem Cell Report (January 16 2004)
(From BioMed Central). The strongly anti-research President's Council on Bioethics has issued its first report on stem cell research. As you probably know by now, most council members are affiliated with religious policy organisations and opposed to many fields of medical research. The chair, Leon Kass, has repeatedly declared himself opposed to allowing any form of healthy life extension medicine to be developed or practiced. There are no policy recommendations in the document, but there don't have to be - existing and threatened legislation is squashing stem cell research in the US already.
Protecting the Brain From Aging (January 15 2004)
EurekAlert discusses progress towards protecting the human brain from the degenerative effects of aging: the more we know, the more we can do to prevent conditions like Alzheimer's. It's worth recalling that even "normal aging" as discussed in the article is likely to be a collection of as yet unclassified diseases and conditions. After all, the horrific effects of Alzheimer's were regarded as a part of "normal aging" once upon a time. The effects of aging can be understood, fought and beaten, but only if we support and encourage the advance of medical science.
Boca Raton Says No To Cryonics (January 15 2004)
The Palm Beach Post reports that the Boca Raton City Council voted 5-0 to deny cryonics research company Suspended Animation, Inc. permission to operate in the city. One council member said: "It is totally inappropriate for this council to be second-guessing the emergence of science," but he still voted against SAI. As I have said before, cryonics as a field needs new research and new products in order to grow and be able to offer the choice of cryopreservation to more people. Cryonics is the only slim change at a much longer, healthier life in the future for uncounted millions who are too old to wait: we hope to see it prosper.
Human Stem Cells: the Key to Healing (January 14 2004)
I thought I'd share this excellent introductory piece on stem cell research from the Tribune in India. If only more balanced articles like this appeared in American newspapers! Understanding of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning is muddied in the US and Europe by the heated abortion and human reproductive cloning issues. Anti-research groups and politicians have no qualms about using outright lies and distortions to justify their positions, alas. We, as advocates and educators, need to try harder to get our message out - and you can help!
More on Engineering Blood Vessels (January 14 2004)
Building blood vessels is a very important part of tissue engineering - without the right shape, size and distribution of blood vessels, scientists cannot build large tissue masses, such as complete organs. As this article from ScienceDaily illustrates, researchers are past the "doing it" stage, and well into the "doing it faster, better, cheaper" stage. This sort of technology opens the door to the development of widely available replacement organs grown to order from the patient's own cells. These early tissue engineering technologies will enable us to effectively replace body parts damaged by degenerative conditions of aging.
Looking Back, Looking Forward (January 13 2004)
Chris Mooney examines the state of gerontology and healthy life extension research in 2003, with an eye to the year to come, at SAGE Crossroads. One reassuring item is that investment into aging research has grown enormously: "private investments are probably up 10- or 20-fold." On a different note, SAGE Crossroads has just relaunched with a radically improved and much better looking website, making their archive of webcasts much more accessible. If you haven't watched any of them yet, you should go and take a look.
Irish Government Funds Stem Cell Research Initiative (January 12 2004)
The Irish Times notes that the Irish government is funding a stem cell research initiative, including the construction of a new Regenerative Medicine Institute at Galway. As I've mentioned before, you can track progress in any scientific field by the number of buildings being built...so the more, the merrier from where I stand. Meanwhile, other articles note the funding difficulties faced by stem cell researchers in the US, all due to restrictive legislation - almost a ban for all practical intents and purposes - imposed by the current administration.
Suspended Animation Back Into The Fray (January 12 2004)
Boca Raton News reports that Suspended Animation Inc, a cryonics research company, will follow through with its Boca Raton petition for laboratory space despite overwhelmingly negative indications to date. (You may recall the Planning and Zoning application furor at the end of last year, and the accompanying calls for community support). Research and spin off products are essential to the long term growth and success of the cryonics industry. With that thought in mind, and considering a wider context, these current problems with anti-research politics are troubling.