Bioethics Council: What the Blogosphere Thinks

Based on rumblings from the blogosphere, I think we can expect to see some very cutting articles in the press in the coming week. Glenn Reynolds is working on one right now and Chris Mooney has had some things to say on the topic. Read on for a roundup of some views from the extended blogging community:

James Hughes at Cyborg Democracy, just back from a converging technologies session, dismisses the council as largely irrelevant:

At yesterday's meeting speaker after speaker obliquely dismissed Kass and the Luddites, and the lunch time keynoter was the Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology, Philip Bond, who again said that we had to address the ethical issues and concerns, but that Luddism and fear were the wrong way to go since these new technologies would create American jobs.

I'm not sure I agree with this viewpoint. While it's true that scientific progress is bubbling up through the cracks no matter what the US government does, it's also true that regenerative medicine research in the US has been badly and deliberately damaged by administration policies. The cost of setbacks in human life and suffering is huge and terrible. The council is part of the support mechanism used to suppress this research in the name of anti-abortion politics, and so it has to go along with the policitians who support these goals.

The Corpus Callosum offers some careful thoughts on the matter - worth reading all the way through, as it provides some history to the current council reshuffle.

Now, let's think about this for a bit. The White House spokesperson, Erin Healy, stated the two members' terms had expired in January, and they were on "holdover status." This is a lie of omission. She, and by extension, her boss George W. Bush, are lying about the Ethics Board. Why even bother to have an ethics board? They hire these folks at taxpayer expense, purportedly to provide counsel on ethics, when in fact that is not their purpose. Although we can't be certain what the motive was for these two dismissals, Dr. Blackburn's statement, "I think this is Bush stacking the council with the compliant," is fairly telling. Also, there is the timing of the dismissals. Gina Smith's site refers to the fact that the Council had just released a report on stem cells. Apparently, the report -- more than 400 pages -- contained no conclusions. (Your tax dollars at work, again.)

There's more analysis in the same vein to follow that up. Our friends at the Speculist have their first comments on the issue, and I'm told that there will be more to follow. Stephen Gordon agrees with me on what this bodes for the future:

When making policy on matters as important as stem cell research it's crucial for the President to hear all viewpoints - unless he's already made up his mind. That's the problem here. Bush has made up his mind and isn't interested in hearing opposing views anymore. He wants justification for the policy he's decided on. He wants to be able to say to Congress "This bill I'm sponsoring is supported 100% by my Council on Bioethics."

We are getting a glimpse of what Bush intends to do in his second term regarding therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research. It's no longer sufficient that the research is not federally funded. Now that individual states are showing a willingness to pick up this slack, he is preparing to outlaw it nationally. Why else would he care so much about the composition of the Council on Bioethics?

As a reminder, a bill that outlaws most stem cell research nationally is (still) one senate vote away from being passed. There's also the fact that this administration has been trying very hard to push a global ban through the United Nations. This is ugly, ugly politics - the politics of control, denial, bans on medical research, and enforced death and suffering. Are we really going to stand for this from any administration?

Hopefully not.

Balkanization comments on this and says:

In the past several years the council has found it difficult to reach concensus that matches the Administration's preferred positions. Apparently that will no longer be a problem. I think this undermines any credibility that the President's council on bioethics ever enjoyed.

Calpundit comments "Apparently George Bush's Council on Bioethics still has a few members who actually disagree with him about stem cells and cloning. Can't have that, can we?. At Ruminate This, the commentary is entitled "Taking the ethics out of bioethics":

Once again we come face to face with behavior by an administration so unburdened by the challenging demands of integrity that it can't even be bothered to concoct some suitable lie to cover its tracks. As the parent - like our esteemed hostess Lisa English - of a chid afflicted with type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes, the issue of stem cell research is one that is close to my heart because of the promise it holds for curing my son's disease. The singular fact that this Council was stacked from the outset with a majority of members opposed to the most promising means of developing stem cell lines in sufficient quantities to conduct meaningful research solely in order to provide Gee Dub with the cover necessary to make a political decision to appease his Pharisee base was enough to plunge me into a funk that lasted for weeks ... but it also leads to a bigger issue, that of an administration that continually cooks the books when it comes to science.

We'll see what comes up in the media during the week. In the meanwhile, write to your representatives and call for the abolition of the bioethics council!

Harvard To Form Stem Cell Center

Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has announced plans for a large stem cell research center. The Boston Globe frames this decision as another attempt to bypass US government restrictions: "Harvard has the responsibility to be taking up the slack that the government is leaving." With plans for State funding in New Jersey and California, this is part of a growing challenge to anti-research policies. "Every success will change the argument. The American people will not stand for scientists not being able to work on their diseases." You can help to challenge anti-research legislation by supporting the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and taking part in their action programs.


Bioethics Council Reshuffled

Or should that be "Bioethics Council Stacked?" The recent change in council membership ejects supporters of stem cell and therapeutic cloning research in favor of new members more likely to toe the desired line. This is most likely a response to "Monitoring Stem Cell Research," a report that does not make policy recommendations or condemn the research ... which was undoubtably not the desired result for the US administration.

This new example of bald-faced bias on the part of the US government, following so soon on the heels of widely publicized examples of the same, has Chris Mooney riled enough to post twice on a weekend:

The best comment is the following, I think:

We now know how President Bush responds to highly publicized charges that he's stacking scientific advisory panels: He gives his critics the finger and stacks another one. This morning the news broke that Bush has removed two important dissenters from the President's Council on Bioethics, one of them being the scientist and telomere expert Elizabeth Blackburn, who just so happens to be one of the most outspoken defenders of stem cell research on the panel. And Bush has replaced these thinkers with people who are much more inclined to parrot the administration's line on key issues.

Rather than looking back, I'm concerned about the future. This would seem to be a sign that this US administration intends to follow through with its attempts to ban and criminalize the most promising modern medical research. Now would be a good time to head on over the Longevity Meme and help to call for the abolition of the President's Council on Bioethics!

India Can Become a Stem Cell Research Hub

Indian researchers and investors are clearly looking to the future of regenerative medicine: state and private investment in therapeutic cloning and stem cell research is happening there. Meanwhile, in the the US and Europe, anti-research politicians, special interest groups and legislation have crippled progress in these vital fields of medicine. It's a sorry state of affairs, and we must stand up and make our views known. Otherwise, we face a future in which research to extend the healthy human life span (and the use of therapies developed in other countries) is forbidden. Is government-mandated suffering, disease and death really what we want for ourselves and our children?


Bush Removes Therapeutic Cloning Supporters From Bioethics Council

Two members of the President's Council on Bioethics who expressed positive views on therapeutic cloning have been replaced, as reported at Reuters. Various commentators are expressing surprise, but the role of the council has always been to provide justification for anti-research policies. It hasn't been doing that job so well of late, so it was time to stack the deck a little more. This indicates that the current administration is still very serious about banning stem cell and therapeutic cloning research. The cost of blocking research into regenerative and healthy life extension medicine is already unthinkable ... are we going to let them get away with this, or are we going to do something about it?


Old School Versus New School

Following on from providing a sketch outline of the healthy life extension community, let's look at the old versus the new. There are, from my impressions to date, two fairly distinct phases in healthy life extension medicine, technology, and the healthy life extension community at large. Let's call them "old school" and "new school." The old school of healthy life extension got started in earnest back in the 1970s. The new school is less than a decade old. In the community diagram, it's more or less the case that "old school" is to the right, while "new school" is to the left.

Read on:

The old school community includes advocates like Max More, cofounder of the Extropy Insitute and businesspeople like the various founders of the Life Extension Foundation, Alcor, the Cryonics Institute, and A4M. (There is a lot of interesting history packed into the relationships and evolution of the LEF and A4M over the past few decades, but that's a story for another time).

Old school healthy life extension technology and medicine is largely chemical, based around the search for supplements, hormones and vitamins that will optimize natural healthy life span. The old school businesses built around making and selling these substances have inspired the "anti-aging" marketplace of today ... which may not have been the best of outcomes, all things considered. There isn't much that I would have done differently, given the options available at the time, but the "anti-aging" marketplace has grown far beyond its legitimate roots. The resultant adventurous marketing, bad science, quackery, confusion of claims and outright fraud are damaging the perception and practice of legitimate anti-aging science.

Businesses and business models have tremendous inertia, as any executive will tell you - the noise of the marketplace for optimizing natural longevity via old school methods will continue to drown out signs of new school medicine for a while yet.

A good way of looking at this situation is to compare it to the automotive industry - hydrogen fuel cell cars (new school!) are coming, but there are still millions of old internal combustion engines out there, and a huge industry devoted to making the most of them. Change is slow, and a lot of money is invested in the old school way of doing things, no matter how much better the new school ways may be.

The start of the old school life extension movement predates modern efforts to develop personalized medicine and the ability to determine genetics and underlying biochemical processes. Many old school techniques can be seen to vary widely in effectiveness from person to person for reasons that are only now beginning to be understood. Homone treatments in particular seem to be very variable, and the science uncertain. Most importantly, old school life extension technologies cannot greatly extend healthy life span beyond the point attained by normal, sensible healthcare, diet and lifestyle.

The old school has success stories: modest supplementation works, and a great many substances are of demonstrable use in optimizing natural healthy life spans. Calorie restriction, of course, is old school and proud of it - the first calorie restriction science predates all modern healthy life extension movements by a lifetime. On the business side, the organizations built to supply supplements have given rise to greater advocacy, have raised awareness about the possibilities of healthy life extension, and have funneled profits into research funding. The Life Extension Foundation and its founders, for example, go far beyond the business of supplements: they publish a magazine, fund cryonics research, aging research and work in regenerative medicine and the science of calorie restriction.

Cryonics is also very much old school: the oldest cryonics providers have been in business since the 1970s, and cryonics was very much hyped in early life extension advocacy and writings. Despite a great deal of promise, and the prospects of profitable offshoots in medical technology, it has remained a niche industry. You can read more about cryonics - with a healthy dose of old school sense, sensibilities and enthusiasm - at the Longevity Meme:

How about the new school? New school advocates include people like myself, Ray Kurzweil, Bruce Klein, Robert Bradbury of Aeiveos, and Dave Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation. The field of commentators and pundits is much expanded in these days of the Internet, and supporters of new school healthy life extension can be found throughout the extended media - such as Randall Parker, the founders of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and the principles at Betterhumans. We all support rapid development in new fields likely to greatly extend the healthy human life span: regenerative medicine, stem cell research, aging research and nanomedicine.

New school scientists, investors and businesspeople make their names in recent, bioinformatics-driven fields, early nanomedicine, or in attempting to shake up the field of gerontology. Examples include Michael West, John Sperling, Aubrey de Grey, Robert Freitas, Cynthia Kenyon of Elixir Pharmaceuticals, and Xi Zhao-Wilson of Biomarker Pharmaceuticals. A small host of companies and dedicated people are currently working at the forefront of medical science for healthy life extension. Those noted here are just a few among many.

New school healthy life extension science can be characterised by three things: understanding, bioinformatics and the fact that therapies are not here yet. Examples include tissue engineering to build replacement organs, stem cell based cures for neurodegenerative conditions of aging, in-situ therapies that use modified stem cells to repair damage in the body, and work towards understanding the aging process. New school medical technologies promise greatly extended healthy life spans, far beyond what is possible today.

  • Understanding brings great power: understanding the genetic and protein-based mechanisms of the body that lead to disease and the effects of aging. Understanding how different people respond in different ways to the same treatment. If we know how our bodies work, we can design specific treatments in the light of knowledge. Compared to present day science, even fairly recent medical research was a slow trial and error affair, with no way to properly confirm theories as to why one therapy worked and another failed.

  • Bioinformatics has vastly increased the speed at which medical research can happen in many fields. Tens of thousands of tests and biochemical experiments can now be performed in the time it once took for one test, and at far less expense. Massive parallel testing based on the fruits of bioinformatics and the computer revolution greatly speeds the path to understanding. (See this post at FuturePundit for an example of this principle in action).

  • New school healthy life extension medicine is not here yet. As of February 2004, calorie restriction is still the only proven way to extend the healthy human life span. When will the first new school therapies capable of healthy life extension come out of the lab and into commercialization? The answer to that queation depends on advocacy, education, success in finding research funding and the will of society to push these advances through the process.

Having drawn a line between old and new, I have to admit that the line is isn't all that clear at the border. Old school and new school blend at the edges. The Life Extension Foundation (old school) funds regenerative medicine research (new school). A4M executives speak out in support of therapeutic cloning and modern medical research.

Personalized medicine and greater understanding of biochemical mechanisms are beginning to make existing medicine, as well as old school supplements and therapies, safer and more effective. Everyone is different, but understanding those differences enables greater extension of healthy life span with the tools that are currently available. Kronos, a John Sperling company, is a prime example of this sort of approach.

If you have comments on this sketch of the community as old and new, overlapping in the middle, do let me know.

South Korea To Forge Ahead In Stem Cell Research

The Korea Herald reports that South Korea will forge ahead with stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine. A large investment and a new research center have been announced, and the organizers plan to move directly to human trials, first focusing on Parkinson's disease and spiral cord injuries. From the article: "The center's medical team plans to transplant stem cells in the brains of these patients to regenerate nerve cells for the first time in the world." Back in the US, New Jersey is also making headlines as plans - and associated controversy - for a major state investment in stem cell research move ahead.


Interview With Joe Waynick, Alcor CEO

The Arizona press abounds with articles about Alcor and the recent cryonics regulation bill. This piece from is a short interview with Joe Waynick, the new Alcor CEO. He offers his opinions on the upside and downside of this regulatory regime, and a few other topics. The article also provides some recent history of the cryonics industry for those who haven't been keeping track, and you can always find out more at Cryonet. It occurs to me, in wake of recent events, that making regulated cryopreservation financially attractive to the funeral industry would now be a good path to growth.


Sounds Like Victory in Arizona

It sounds like things have gone well for Alcor in the first round of their current legislative issues in Arizona. Thanks to broadly expressed support (including some important names in the healthy life extension community) and some last minute legwork, the proposed bill has been largely defanged. The end result will likely be some form of "benign regulation" as for the Cryonics Institute in Michigan. From the Alcor president: "We must thank all of the members who took time away from their busy schedules to e-mail, fax, and call Arizona state legislators, urging them to oppose this bill. When they revealed to us that they were receiving from 150-200 e-mails per day we realized that you all really made a difference!"


Victory for Alcor in Arizona

Just a quick note on this topic, since the legislative alert was mentioned here earlier this week. It looks like Alcor have what is just about the best case outcome they could have hoped for under the current circumstances. You can read the e-mail sent out by the Alcor president today at the Immortality Institute boards. Quoted below:

The progress of today's hearing would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of a number of good people, including Barry Aarons, David Brandt-Erichsen, Saul Kent, Tanya Jones, Aubrey de Grey, and Steve Rude. In addition, we must thank all the brave souls who traveled to Phoenix to testify but were unable to do so due to legislative time constraints including Steve Harris, Mark and Judy Muhlestein, Ted and Bobby Kraver, Jim Lewis, and two organ preservation scientists who wish to remain anonymous.

We must also thank those members who attended the hearing as a public show of support for Alcor. Lastly, but certainly not least, we must thank all of the members who took time away from their busy schedules to eMail, fax, and call Arizona state legislators, urging them to oppose this bill. When they revealed to us that they were receiving from 150-200 eMails per day we realized that you all really made a difference! Thank you!!!

The community pulled together tremendously well over the past few days, especially given the short notice, and made their opinions known in no uncertain terms. Now, if we could just manage to do the same to all the restrictive legislation and anti-research politicians who are attacking stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine...

Almost Getting It Right

An article from looks at a the recent SAGE Crossroads debate "Is Aging a Disease?" The author gives a good account of the relevant points, but then unfortunately fumbles the ball before drawing the correct conclusions. Aging and anti-aging research is essential to the future of healthy and longevity. Far too little research is being done today and the pool of funding for serious attempts to slow, reverse (and reverse engineer) the aging process is tiny. If, like Harry Moody, we dismiss the possible results of this research a priori, then of course we won't get any real results! Aubrey de Grey gives a good account of this sort of problem in perceptions and public funding in his "Closing in on the Cure for Death."


Free Radical Theory Doubts

Recent research is casting doubt on the long-standing oxidative damage and free radical theories of aging. More research is needed in order to establish the truth of the matter, but attacks on well established theories are usually a sign of meaningful scientific progress. This article from Food Production Daily is fairly clear about the consequences of proving free radical theories wrong, and it is certainly the case that more work must be done based on these new findings, but I don't think that the researcher's position is as strong as he says it is. We'll have to wait and see what the scientific community makes of this.


The Healthy Life Extension Community

I talk about the community a great deal, but I realize that this may be confusing to many of you. After all, it did take me a while to find my way around and come to some understanding as to how all the various groups fit together. The following chart is intended to be a rough guide to the territory, showing alignments, overlaps and groups surrounding the healthy life extension community. It's a first draft, so be kind. Click on the image to view the full size version - the text will be somewhat hard to read as it is.

Overlapping balloons indicate areas of common interest and communities that share a sizeable number of members. As an advocacy group, this blog and the Longevity Meme would be in the middle under "Anti-Aging Research Advocacy." As always, I am drawing a firm distinction between real, scientific anti-aging research and the sort of fraudulent nonsense that drives the billion dollar "anti-aging" industry. You'll see those folks off to the right there, working their nefarious influence on newcomers to the community through misinformation, bad science, outrageous claims and aggressive, adventurous marketing.

Where do new supporters and advocates of healthy life extension come from? Well, from the surrounding groups - such as health enthusiasts and dieters who discover calorie restriction; libertarians and transhumanists who are interested in cryonics and nanomedicine; advocates for established aging research or specific medical research; scientists involved in searching for cures.

It is interesting to note that, up until comparatively recently, the major subgroups within the community were very isolated from one another. The cryonics, calorie restriction, supplement advocates and anti-aging research/advocacy communities have only widely intermingled since the advent of the Internet. This opens up enormous opportunities for growth in the larger healthy life extension community, since everyone has wider access to the "feeder groups" (libertarians, transhumanists, extropians, dieters and health enthusiasts, etc) that formerly were only closely associated with one or two community subgroups.

More importantly, these new avenues of communication and community allow many more people to easily learn about all the aspects of healthy life extension.

Why is libertarianism the only political philosophy noted here? The association between libertarianism and cryonics is a strong one and I felt it was worth noting. You'll find an even spread of political orientations throughout the healthy life extension community, but there are a lot of libertarian cryonics supporters. This is in part a function of the history of the cryonics movement and industry, and in part a function of the strong personalities involved in creating the cryonics industry. There are some interesting stories there, but that can wait for another time.

"Old Anti-Aging Business Ventures" refers to groups like the Life Extension Foundation and A4M. They tend to be rooted in the supplement, hormone and older technological base, although I believe that both of the examples given fund modern research. The LEF founders are also deeply involved in the growth of the cryonics industry.

"New Anti-Aging Business Ventures" refer to the new companies working on the science of calorie restriction, the biochemistry of aging and similar high tech goals. You can find a short list of a few notables at the Longevity Meme.

This diagram is a very crude first draft, and there is plenty of room for improvement. I plan to sit down and write a worthy commentary once you lot have had a go at it and a final, better version is in place. The PowerPoint slide this was taken from is available should you desire to go one better. Please do go ahead, or feel free to tell me how I'm getting it all wrong and missing out the vital part of the community that you belong to.

Meanwhile, In The Business World...

We don't hear anywhere near enough in the media about the work of commercializing biotech and regenerative medicine, yet this part of the path from laboratory to therapy is just as vital as the initial science. This article from the Miami Herald gives a brief overview of the current state of play for stem cells in the business and venture capital worlds. The short of it would be that many, many people are interested, and see huge potential for investment and profit. Unfortunately, the current regulatory atmosphere presents equally large risks. The current US administration, and other governments overseas, have scared off investment in regenerative medicine. Thus, more time and lives are lost to the monster of politics.


Ronald Bailey on Alcor Regulation

Ronald Bailey weighs in on the Alcor regulation issue, calling the proposed bill "one of the silliest pieces of 'consumer protection' legislation ever devised." That's certainly saying something, given Ronald Bailey's extensive history of commentary on bad lawmaking and other forms of government stupidity. As it happens, he comes to much the same conclusion as I do regarding the proposed Arizona regulations: this is the work of funeral industry lobbyists, buying legislation to put a potential competitor out of business. Not pretty, but a great example of American "freedom and democracy" in action. Step up and protest before it's too late!


Vital Progress Summit

The Extropy Institute's Vital Progress Summit has been underway for a few days now, and some interesting opinions are emerging from the participants. The summit site notes that a modern threat to the advance of medical technology has emerged from bioethical and luddite groups with strong political connections:

The President's Council on Bioethics and its Beyond Therapy report, the forces gathered around The New Atlantis, and the Precautionary Principle, all threaten technological progress especially in the areas of biomedicine and neuromedicine. This means they threaten the integrity of our minds and bodies. They threaten our rights and opportunities to make the most of our life and health

In short, these groups (along with other general political trends) threaten the foundation stones of healthy life extension. Longer, healthier lives can only come from rapid, efficient, unfettered, new medical research. So what are we going to do about it?

The summit participants aim to comprehensively demolish the arguments and positions of those who support current attempts to block and slow the most promising medical progress. This is a necessary job, as the costs of slowing down even the first, crude regenerative medicine on the way to the market are unthinkable. The positions of the bioethicists, luddites, religious conservatives and others have been challenged all too infrequently over the past few years, and have been used to justify the worst excesses of the present US administration regarding therapeutic cloning and stem cell research. We will all suffer the consequences to our future health and longevity, and it will get worse unless we make it get better.

The summit is an all-online affair that anyone can sign up for, and will continue for at least another week. I strongly recommend that you sign up and take a look around. You'll certainly find a lot of thought provoking essays, commentary and other materials.

The core of the summit consists of keynote presentations from notables such as Christine Peterson, Natasha Vita-More, Ronald Bailey, Roy Walford, Ray Kurzweil, Gregory Stock and Aubrey de Grey. Many well connected members of the healthy life extension community are participating as catalysts and discussion leaders. I'm missing out many interesting and worthy folks in giving just this quick summary - Extropy Institute president Natasha Vita-More has a rolodex to die for.

I've listed some of the more interesting points that are arising from the debate surrounding the keynotes:

  • Leon Kass and like-minded people are redefining the term "human dignity" into something quite different from the dictionary meaning. In their world, human dignity requires a halt to finding cures for Alzheimer's, and requires forcing people to suffer the degenerative conditions of aging. How is this dignified? To them, human dignity means keeping every part of the human condition unchanged - which to me means suffering, sickness and incapacity...indignity in other words.
  • Luddite groups, and many other organizations, have a strangely static view of the world. Many of their assumptions and arguments implicitly assume that people are incapable of changing their mind, or improving their lot - of changing in any way. The world is set in stone in their eyes, and we have to demonstrate that this is dangerous nonsense.
  • The precautionary principle is a deeply flawed tool that is almost never used, only misused. Any modern argument for progress, or for anything new, must now first demonstrate that the precautionary principle as espoused by the anti-progress groups is nothing but a mask for other motivations. Any group wishing to stop progress now automatically reaches for the precautionary principle in order to set up impossible hurdles for any new science and medicine.

There's much, much more, but don't let me stand here and ramble about it. Get thee hence and join the discussion in person.

It's Always More Complex Than You Think

It seems to be true that, wherever you are in the research process, human biochemistry and genetics is more complex than you think. It's good to keep reminding ourselves about this, since the present pace of research makes it easy to become optimistic (and thus complacent) about the future of health, medicine and longevity. Here, Betterhumans notes research that questions the form of the link between antioxidants and healthy lifespan: there may be additional layers in the biochemistry that researchers have not yet explored. This means that the time taken to develop therapies based on understanding these mechanisms just increased by an unknown amount.


Centenarian Studies and HDL

You may recall some work last year on longevity, HDL and the sizes of lipoproteins (something that is genetically determined). Small lipoproteins imply a shorter, less healthy life. This New York Times author interviews Dr. Nir Barzilai, who has been studying centenarians for genetic and biochemical clues to longevity. At the top of the list so far: HDL and lipoprotein size. The researchers expect to track down specific longevity genes related to these conditions in the near future, and trial drugs to mimic their effects. Having this genetic knowledge to hand would be a good argument for tweaking the genes in all new children to produce longer, healthier lives.


The Power of Advocacy

The latest webcast from SAGE Crossroads is a discussion of the power of advocacy to shape the path of medical research. For example, much of the tenfold growth at the National Institute on Aging over the past two decades has been due to advocacy for Alzheimer's research. Insights into the way in which the NIH and NIA work - given their enormous influence over their course of aging and anti-aging research - are always appreciated. Large organizations are only now thinking about backing real anti-aging research in any meaningful way. The weight of science and advocacy should overcome remaining reluctance before the end of the decade.


The Monsters of Politics, Legislation and Regulation

At the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, the founders single out the current hostile regulatory environment surrounding aging, stem cell, regenerative medicine and anti-aging research as the shining example of what to avoid for the future of their own industry.

The research most likely to lead to real healthy life extension medicines is under attack from large, well-funded anti-progress groups and governments worldwide. Scientific advances, and the search for cures to currently incurable conditions, have been deliberately set back by years - and I have argued that the costs of delay are already unthinkable. Yet longer, healthier lives seem to be something that everyone wants. Just ask around. How do we, as a society, get ourselves into this sort of mess? Why are we not throwing every dollar we can into modern medicine?

Read on:

In another part of the life extension community, hostile and unwelcome regulation is currently stalking Alcor. As Brian Wowk puts it in his excellent open letter:

"Where, then, are the dissatisfied consumers? Where are the unhappy Alcor members? Where are the family members that wanted cryonics for a loved one, but were let down by it? There appear to be none. There are only people who don't understand cryonics, people who don't want cryonics, and people who don't like what they read in newspapers about cryonics. That is not sufficient justification for a majority to use government force to assume control of a technology desired by a minority with beliefs different from theirs."

Indeed. The same can be said of efforts to hold back real anti-aging medicine by the likes of Leon Kass, or the continuing attempts by the current US administration to criminalize therapeutic cloning (a necessary technology for stem cell research and regenerative medicine) in the US and at the United Nations

This state of affairs, in which politicians and special interest groups willfully hold back and destroy the engines of progress, is not peculiar to healthy life extension. All medical research in the US and Europe is subject to ignorant, pandering regulation: price controls, shortages, enormous tax burdens, and so forth. In the worst cases, such as Germany and France, you see entire countries that contribute next to nothing to the advance of medical science. This is not for lack of will or desire, but their research and medical industries are hamstrung by decades of destructive government intervention.

In the US, the grand debate over medical regulation is currently best represented by price controls, drug reimportation, "free riding" and the effects of the FDA on the cost of new medical science. This debate is not academic for those of us who focus on healthy life extension - all the medical research that interests us must go through this same broken system. If the system creates too much of a burden on research or commercialization, then new medicine will never see the light of day, no matter how useful or compelling it is.

A Tech Central Station article entitled "Free Riding isn't Free" illustrates many of the relevant points in a compact fashion (alas, after some entirely inappropriate comments on the current anti-research US administration - everyone involved in government is corrupt in this day and age). Scroll down to the numbered sections in that article. The important points can be summarized as:

  • Price controls kill people: they invariably reduce supply, leading to raised prices, black markets and shortages
  • Excess regulation slows research (and, yes, kills people)
  • Failure to understand supply, demand and basic economic truths by those who write legislation is destroying the advance of medicine

In reading the many articles on the state of the medical industry and medical research as a whole, I am left feeling very gloomy about the outlook for the next few decades. The US is clearly heading towards socialization of medicine after the Canadian and European models (and is already a good deal of the way there, frankly). The US is currently the world powerhouse in the most promising fields of medical research, but this will not last under a regime of price controls and economic ignorance. When the US drug companies can no longer afford to create new therapies, where then will the research happen? Certainly not France, Canada or Germany.

From that Tech Central Station article:

"Research by Carmelo Giaccotto and colleagues, published by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, estimated that, if price controls had been in effect in the United States between 1981 and 2002, there would be between 330 and 365 fewer new medicines on the market today. Research by John Vernon concluded that price controls applied in the U.S. today would lead to a cutback in new medicines by two-thirds within 50 years. But 50 years is a long time from now, and I am afraid the importation movement has immediate momentum."

We live in a strange, backwards world, in which everyone knows what is coming and what the costs in human life and suffering will be. Yet no-one seems able to prevent the monsters of politics, regulation and legislation from proceeding. The short term goals of special interest groups and political power always win out over our future health, longevity and well being.

The Treatment

Stephen Gorden posts an interesting commentary in the form of short fiction at the Speculist.

Of course, I'm far more cynical than Stephen. I think that those who protest the loudest are often the most tempted and the heaviest users. I don't think that it'll take any external prompting at all for Leon Kass to keep up with the vanguard of healthy life extension medicine as it becomes available, no matter how hard he rails against it now.

The human desire for survival is strong, and few people are capable of suicide through refusal to accept available medical care. That just makes those who campaign to block medical progress even more immoral, unethical and hypocritical in the long run.

We should all remember that of every 100 politicians and bioethicists who are trying to turn back the clock and demand a halt to stem cell research, 99 will be lining up in years to come for the regenerative medicine that they worked so hard to delay.

Concerning Cryonics Regulation

Brian Wowk has written an eloquent open letter on media sensationalism and the current Arizona state efforts to shut Alcor down through bad legislation. If you are interesting in finding out more about the backgound of this situation before speaking out in support of Alcor, then read this open letter. This is a textbook case of the way in which a lazy, sensationalist media and protectionist special interests combine to damage legitimate science and businesses. The only defense against this sort of nonsense is public education and demonstrated support for science, research and progress. You can learn more about Alcor and the science and history of cryonics at Cryonet and Wikipedia.


New Jersey To Fund Stem Cell Research

Wired reports that New Jersey legislators intend to build a multi-billion dollar stem cell research institute in New Brunswick. The governor's budget proposal includes $50 million over the next five years for embryonic stem cell research. This follows recent moves in California to direct billions in state funds to stem cell research - and I'd say it's probably just as up in the air. New Jersey's recent pro-research legislation passed very narrowly and is still protested - so there will likely be equally close battles over funding proposals for embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.


Life in the Age of Old, Old Age

A long, worthwhile article from the New York Times looks at notable centenarians, prospects for lengthening the healthy human lifespan, arguments for and against progress, and social changes forseen to be the results of advancing medical science. Today's spritely 70-somethings who act 50-something will be replaced by spritely 90-somethings who act 50-something. There are human faces, dreams and aspirations surrounding advances in longevity - people have gained extra healthy years and done well with them. Others may yet gain more, but how rapidly will the necessary new medicines come into being? This is a matter of funding and the will to support medical research.


Help Alcor Fight Bad Legislation

The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is on the receiving end of some particularly obnoxious "shut them down without looking like we're trying too hard to shut them down" potential legislation in Arizona. It does look rather like the sponsoring politician is in the pocket of the funeral industry, but equally, Alcor seems to have been remiss in keeping tabs on the situation. (Rand Simberg commented pertinently on many of the relevant issues and motivations back when they first looked like becoming a problem). This has now become a last minute item, unfortunately, with a due date of Thursday 26th in the coming week.

Still, analysis later once the facts are out - let's help Alcor fight off this bad legislation first. Alcor's new president, Joseph A. Waynick (a man who has certainly inherited the hot seat), has put together a good set of information and some talking points that will enable you to send a polite, but firm letter to the Arizona legislature.

What are you waiting for? Read the summary, talking points, and send a letter!

The Longevity Meme now has a new "Take Action!" item up, which provides a little more information. For those of you who are still getting up to speed on the issues and concepts of cryonics as an industry and a service - and where it fits in to healthy life extension - here are some useful resouces:

Robert Bradbury and Joao Magalhaes on Recent Aging Science

A couple of the regulars were discussing recent advances in the scientific understanding of the aging process on the Extropy-Chat mailing list, and an interesting exchange it was too. I've reproduced it here, with permission. The two principles are Robert Bradbury - who maintains the Aeiveos Research Library and has a very interesting history of work on healthy life extension - and Joao Magalhaes, author of one of the Longevity Meme articles and currently involved in biogerontological studies.

Read on:

Robert Bradbury:

Well, we finally have some real progress on understanding aging.

It looks like SIRT1 (homologue of yeast Sir2), regulates FOXO3 which in turn regulates the enzymes that resist oxidative stress.

Now *before* everyone gets all excited please note that the gene regulation goes against apoptosis (programmed cell death) and for stress resistance (particularly from free radicals). That is probably a reasonable strategy in short lived animals (which include most that scientists work on in labs).

However in long lived larger organisms one does not want to suppress apoptosis (because it will probably lead to an increase in cancer). In long lived species one needs to allow apoptosis or improve the ability of the immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells (which people are working on). One also needs to promote stem cell replacement of lost cells (which we have some of but it probably isn't as finely tuned as one would like).

But it is clear that this provides a key piece of the puzzle as to how cells manage the repair/replicate/die decision processes. Now whether the actions of FOXO3 on apoptosis and stress resistance have been split in longer lived organisms (so one has 2 genetic programs under individual controls rather than just a combined genetic program with only 1 control factor) remains to be seen.

Joao Magalhaes:

I don't want to be the skeptic around here but I should remind you that there is NO evidence SIRT1 is in anyway involved in human aging. Yes, in yeast sir2 is involved in cell cycle regulation--which is not the same as aging. Maybe sir2 is involved in aging of C. elegans but results from Drosophila and mice do not suggest any involvement of SIRT1 in aging. Since drosophila and mice are biologically closer to humans than c. elegans and yeast, I'm skeptical that SIRT1 plays a role in human aging.

As for the Forkhead family, these transcription factors are very much involved in development, so it is normal that they affect redox potential and apoptosis. Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised if they were involved in mammalian aging since p66 has been associated with the forkhead family. Yet the connection to human aging is not clear because of cancer. After all, yeast, drosophila and c. elegans don't have cancer and mice have much higher cancer incidences. So we must be very careful in extrapolating this sort of data into humans.

Robert Bradbury:

Joao (Hi!), I have no problem with your comments regarding the involvement of SIRT1/sir2 in higher organisms (because I know of no evidence for such involvement as you point out).

But I would offer the idea that it is very very difficult for Nature/evolution to change course. So *if* theapoptosis/stress response pathways were linked to each other very early on in evolution I would propose that it would be difficult for them to become separated. Not impossible mind you -- which is why I'm slowly pushing behind the scenes to get a number of long-lived genomes sequenced -- so we can have the data to figure this out. What I strongly suspect is that there are "patches" on the apoptosis program that may decouple it from the stress response program.

With respect to the cancer incidences -- one has to have an organism that can actually get cancer. Yeast clearly can't and probably C. elegans and Drosophila as well. Cancer is a direct result of a failure of the program of the regulatory processes of cell replication in organisms that have enough cells for this to be important. This probably involves a delicate balance -- in organisms with enough cells you want to kill off those that are replicating out of control. In that case you want to replace those cells so there is presumably a pool of cells biased towards replication (when necessary). In my opinion, it doesn't take too much for that situation to get out of control (which is why cancer causes ~30% of deaths). (IMO)

But good comments. If you would care to expand on the p66 involvement I'd be interested in reading them on/off list. (I know what it is but don't have current knowledge with respect to where it fits into the big picture.)

I would guess the short summary of my previous message is that they now have a strong candidate for the regulation of at least the stress response -- it isn't going to take that long to confirm that or blow it out of the water (even for higher mammals). That is why I called it "real progress". Ultimately, it may not prove to be progress from a biochemical standpoint -- but it is going to open the door somewhat wider towards nailing these pathways down.

Isn't it amazing that we live in an age when we can have these sorts of detailed conversations about the way in which aging works? Not to mention the likelihood that many of the questions brought up in this exchange will be answered within a few years at the current rate of progress. Like many observers, I find the newfound pace of scientific research, powered by bioinformatics and new tools, to be exhilarating.

As Robert Bradbury notes, nailing the biochemical mechanisms of aging, one by one, is the quickest way to move forward. Understanding, rather than blind testing (even massive, parallel blind testing powered by bioinformatics that is reaping so many benefits in modern research) is what will lead us directly to therapies for the aging process.

Calorie Restriction in Local News

Since a number of national US media groups ran stories on calorie restriction a few months ago, more local news outlets have been commenting on this proven life extending lifestyle. The featured article from the San Diego Channel is a good example of the type: an interview with a healthy, hearty CR practitioner coupled with some commentary on the science behind it all. Meanwhile, an item from News 8 Austin discusses the use of calorie restriction to resist neurodegenerative disorders. You can find out much more about calorie restriction and the community of practitioners by visiting the CR Society website.


Help Alcor Fight Bad State Legislation

Alcor, the Arizona cryonics provider, has issued a legislative alert in reference to a proposed state regulatory bill. As they point out, this bill ("a solution without a problem") was crafted without their input in response to incorrect and hysterical press coverage in 2003 and 2004. The bill "mandates that Alcor be regulated by hostile parties with no understanding of what we do, and which does not respect the rights of Alcor members." The Cryonics Institute managed to engineer a benign regulatory relationship in their home state earlier this year, so let's see if we can help Alcor achieve an equally satisfactory result. Visit the alert page to see how you can spend a few minutes to help out.


When Pointing Out Costs, Do Not Mention Hitler

So says, sensibly, Stephen Gordon at the Speculist. As Godwin's Law teaches us, it becomes much harder to hold a rational conversation online after bringing up Hitler in any context. There is no sense in mentioning Hitler, Nazis or Nazism unless it's absolutely critical to the point you are trying to make and the argument you are involved in.

Why am I even talking about this? It all makes a lot more sense in the context of healthy life extension, government policies and regenerative medicine if you read these recent posts and the attached discussions:

Apparently it's still fine to mention Stalin when talking about the cost of policy in human life, but I decided it was safer to keep all specific names out of the picture by the time I wrote "The True Cost of Delay".

New Type of Stem Cell to Repair Brains?

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute reports that researchers have identified a new type of stem cell in the brain that probably already functions to repair damage. This work opens the door to a new set of near future techniques to treat neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's - a topic high on the "must have" list for extending the healthy human life span through regenerative medicine. You can replace everything else with transplants or artificial organs if necessary, but you can't replace the brain: your original thinking equipment has to be repaired in situ. Some high quality commentary on this research can be found at FuturePundit and Brain Waves.


More on Understanding Biochemical Mechanisms

Understanding the biochemical and genetic mechanisms underlying aging will be the quickest path to a therapy. EurekAlert reports that researchers have established the mechanism by which the Sir2 longevity gene (identified fairly recently itself) works in mammals. This uncovers another piece in what is clearly an interlocking puzzle: oxidative stress, DNA damage, genetic moderation, cancer, degenerative conditions and other parts of aging all play into one other through linking mechanisms. The money quote: "If you have molecules that come together to mediate resistance to environmental stresses that cause aging, one might be able to come up with drugs that would affect this interaction and slow the aging process."


Death Still Sucks

Phil Bowermaster's "Death Sucks" (from Fight Aging! and the Speculist) has been revised, tweaked and posted as a Longevity Meme article. I enjoy good inspirational pieces like this; from the heart and with meaning. What are the roots of the fight against aging and the quest to live longer, healthier lives? What motivates us all to do our part? Why do advocates and scientists stand up and work towards lengthening the healthy human life span? Read "Death Sucks" and you'll see one set of opinions on the matter.


Eyeballs Versus Integrity

Being an advocate (through this blog and the Longevity Meme) means that I am on a never ending quest for eyeballs. In other words, I am constantly thinking about how to increase the number of visitors who come to read my thoughts and opinions, or who can benefit from the reference materials I provide. By influencing the marketplace of ideas, I am, in my own little way, helping to advance the cause of real anti-aging science. Additionally, I provide a gateway for people who are unfamiliar with healthy life extension: a way for them to easily learn more and contribute without being confused, overwhelmed or threatened by an avalanche of information.

I came into the life extension community via the avalanche method - it took me years to figure things out; even to understand which sources I could trust! That was a large part of my incentive in founding the Longevity Meme in the first place. Every newcomer who has a better introduction to healthy life extension is one less person who has to spend years on getting all the basics straight - and one more person who can fight to support the future of medicine! Once again, the more people I can speak to through my websites, the better for all of us in the community.

Read on:

(I examine the essential role of activism in this Longevity Meme article and this hot topic page).

Beyond this, there is the matter of fundraising. The more people I can reach via my websites, the greater the level of donations I can solicit for worthy causes like the Methuselah Foundation. The small (but active) transhumanist, extropian, cryonics and calorie restriction communities have given generously to bring the Methuselah Mouse prize fund to its present total, but more donors are always needed!

Getting new, interested visitors to the Longevity Meme and Fight Aging! is a tricky art. It's a three pointed war between necessity, finances and integrity. I want to bring in new people - as doing so is vital to the success of my goals in activism, fundraising and education - but there are lines to be drawn between what is relevant self-promotion, shameless self-promotion and beyond the pale efforts that are annoying and counterproductive. Advertising has to be relevant, effective, but low cost. Reminders to various interested communities have to be infrequent, useful and unobtrusive. I don't send unsolicited e-mail, and maintain careful, strict privacy policies for subscribers to the Longevity Meme newsletter.

Most importantly of all, I have to keep my integrity in all of my efforts to bring new people to healthy life extension. This is why I, unlike many other people, do not place automated Google text ads on my websites. The temptation is there, as the money could be channeled back into my own advertising efforts. However, I know that my visitors would be bombarded with advertisements for fraudulent "anti-aging" products despite any best efforts at blocking that I could make. I am unwilling to step away from personally standing behind everything that appears on the Longevity Meme - which is a good thing in my eyes.

My integrity is probably the biggest barrier to successfully growing website traffic. Networking is key to this endeavor: making contacts, exchanging links and advertising, all all the normal lubrication for online businesses. The same goes on more informally in the blog world, of course. So far as the Longevity Meme goes, however, I do not want to link to resources without an accompanying commentary. I don't want to appear to be endorsing any particular service or seller, especially given my views on the supplement industry and the wider "anti-aging" marketplace. The Longevity Meme is intended to be a neutral, impartial reference, a sane non-commercial starting point for newcomers - and I think it works well on that level. It does make the basic exchanges at the heart of online networking somewhat more difficult, however.

(Let me take an aside to thank all of the people who linked to, recommended or advertised the Longevity Meme over the years despite my picky, picky selectiveness in returning those favors. You are all very much appreciated).

This blog, Fight Aging!, was started as a way to do many of the things I cannot do with the Longevity Meme. Here, I can strike out and link to any old thing that I like, be more informal, invite guests and other authors to post their own opinions on healthy life extension, and make more interesting networking decisions. It should be a blast! It's certainly been fun so far. I hope that people who come to read Fight Aging! feel inclined to explore further and visit the Longevity Meme to see what all the fuss is about.

"Death Sucks" Now a Longevity Meme Article

This sparkling commentary on death, primal viewpoints and healthy life extension by Phil Bowermaster has been revised and published as an article at the Longevity Meme.

Go and take a look. I publish new articles rarely, but if any of you feel that you can write a useful, introductory article about healthy life extension - well, feel free to take a shot! More voices can only be a good thing.

(Death Sucks originally appeared as posts here at Fight Aging! and at the Speculist. You can't keep a good idea down).

Watching Progress in Cancer Therapies

Progress in cancer therapies over the past few years has been very promising, although all of the newest technologies still have to run the twin gauntlets of commercialization and FDA approval. This article from the Star-Telegram illustrates progress towards curing lung cancer - one of the most deadly cancers - by causing the body to attack cancerous cells. These new types of cancer therapy depend on advancing knowledge of biochemical and cellular processes, greatly accelerated by bioinformatics. From one of the trial participants: "I would tell anyone who gets the same diagnosis to stretch as far as they can and go to any kind of experimental therapy. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't be here now."


The Cost of Delay

What are the costs of anti-research policies pursued by Western governments over the past five years? What are the results of a five year delay in bringing the first (or the last) regenerative therapies for age-related conditions to market? Read my opinions on the subject at the Fight Aging! blog. The bottom line is, as always, that shaping the future is in our hands. Will medical research be funded, supported and widely understood? Will cures be developed for the degenerative conditions of aging? Will we live longer, healthier lives? We decide, through our actions, the answers to these questions.


The True Cost of Delay

With so many groups working towards preventing, delaying or vilifying advances in medical technology, perhaps it is time to be a great deal more clear with ourselves about the true costs of these delays. Before I start, let me say that you're going to see some large numbers. People have an unfortunately tendency to zone out when faced with large numbers of deaths or widespread suffering - it's human nature. We are creatures who evolved to live in small groups and interact with a limited number of people. One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are quickly forgotten: our brains do not make the necessary links for us to easily comprehend a million dead human beings. It becomes an abstract idea, stuffed away in our mental attic with all the other abstract ideas we encounter in our lives.

I'll ask you to try to put that aside. Make a real effort to comprehend just for a little while, to feel the true scale of ongoing death and suffering in the world:

Scientific work on stem cells, regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and understanding the basic biochemical mechanisms within the body will eventually allow us to grow new tissue to heal any non-fatal damage to the body (age-related or otherwise). Some scientists are working on enabling existing mechanisms to repair damage in situ, while others focus on engineering replacement tissue for implantation - some work blurs the line by employing both techniques. Some conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, can already be reliably repaired in tissue samples and mice. Stem cell treatments for heart disease have already saved lives in the few human trials that have been allowed to proceed.

One day, all bodily damage - and thus all the effects of disease and aging - will be repairable through cheap, widespread medical interventions. That day may be 30, 50 or 100 years from now. The day on which most damage can be repaired will occur considerable sooner: the majority of deaths have only a few causes. Researchers can focus on those first of all. Every day that this research is delayed will be another day in which human beings suffer and die from conditions that cannot be cured, and from damage that cannot be repaired.

I believe that actively working to prevent this medical research is morally equivalent to actively preventing sick people from traveling to buy an available cure. Those who deliberately set out to block the advance of science bear responsibility for deaths caused by delays in making therapies available.

Approximately 150,000 people die every day, worldwide from the effects of disease and aging. 55 million lives a year.

Think about that for a moment: it's a staggering number. Each one of these deaths is the end of a unique, thinking, feeling human being - an unspeakable tragedy repeated thousands upon thousands of times in a torrent of loss and pain that cannot truly be visualized. This ongoing horror, this truth about the world that we try so hard to avoid, is also the cost of preventing advances in regenerative medicine. These are rates at which people will die, in the final days before cures are made available, due to delays in research currently being enforced.

I contend that none of the horrors perpetrated by governments and politicians in the 20th century hold a candle to the eventual cost in human life and suffering already incurred by the anti-research policies of Western governments in the first years of the 21st century. Advocates and scientists estimate a five year delay in the fields of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, technologies fundamental to the advance of regenerative medicine - and you can do the math as well as I can.

Do we imagine that the politicians and activists who work hard to block medical research recognize that they advocate a quarter of a billion lives lost over a timescale of decades? Do they see this as an acceptable cost for their views? As they really willing to enforce that cost, to ensure that this many people - lives that might otherwise have been saved - die?

There's a tendency for people to throw large numbers of casualties out of the window as impossible to talk about. 250 million deaths cannot be discussed, they say. This is a terrible part of human nature, because those consequences are very real - you can't just magic them out of existence them because they are hard to talk about or discuss. Heavy handed or not, I am deliberately setting forth the position that Leon Kass, the Bioethics Council, President Bush and his administration, in their deliberate, successful attempts to block progress towards regenerative medicine, will have as their legacy more death and suffering than was caused by all the wars and dictators of the 20th century.

You can't just wave this future away because it is horrific, or because it is hard to think about. You can't ignore the ongoing death toll due to disease and aging that takes place today, every day. These are real people - these are you and I, our children, our future, our lives, our health and longevity.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we must all stand up and do our part in the fight to support medical research. It is the greatest war ever fought, and one in which we will all pay the ultimate price should we fail.

Understanding the Mechanics of Stem Cells

In just the last six months, scientists have made noticeable progress in understanding what makes stem cells tick. Biochemical mechanisms are uncovered, and in this article from Betterhumans, ways to efficiently control cell differentiation are explored. This particular advance is a clever and useful one. By introducing a mechanism to lengthen cell telomeres at the right time, researchers can create immortal progenitor cells that continually divide to create an endless supply of the desired cell type (spinal neurons in this case). There are uncertainties in the technique, especially relating to cancer in immortal cell populations, but this looks like it could be a powerful new addition to the early-stage regenerative medicine toolbox.


Stem Cell Politics and Consequences

This UPI article thoughtfully points out the probable consequences of bans and criminalization - or even continuing anti-research pressure of the sort put out by the US administration - on stem cell and therapeutic cloning technologies. Meanwhile, I am hopeful that we are seeing a shift in the dynamic of this political debate. It is all fairly obviously about abortion, no matter what the anti-research groups may actually claim. It is also clear that widespread support for the basic research leading to regenerative medicine is beginning to make inroads in the political landscape. Ordinary people like you and I can help this process by standing up and taking part. It doesn't take long to lend a hand to support medical research, and the end results will be well worth it!


Inside the Cryonics Institute is running a mostly positive piece on the Cryonics Institute (CI), in business since 1976. You can find out more about the cryonics industry and cryopreservation at CryoNet. Cryonics providers like CI and Alcor provide an important service to the healthy life extension community: the only positive technological response to the blunt recognition that not everyone will live long enough to benefit from near future advances in medicine. With a new focus on basic cryonics research from groups like Suspended Animation, the industry should be capable of growth and improvement in years to come.


Printing New Tissue

As a followup to the last item on tissue engineering, Betterhumans reports on progress in using printing technologies to create structure in tissue. This appears to be mostly still flat printing with some tweaks, but three-dimensional printing machines (fabricators) are becoming more common. They are used to produce models in a number of industries, and I imagine they could also be adapted for bioengineering. From the article: "A large part of the body is made of tubes. We can now make 3D hollow biological tubes and organ modules, which potentially could be used as grafts."


Helping to Create a Longer, Healthier Future

A Longevity Meme reader sent e-mail to myself and the Methuselah Foundation a few days ago, asking how best to get involved in helping stem cell and real anti-aging research. That's a good question, and I will attempt to provide a half-way decent answer.

You should start by reading the article by Devon Fowler and myself at the Longevity Meme called "Activism for Healthy Life Extension." It should give you a good grounding as to why it is important for as many people as possible to speak out in support of medical research. Without the groundswell of activism, research grinds to a halt. This is just as true for stem cell research or work towards curing specific age-related conditions as it is for life extension, of course. You can find further comments on the value of activism and advocacy at the Longevity Meme as well.

Read on:

At root, activism - and supporting medical research - is as simple as convincing your friends and new acquaintances of the value of donating to your favorite cause. One of the best ways for people like you and I (average income, a job to keep us busy, and a good social network) to help medical research is to become advocates within our social networks. Think about how to pitch people you know, start keeping leaflets handy, and practice convincing your friends without annoying them.

There are many forms of advocacy and activism to support medical research. Writing, education and raising awareness are my primary activities, for example. I am one of many people building the foundation of ideas and support that make it possible to talk to people about healthy life extension without seeming awkward.

If you have a good social network, you may find encouraging and educating people one-on-one to be easier than writing to a wider audience. Spend some time to research specific non-profit organizations working to advance your chosen field of medicine. You can help to raise funding through your friends and associates; make the time you have invested in your social network pay off by supporting your favored medical research! Most established non-profit organizations provide packages and kits to make it easier for you to help out.

You may be interested in supporting research directly, or you may be interested in taking part in the political battles over regenerative medicine research. Either way, let me point you in the direction of a few noteworthy causes:

  • Methuselah Foundation. This is my current favorite. Research prizes like the Methuselah Mouse prize have a good heritage and real potential to shake things up in the aging research industry. Volunteers and donors are needed!

  • Immortality Institute. A group that believes in taking the fight against aging to its logical conclusion (and in which I hold a director position). We are raising funds for a conference in 2005 and currently working the first in a series of collaborative books on the scientific quest for physical immortality.

  • Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research. CAMR is probably the most established political action group dedicated to supporting stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. They are doing a great job, and the more people who can drum up pointed letters to politicians - especially in this election year - the better.

  • Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Christopher Reeve is doing a great deal of good for stem cell research through his high-profile advocacy, and so I fully endorse helping his foundation achieve its ends.

  • Alliance for Aging Research. A more mainstream, conservative and established group, but worthy of assistance. They currently help to fund SAGE Crossroads, an online forum for discussion about aging research.

  • American Federation for Aging Research. Again, a mainstream, conservative and established organization. They fund one of the best educational websites on aging: InfoAging.

Take this as a starting point for research and looking around. I don't know what your preferences are, but I advise you to support an organization that a) you are comfortable volunteering for, b) comfortable pitching to friends and social contacts for donations and c) can support you in the way that you like to volunteer. To learn more about how best to go about volunteering in general, I'd advise taking a stroll through this informative website, and these pages in particular.

I hope that helps.

The Speculist on "Is Aging a Disease?"

The Speculist makes a few comments on the recent SAGE Crossroads debate between Art Caplan and Howard Moody:

If the only reason that we don't live longer is nature's neglect, there is no particular reason why we shouldn't, if we choose, solve the problem ourselves.
Read the full post here.

That's the spirit! Some interesting points are made, but neither of us, it seems, have had the time to do the long, interesting debate justice in terms of commentary. If you haven't read it yet, you certainly should.

From Research To Therapies Takes Time

From the New York Times, an article to remind us that, despite the blistering speed of modern medical research, getting from science in the laboratory to therapies in the clinic takes time. I recently commented on this very topic at Fight Aging: "the fast and the slow of it." New research breakthroughs are encouraging, but we have to remember that - even discounting delays due to regulation and anti-research legislation - it takes years to fund and build the industry required to bring most new therapies to market. While you see the science in the news, you hear far less about the hard work and economic necessities needed to follow up on scientific breakthroughs.


Protandim, Ceremedix, Lifeline

We've mentioned Lifeline Nutraceuticals and Ceremedix before in the context of their work to put out a new super-antioxidant supplement (now called protandim). I advocate waiting for independent studies before rushing out to buy it based on the marketing hype - there just hasn't been enough science done on this product to pass my comfort level. As Dave Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation notes: if protandim works, Ceremedix should enter some of their lab mice into the Methuselah Mouse prize and prove it. That goes for the rest of the "anti-aging" marketplace too - if you can't demonstrate an extension of healthy life span in mice, pack up your wares and go home!


Lengthening Your Natural Healthy Life Span

A lot of the discussion surrounding healthy life extension focuses, understandably, on advances in medical science and how to best encourage funding and public understanding. After all, without no progress, there will be no meaningful healthy life extension medicine in the future.

How about the here and now, though? What can you do now to help yourself live healthily and longer? The Longevity Meme ("the collection of ideas, viewpoints and behaviors that will enable people to lead long, healthy and extended lives") itself consists of three parts:

  • Life healthily: take care of your health and improve your natural longevity
  • Fight aging: join the community in activism and advocacy for medical research
  • Extend your life: make the choice to take action on health and medicine, and reap the rewards!

Read on for more:

As I noted a week or two ago, the first part of the bootstrapping process to greatly extending the healthy human life span is for everyone to work on their natural longevity: look after your health in the here and now. This way, you'll be more likely to be around and active to benefit from future medical technologies. Maintaining good health for longer is actually easier and cheaper than you might imagine, given that there are plenty of people out there who will gleefully take your time and money to tell you how difficult and costly it is. It's not rocket science (but read the disclaimer - your health, just like your future, is ultimately your responsibility, not mine):

  • Find a physician you are comfortable with, and listen to what they have to say about your general health. If they contradict me, listen to them. They're the doctor in this conversation and they know more about your health than I do.
  • Stop damaging your health: quit smoking, lay off the non-stop junk food, and stop doing all those other things that you know are really bad for you.
  • Lose the excess weight and keep it off. Doctors agree that being overweight is a strong predictor for virtually every terrible medical condition that can happen to you later in life. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even Alzheimer's: they've all been strongly linked to even a little excess weight earlier in life.
  • Take your vitamins and supplements! It's not expensive in moderation, and the practical real-world modern diet doesn't give you what your body needs. The benefits are obvious and proven.
  • Exercise regularly, and as advised by your physician. Again, the beneficial effects of exercise for longevity are well documented and well researched.

Once the basics are out of the way, then you can look into adopting a calorie restriction diet, further researching supplements, tinkering with exercise schedules and the like. There's usually room for improvement, and everyone has a different sweet spot when it comes to diet and lifestyle.

You can spend as much time as you like in attempting to optimize your natural longevity: it's like being an auto enthusiast, out to get that last 10% of performance out of the engine. You can spend a lot of time on research, a lot of money on supplements, learn a lot of new things, and while away hours theorizing with others who share your interest. Unlike the auto enthusiast, however, you'll never really know if you are actually getting that last 10%. There's a lot of dubious science, unproven conjecture and outright false information out there. It's up to you to find your comfort zone in all of this.

Calorie restriction, I hasten to add, is bedrock solid and worth the time. It has the science behind it, as do a few other advanced topics for present day personal health. They won't do you any good if you're killing yourself with tobacco, though!

If I had a dime for every overweight smoker who takes vitamins and supplements, I'd be well off - so don't be one of these people. Master the basics first and help yourself life a longer, healthier life. You can read more on the topic of healthy life extension at the Longevity Meme. Get started!

If National Pride Is What It Takes...

This Yahoo! News article ties together a number of threads from the therapeutic cloning debate last week: the US research establishment has been held back by bad legislation (and the threat of more where that came from), US scientists are now far behind Asia and Europe in vital medical research, and pro-research states are facing off against the anti-research Federal government. I'm no fan of knee-jerk national and state pride, but if that's what it takes to get bad legislation pushed aside and the five-year research setback ended, then that's what it takes. It's great pity, and a comment on the worse aspects of human nature, that the thousands of lives lost each and every day to conditions that might already be treatable were not enough to make this happen.


Pioneers of Tissue Engineering

EurekAlert reports on the state of tissue engineering, from knees to hearts and even brains. Tissue engineering is a branch of regenerative medicine in which scientists are attempting to build structures from scaffolds and tissue to replace damaged portions of the body. Researchers are now regularly growing undifferentiated tissue like skin and cartilage; the trick is to create structure, as in heart valves, bone, joints and other organs. Eventually, tissue engineers hope to produce entire organs for transplant, grown from a patient's own cells. All in all, this is the infancy of a very challenging field, but the rewards will be enormous. Tens of thousands of lives could be saved each and every day if new organs could be grown on demand.


Japan Allows Embryonic Stem Cell Work

A short piece from the Japan Times notes that the first stem cell research using locally produced embryos has been allowed to proceed. This will allow intellectual property rights to be assigned, which is very important for later funding and commercial development. Meanwhile, the latest advances seem to be stirring up attempts to ban all embryonic stem cell work in the US again. Given that a single vote in the Senate is all it would take, now would be a good time to contact your representatives and demand that they support this vital medical research.


Search for Aging Genes Narrowed

More reinforcement for telomere theories of aging is reported by Betterhumans: scientists are closing in on the inheritance mechanism for telomere length. (Telomeres, as you may recall, are the "caps" that protect your DNA from damage during replication). This, coupled with other studies, would seem to confirm that shorter telomeres lead to greater genetic damage with advancing age - and therefore greater incidence of age-related disease. Like other theories of aging, however, this doesn't seem to be the whole story. Other mechanisms are at work to produce the familiar degenerative effects of aging.


Nanotechnology and Aging Science

Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) let me know that SAGE Crossroads is planning a debate on nanotechnology and aging:

CRN was contacted recently by SAGE Crossroads, "the premier online forum for emerging issues of human aging". They are planning a discussion on nanotechnology and asked for our input.

SAGE Crossroads is a worthy site to have on your favorites list - their webcast debates have been getting better of later, the articles are good, and the new redesign makes the site much more accessible. I'll be interested to see what they do with nanotechnology as a topic. Some background on nanotechnology and healthy life extension from Chris Phoenix, the other CRN founder, can be found at the Longevity Meme. More scientific detail can be found at the Nanomedicine website. I mentioned nanotechnology in general, and nanomedicine in particular, a little while ago as a part of the bootstrapping process envisaged by advocates of radical life extension.

Nanotechnology has been in the news and much discussed of late. This is no doubt due to a rise in venture funding for the first wave of commercial nanotechnology development (most of it fairly mundane advances in materials science, as it happens, although there are a few companies working on the tools needed for interesting nanotechnology), and to a series of high profile personality clashes:

Drexler, I should hasten to add, is getting a very raw deal out of all this nonsense - as are you and I. It's the development path laid out by Drexler, Merkle, Freitas and Kurzweil that puts nanomedicine to work in curing disease and extending your healthy life span, not the very mundane materials science development put forward by the PR side of the nanotechnology industry right now.

Of the much touted billions that the US government recently voted to spend on nanotechnology, not one dollar goes towards nanomedicine or the fundamentals that will needed to achieve nanomedicine.

Vital Progress Summit Gearing Up For The 15th

The Extropy Institute's Vital Progress Summit will commence on the 15th of this month, but the online areas are already open for visiting registrants and "catalyst" invitees. The aim of the summit is to provide a loud, clear rebuttle to the anti-research, anti-progress forces epitomized by the President's Council on Bioethics and the current US administration, groups whose members oppose healthy life extension, stem cell research and the search for better medicine. Everyone who has an interest in living longer, healthier lives should sign up and participate.


Getting the Point Across

The significance of the Korean human cloning breakthrough would be difficult to overstate. The introduction of therapeutic human cloning will be a huge boost for the relatively new field of regenerative medicine, which has already shown tremendous potential in the treatment of disease and injury, and in fighting the effects of aging.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to get this message across for a couple of reasons. First, as Reason has pointed out (and as is discussed here and here), the idea that a human embryo is destroyed in the process of generating the new stem cell line raises all the ethical issues which currently define the debate over abortion. These issues are daunting enough; however, they may not be the main obstacle to progress.

Consider this editorial in today's New York Times, which basically comes to the right conclusions:

The day scientists might be able to create a human baby through cloning moved closer this week, when South Korean scientists revealed that they had cloned some 30 human embryos, grown them for a week in a laboratory and extracted stem cells for more research. Although the experiments were not intended to produce a baby, and none of the embryos were implanted in a woman, the techniques described by the Koreans will probably make it easier for some scientist somewhere to clone a human. Clearly it is time for the United States and other nations to ban cloning for human reproduction. For now, the only legitimate use of cloning should be for research and medical therapies.

Even acknowledging that this research has nothing to do with reproductive cloning, the editorial writer can't seem to leave the subject alone. This research has "moved closer" the day that a human baby might be created via cloning. Never mind that that's not the point. Never mind that this breakthrough also hastens innumerable medical breakthroughs, which are given scant mention.

The writer just seems to know that what cloning is really about is creating babies. This perception of cloning has been around for a long time as part of Amercian popular culture, at least since the late 1970's. In order for real progress in therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine to occur, this perception must be overcome.

The editorial concludes:

Cloning for reproduction ought to be banned. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans want to ban all cloning, even for research and therapy. Such an all-out ban will only ensure that the cutting edge of biomedicine migrates to other shores.

Equally unfortunately, as long as journalists continue to portray such a skewed (if not outright fallacious) image of what this research is about, it will be difficult to create the kind of public awareness that might motivate the administration to change their position.

Nanomedicine When?

A press release found via KurzweilAI briefly discusses the timetable for nanotechnology to begin making its mark on medicine and longer, healthier lives. Robert Feitas - who has an article here at the Longevity Meme - weighs in with his opinions, amongst others. It appears that diagnostics will be the first branch of medicine to benefit enormously from nanotechnology. The really interesting stuff described by Robert Freitas is probably still 20 years away. Researchers are currently working on the tools to make the tools, as it were, before being able to dive into building medical nanomachines.


Brian Alexander on Korean Therapeutic Cloning Advance

Wired follows up on the recent advance in therapeutic cloning technology with an interview with Brian Alexander, author of Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion. As always, Brian Alexander provides a sane, balanced look at both the science and the (sadly intrusive) politics. The digest version of the article would be that yes, this is a big step forward in the reliability and capability of therapeutic cloning technology, but no, he doesn't think that it will result in any more of a political tempest than we are already experiencing. More commentary can be found at Fight Aging! and the Speculist.


The Next Step in Therapeutic Cloning

As reported by Wired (and in numerous other places), Korean researchers have accomplished the next successful step in therapeutic cloning and stem cell medicine: reliably extracting stem cells from cloned human embryos. As the Wired article says, "a Korean woman now has a set of cells that could one day replace any damaged or diseased cell in her body with little worry of rejection, if researchers can get stem cells to work therapeutically." The scientists have even managed to create a new stem cell line from this work, which is very good news, given the limited number of lines currently available. A New York Times article provides a good introduction to the medical significance of this advance.


We Would Already Be Here If Not For The Politicians

Korean scientists have pulled off the impressive next advance in stem cell and therapeutic cloning research, something that the combined US and European research communities could have accomplished several years ago, if not for the anti-research policies on both sides of the Atlantic. I commented on the research briefly at the Longevity Meme:

The Next Step in Therapeutic Cloning (Thursday February 12 2004)
As reported by Wired (and in numerous other places), Korean researchers have accomplished the next successful step in therapeutic cloning and stem cell medicine: reliably extracting stem cells from cloned human embryos. As the Wired article says, "a Korean woman now has a set of cells that could one day replace any damaged or diseased cell in her body with little worry of rejection, if researchers can get stem cells to work therapeutically." The scientists have even managed to create a new stem cell line from this work, which is very good news, given the limited number of lines currently available. A New York Times article provides a good introduction to the medical significance of this advance.

The Korean government has been showing its teeth on stem cell research of late, with a very American style political debate taking place over past years. We shall see what results in the political and legislative arena after this successful work; no doubt the anti-research forces will be lining up around the block to denounce this advance towards working regenerative medicine. On that note, it has to be said that I object to authors describing a small clump of cells as a "human clone." In my book, a human is someone you can converse with, who can think, feel pain, and suffer the effects of Alzheimer's or heart disease. An embryo has none of those characteristics. It is a pathology in modern society that there are so many people who are willing to kill or condemn millions to suffer and die rather than allow the use of small pieces of artificially created tissue to cure disease and save lives.

The ability to create cloned stem cells from your own tissues is an essential foundation for the first wave of medical technologies that can really extend the healthy human life span. If all age-related damage can be repaired, then healthy life span can be extended theory. In practice, this process is likely to be costly, onerous, and complex. Think of the war on cancer, multiplied one thousand fold, an unending process of identifying and working to treat one condition after another. Something better must be found to prevent age-related conditions from occurring in the first place, to slow and eventually reverse the aging process. Regenerative medicine, in giving us the time to accomplish this, is an essential step on the path to indefinite healthy life spans.

With this in mind, it's good to anticipate spending a great deal of money on medicine in your later years. Plan accordingly.

The Walk to Fight Aging

Here is something that we, as a community, need to get out and organize: an annual "Walk to Fight Aging" event. Charitable walks to benefit medical research or fund pro-research non-profit organizations are common: Walk for the Cure, Walk to Cure Juvenile Diabetes, and the AIDS Walk are just a few of the many. It's a concept that's well understood and welcomed by the public.

Part of the public perception problem relating to scientific anti-aging research is that popular culture, the mass media and the public at large do not yet recognize aging as a medical condition that can be cured and treated. They have either been convinced that only frauds and charlatans claim to be able to treat aging, or are convinced that aging is "natural" and therefore set in stone. Running a Walk to Fight Aging will go a long way to curing this problem: in the public eye, charitable walks are associated with curing medical conditions. These events are a wonderful and effective way to raise awareness for any given cause.

Then there is also the matter of money raised: I would direct the donations resulting from a Walk to Fight Aging to the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. Money that will invigorate and encourage scientists to extend healthy life span is money well invested!

I first mentioned the Walk to Fight Aging as an idea last October in a past issue of the Longevity Meme Newsletter to see what people thought of it. I received a positive response: it's a good idea, it has merit, and people are willing to take part. The Walk to Fight Aging is very much on my to-do list, but 2004 is a terrible year for me to be undertaking any major new projects. I have my hands too full to do this concept the justice it deserves.

It is a truism that every successful cause starts with a dedicated person pushing it to completion. If no-one beats me to it, I will be that person for the Walk to Fight Aging - but I would certainly welcome a serious attempt to beat me to it! The sooner that a viable, successful Walk to Fight Aging event is organized, the better. For my part, I will pitch in to the best of my ability to help whoever is best placed and most capable to get this done.

Cloned Stem Cells Repair Heart Damage

(From InfoAging). Advanced Cell Technology has demonstrated that cloned stem cells can be used to repair heart damage more effectively than adult stem cells. You may recall that human trials using adult stem cell infusions have already taken place, but further trials have been blocked by the FDA. While this work by ACT is just the first in what will no doubt be a number of demonstrations using mice, it already shows great promise for future development of the technology. ACT and other research groups are doing an impressive job in overcoming technical hurdles on the way to full blown regenerative therapies based on stem cells and therapeutic cloning.


The Age of Anti-Science

An article from the Scotsman zeros in on aspects of modern society that bother us greatly: why, when science can do so much for health and longevity, are so many groups fighting so hard to prevent advanced medical research. The subject of the article is legislation on tissue use in the UK, but it applies equally to anti-research legislation targeting stem cell work in the US. As the article notes, we live in a time when "the fate of tissue samples and diseased organs has become more important than the welfare of the living." This attitude is one that must be fought, tooth and nail, if we are to maintain the march of medical progress towards longer, healthier human life spans.


The Fast and the Slow of It

To those of us observing the advance of medical science from the sidelines - via the press, the scientific journals, our connections, and vague memories of being part of the scientific process ourselves at some point in time - progress is simultanously blisteringly fast and frustratingly slow. How can this be the case?

First the fast of it. The most advanced, most promising medical science is now tied to computer speeds and chip sizes, to the computer revolution. Bioinformatics and labs-on-a-chip mean that ever more biotechnology can be done ever faster and at an ever lower cost. The Internet and data mining methods mean that new advances are never consigned to isolation; if an advance published somewhere, any scientist can find it and improve on it. It is not uncommon to see the following sequence of events in medical science these days:

  • An interesting new idea is explored in theory and published
  • Three to six months later, someone is tinkering with tissues in petri dishes, showing that the idea has practical merit
  • Another six months later, the idea is demonstrated in mice
  • Six months after that, scientists in a new company are talking about setting up human trials

This sort of pace is insane, impossible, counter-intuitive to someone brought up the world of the 1960s and 70s. We're accustomed to think of any given major scientific development in medicine as being a process of rumination over the better part of a decade. Nowadays, researchers are turning out new science so fast that there is a growth industry in reporting on it!

(See Science Daily, EurekAlert, BreakThrough Digest, Science Blog, ScienCentral, and many, many other upstart organizations biting at the heels of the old, established science news sources).

Did you know that, during the past year of keeping the Longevity Meme up to date, I have seen reports on sixteen different potential cures for various classes of cancer in the works somewhere between the lab and human trials? Sixteen! With all this heat, light and noise, why is it that new advances are so slow to make it into the marketplace as therapies and medicine? We've been curing diabetes in mice using regenerative medicine for more than a year now, for example. Where is the human version of this cure? Likewise, as this article from SAGE Crossroads points out, "labs around the world are crawling with prodigiously long-lived flies, worms, and mice" in just the past few years. When do we humans get to see all this new life-extending medical technology?

Alas, the fast world of modern medical research - enabled by computers, bioinformatics, ingenious labor-saving devices and the Internet - is still bound to the old structure of business cycles, Big Pharma, heavy government regulation and basic human nature when it comes to bringing new medicine to the public. It doesn't matter how fast you can develop and improve major new medical product, it's still going to take the better part of a decade and a billion dollars to get it approved by the FDA. It's still going to take a few years to find investors, to build and capitalize a company capable of delivering that product. That company may fail, for any number of reasons, leaving it to another group to start over. If you have to build an industry first to support your new medical breakthrough - as is going on right now for stem cell research - well, you'll have to wait for a few more years for the toolmaking and basic infrastructure companies to get going as well!

Things slow down when you move away from a task that can be done by a few people. Modern medicine is complex. It takes many people and many interactions to deliver any new therapy from inception to final product. A scientist can often make major improvements to a medical product in a month - but you'd be lucky to negotiate a major deal between companies, or with a government, anywhere near as rapidly. I'm not going to claim that all of the time sinks mentioned above are necessary - in particular, the FDA is an bloated, self-interesting, uncaring bureaucracy that slows medical development to no good end - but all major efforts in this world take time.

Once you stop seeing the first rush of science news on any given hot medical technology, you can be fairly sure that there is a boil of activity going on where you can't see it; companies, investors, regulators, all slowly bringing the new product to market. A few years here, a few years there. It adds up, it's frustrating, but it's the way things are done today. We're all crossing our fingers and hoping that someone invents the equivalent of bioinformatics and labs-on-a-chip for basic business and regulatory processes. It might happen, you never know.

Of Mice and Mitochondrial Medicine

Proving that all journalists like alliteration, a EurekAlert piece looks at recent steps towards better understanding the role played by cellular mitochondria - the powerhouse of the cell - in aging and age-related disease. While scientists know that failing mitochondria play a role in many diseases, they are only now able to reliably manipulate this part of the cell. Working with mitochondria in mice is the first step towards obtaining more information and greater understanding; then come interventions, trials and therapies.


A Pessimistic View of Public Interest in Science

An article at SAGE Crossroads examines the relationships between public interest in science and how science is practiced, arriving at some strange conclusions. It seems fashionable in some circles to argue that competition and encouragement in science are bad things; I get the impression this author would like to see scientists locked in a box of moral purity and isolation, there to slowly work without profit or acknowledgement. This is nonsense of course - science is at its best when competing teams race for discoveries and capitalization. Just look at the human genome project: we'd still be waiting on that if government scientists had been left, unchallenged, to their own schedule.


Comments on California as a Stem Cell Hub

Regular readers of the Longevity Meme news will recall we pointed out an ongoing initiative to put major multi-billion dollar funding for stem cell research into the California state budget:

California to Become Stem Cell Hub? (Saturday February 07 2004)
SFGate comments on continuing efforts to allocate significant state funding to regulated embryonic stem cell research in California. Large sums of money, billions over the next decade, are mentioned, although the small print would seem to indicate that this will not kick in for a few years even if the necessary funding measures are passed. California is in the midst of a budget crisis in any case, which would seem to make any such long term planning speculative at best. If the Federal government carries forward with plans to ban this research, there could certainly be fireworks.

Stem cell research is, of course enormously important to our future health and longevity. It is likely to be the foundation of the first wave of meaningful medical technologies for extending healthy life span. (Largely by repairing damage rather than through preventative methods). Despite the efforts of governments worldwide to ban stem cell research or the vital technology of therapeutic cloning, scientists have demonstrated an amazing array of cures and therapies in trials and the laboratory.

On one level the California funding initiative can be seen as a part of the continuing backlash against anti-research policies pursued by the federal government under the current administration. On the other hand, California is something of a country unto itself on some issues, its politicians disliking heavy handed interferance handed down from above. On the third hand, special interests and their lobbyists never hesitate to take advantage of governments that seem ready to tax and spend. Politics as usual, in other words. Given the current state of the California budget, however, I remain dubious that multi-billion dollar proposals - even for the hottest modern medical research - are going to be an easy sell to elected officials. Even if sold, signed and voted into law, the chances of the program later being quietly defunded have to be good.

My thinking on California as a state funded stem cell hub - expressed in a fairly compact way in the Longevity Meme post - was challenged by Peter Christiansen, who made some good points in an e-mail to me today:

I would like to ask you to clarify something about the California stem cell bond initiative. I have read everything put out by the campaign committee for this initiative, at least everything that I could find on the web, and I did not find any fine print about the money that would be raised by this bond issue not kicking in for a number of years. As I understand it (and I have not read the actual text of the initiative itself), if this initiative is approved by California voters, this bond issue, as is the case for other bond issues in California, would be sold immediately and the money raised, $3 billion dollars, could then be spend over or up to the next ten years depending on the pace of stem cell research in California.

It is true that the state of California is presently broke but that really has nothing to do with the sale of bonds. Bonds issued by the state of California are exempt from taxes, both state and federal taxes, and are always in big demand. If the state's financial situation were to continue to worsen, this would only cause the interest rate on the bonds to increase, which will make them only that much more in demand.

Again, you may have more information about this matter than I do, in which case I would very much appreciate a clarification.

The great significance of the California stem cell research initiative (and incidentally, every public opinion pool taken in California on the subject of stem cell research shows decisive support for it), is that while some states, including California, have "legalized" stem cell reserch, this initiative would include a massive infusion of cash for research. Because of opposition by the Bush administration, and the uncertainty this has created, the biotech industry has been understandably reluctant to put much money into stem cell research. Three billion dollars would almost certainly stimulate more investment.

Again, you may know more about this than I do, but based on what I do know at this point about the California Stem Cell Bond initiative, this is something that every Californian, and even people living in other states, who are interested in longevity, should actively support.

So we shall see; I have some reading and research to do on the topic before commenting again. If any of our readers have more to add on this proposal, please do go ahead and speak your mind.

To Save the Lives of Millions

Growing replacement organs via regenerative medicine and tissue engineering isn't easy, no matter how fast science seems to be advancing towards this goal. It will happen, but not by magic, and certainly not without a great deal of funding and hard work. This article from This Is Nottingham describes parts of the path from culturing cells to being able to grow an entire liver for transplant. Scientists are currently working on an intermediary steps, including a tissue matrix for liver cells, and more advanced options for artificial livers.


A Look at "Breaking the Aging Code"

The LEF News is carrying an overview of Breaking the Aging Code, a book probably best described as an attempt at a care and maintenance guide for the human body. Lifestyle and dietary choices do make an enormous difference to healthy life span, but only calorie restriction has been proven to extend it. These other maintenance tricks of the trade, while useful and good for your health, are preventing damage that would otherwise cut into your natural healthy life span. As for cars, good maintenance only gets you so far - more and better medical technologies are needed for true healthy life extension.


Fighting the Conditions of Aging As Well As Aging Itself

We need a war on aging to understand and defeat the aging process itself, to develop medicine to prevent and treat whatever the underlying causes of aging turn out to be. However, we must also continue to fight the conditions of aging. Even if we manage to treat, prevent or somehow safely disable the degenerative parts of the aging process, we can still be killed by medical conditions.

As an aside, this is not to say that there is a sharp dividing line between medical conditions and aging. In fact, we could argue that what is currently called "natural aging" or "normal aging" is just an expression of the limits of our knowledge regarding diseases and conditions. After all, "normal aging" is a concept that changes over time. Before Alzheimer's was understood to be a condition, its dreadful symptoms were regarded as a part of normal aging. Before osteoporosis (age-related bone loss) was identified as a condition, loss of bone strength was also regarded as a part of normal aging.

Medical scientists identify new age-related conditions every year. Just this month, a major new degenerative neurological condition was discovered that affects men over the age of 50. Its symptoms have been misdiagnosed as "natural aging" or Alzheimer's up until this point.

Genetic Screening Recommended For New Neurological Disease

So it may be that when we are chalking up illness and loss of capability to natural aging, we are referring to a collection of currently unknown diseases and medical conditions that will one day be identified, preventable and treatable. This theory was most recently put forward by a pair of European researchers:

Ill or just old? Towards a conceptual framework of the relation between ageing and disease

As a further aside, there is a large downside to the concept of "natural aging," entirely related to funding for medical research. Funding for aging studies is miniscule compared to funding assigned to beat any well known, identified disease or condition. Thus, the research that could identify all remaining unknown age-related conditions languishes. We can lay a fair amount of the blame here at the feet of the FDA in the US: the FDA refuses to classify aging as a disease, and will thus not approve any potential treatment. If the FDA will not approve it, then the initial funding for research will not be forthcoming - FDA approval is very necessary for any eventual profit from such research.

SAGE Crossroads just recently posted the transcript of a webcast discussion on this very topic, which I think most of you will find a good read.

But let's get back to the point.

I advocate a massive increase in funding for aging and real anti-aging research, with an eye to identifying a cure for aging. It may be that this results in the categorization of aging into any number of separate medical conditions, with no underlying "aging process," or it may not. Either way, the fight against aging does not mean neglecting the fight against cancer, diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer's. Longer, healthier lives will require us to beat not only the aging process (if there is such a thing), but also all of these conditions - which modern science can accomplish, with enough funding.

Many of these conditions are related to aging in some way, which is also a good incentive for research. For example, researchers are just beginning to uncover intricate biochemical and genetic relationships between aging and cancer. The same sorts of intricacy can be expected in all of the "age-related" conditions; something has to explain why old people are far more susceptible. This sort of information lays the groundwork for later research into therapies and cures, and sheds more light onto the process of aging itself.

So full speed ahead with cancer research, I say. Let's find a cure for aging and fix all of these horrible conditions that plague mankind: it could all be done for far less money than most of the industrialized nations spend on weaponary and electing leaders.

US Administration Alienating Republicans on Stem Cell Policies

An article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel puts names, faces and actions to the alienation that many republicans are feeling after years of anti-research policy from the current administration. For example, Jim Kress' foundation has given millions to stem cell research, but "after a lifetime of giving to Republican candidates and causes, Kress vows to give 'not another dime' to the GOP until it changes its tune." It is very gratifying that even the strongest backers of the current administration are starting to see the damage being done to our future health and longevity. This means that the work of the advocates is beginning to pay off.


Details For The 2004 Longevity Conference, Sydney

Dr. Gavrilov was kind enough to remind us about the Longevity Conference, and note that the final program is now available. It looks like a lot of interesting presentations are being given (as well as some of dubious value, at least to my mind). Some of Dr. Gavrilov's work is explained here at the Longevity Meme as it happens, but the conference encompasses a wider range of aging and anti-aging science. Our vote for best session title goes to "Hormones: Do They Really Have the Power to Prevent Ageing or is their Promise of Eternal Youth Rapidly Evaporating into the Landscape of Unfounded Promises?"


On John Sperling, Or "What To Do With Three Billion Dollars"

The recent Wired article on John Sperling has the healthy life extension community very happy. Here is an enormously wealthy individual who is prepared to stand up and made a difference to the future of medicine and the business of extending the healthy human life span. While a number of insiders were already familiar with some of John Sperling's projects (such as the successful Kronos Company; a very interesting venture in and of itself, worthy of a longer commentary even without considering the larger scheme of which it is a part).

Aubrey de Grey has long said that what the underfunded science of aging needs is high net worth philanthropy - the promise of serious funding is the best motivation you can give to the scientific establishment. This is why Aubrey and Dave Gobel founded the Methuselah Foundation and are working on the Methuselah Mouse Prize. (Research prizes are a great idea, by the way, and I explain why at the Longevity Meme).

I have long said that healthy life extension needs serious venture capital investment: to build an industry, to lead to greater public awareness, to speed the essential research into tools and technologies. This is why I make an effort to keep people informed about young companies like BioMarker Pharmaceuticals, Suspended Animation and Elixir Pharmaceuticals, as well as more established ventures like Geron and Advanced Cell Technology. They are all doing good work.

John Sperling's projects should keep both myself and Aubrey happy: he is both creating a self-sustaining industry and funding the necessary research to make it happen. As an added bonus, he is also funding efforts to remove the politicians largely responsible for anti-research legislation that is squashing the nascent regenerative medicine industry.

A couple of interesting threads on John Sperling and the Wired article are currently underway at the Immortality Institute:

- What would you do with three billion dollars?
- University of Pheonix founder, John Sperling

Now all we need is another five or ten people like John Sperling - and with resources to match - to step up to the plate and bat. Then we'd be set. Any takers in the audience?

California to Become Stem Cell Hub?

SFGate comments on continuing efforts to allocate significant state funding to regulated embryonic stem cell research in California. Large sums of money, billions over the next decade, are mentioned, although the small print would seem to indicate that this will not kick in for a few years even if the necessary funding measures are passed. California is in the midst of a budget crisis in any case, which would seem to make any such long term planning speculative at best. If the Federal government carries forward with plans to ban this research, there could certainly be fireworks.


Business Jumps on the Youth Bandwagon

Red Herring is back on its feet, and talking about the near future market for real, working anti-aging therapies. Note that most of what passes for "anti-aging" in the marketplace these days is cosmetics, junk, nonsense, scams and adventurous marketing - but a small core of new ventures are working on real medicine that could extend the healthy human lifespan. The most interesting thing to take away from this article is that business commentators are now seeing that there is a bandwagon, and can separate the old, bad anti-aging market from the new, real anti-aging market. This bodes well for venture funding in the future.


Why reversing aging is easier in mammals than in flies or worms

Flies and worms aren't amenable to stem cell therapy, among other things. Most senior gerontologists forget this and assume that everything must be easier in flies and worms than in mice. This makes them reluctant to believe that reversing aging in mice is foreseeable, since it can't "even" be done in these simpler organisms. That means they don't support grant applications to try to develop reversal of aging, and that means such work doesn't get done. This is one of my more recent attempts to change that.

The following is a slightly (only slightly, I'm afraid) tidied-up version of something I wrote a few days ago to Tom Johnson, a very prominent and well-known biogerontologist who discovered the first life-extending mutation in any animal, the nematode mutation age-1. That was about 15 years ago, and Tom had an extremely hard time getting his colleagues to believe his result, even though he was as thoroughly trained as any geneticist and had obtained very solid data. He hasn't forgotten this, so his attitude to my rather analogous current battle to get biogerontology to take seriously the idea of reversing aging is one of sympathy and support, even though he is very skeptical of the possibility of such a thing. Because of this he has initiated a dialogue with me to give me a chance to convince him of my view. I have found this dialogue very useful in sharpening up my reasoning for why reversing aging is not only possible but foreseeable.

By way of background, readers should first familiarise themselves (if they don't know about it already) with the outline of my proposal for reversing mammalian (eventually human) aging. I have a website about my work here, and the seven key components of my approach are summarised here, with links to more detailed descriptions. In my letter to Tom, I seek to clarify exactly why it is appropriate to call these approaches "aging-reversal" interventions. The conclusion of my reasoning is that reversing aging in flies or worms is actually really hard, a lot harder than in mice, largely because (to cut a long story short) flies and worms aren't amenable to stem cell therapy. Its not just stem cell therapy, either: there are a few other fundamental components of aging that are probably no easier (though no harder either) to reverse in these so-called "simple" animals than in mammals. This is an extremely surprising conclusion to any mainstream gerontologist, accustomed to thinking of small invertebrates as much simpler than a mammal and thus much easier to manipulate -- and, indeed, on the face of it the achievements of gerontology so far are in opposition to my view, since worm lifespan has been increased by a factor of six and mouse lifespan only by much less than a factor of two. I don't yet know what Tom thinks of my argument, but I will report his reply here in due course.

The importance of all this to non-scientists is that people like Tom hold the key to the rate of progress in curing aging. While senior biogerontologists think reversing aging is impossible, however wrong their reasons for thinking that, they will not support the spending of significant sums on trying to do it. And because nearly all money for research is targeted by a system of expert peer review, the lack of their support is decisive.

Tom asked in his latest communication whether there was any evidence for a treatment in any species making that individual or population of individuals 20% younger. He said that this is the sort of definitive criterion that it would take to convince a skeptical public. Here's my reply.


Hi Tom,

I agree absolutely. Here is a clear-cut statement of my position:

1) Health being so hard to measure, the only persuasive measure of "physiological age" that is available to us today is remaining life expectancy in the absence of any (hypothetical) future anti-aging technologies.

2) Thus, an intervention can only properly be described as an "aging reversal" therapy if its one-off delivery to an organism a fair way through its natural life expectancy considerably increases its remaining life expectancy.

3) Even a therapy that meets this criterion can be argued not quite to be an aging-reversal therapy but instead a really good aging retardation therapy. Certainly if the remaining lifespan following the therapy is longer than the total lifespan without the therapy, we must clearly conclude that retardation has occurred (though reversal may have occurred too).

4) On the other hand, the idea that the therapy must be one-off, rather than periodic or continuous, is perhaps over-restrictive: a modest aging-reversal therapy applied once might give results than fell short of statistical significance, whereas repeated therapy would do better.

5) Hence, what I mean by an aging-reversal therapy is one that (a) substantially increases remaining life expectancy when applied late-onset, whether once or often, and (b) causes a reduction of some set of quantifiable parameters that increase progressively throughout aging and that we have some reason to believe make a contribution to pathology once they reach sufficient abundance.

This is the central message of my work over the past few years. I claim that there are only seven major classes of parameter fitting the above description that are not already known to be entirely the result of the changes in other such parameters (though in many cases the pecking order of which parameters affect which others the most is of course not known). I further claim that fixing (reducing the abundance of) *all* such parameters will necessarily have the effect of extending remaining lifespan, simply because the reason why a 40-year-old dies sooner than a 20-year-old is necessarily embodied in the differences between those two people's physical composition. [Note, however, that this does not precisely constitute moving the organism back to an earlier time of life, because it means leaving the accumulating changes that are *not* eventually pathogenic (such as distaste for contemporary popular music) alone.] Conversely, a treatment that reverses some set of promising-looking parameters but does not greatly increase lifespan is not an aging-reversal therapy, because the fact that lifespan is not increased means that something that needs to be reversed (i.e., that does contribute to pathology eventually) is not being reversed, nor even greatly retarded.

So, that means that I agree 100% with the mainstream biogerontology consensus that we do not yet have an aging-reversal intervention (by the above definition) in any animal. However, the shortness of the list of things we seem to need to fix as components of such an intervention is encouraging, and the availability of detailed and entirely feasible strategies for fixing all seven of them is more encouraging still.

I have a feeling that you think the fact that we can't yet do this in worms or flies is a reason to presume it'll be many decades till we can do it in mice. I don't agree, simply because of the nature of the seven targets. Extracellular crosslinks and intracellular aggregates probably matter in worms and flies and are no easier to fix in them than in mice. Ditto mitochondrial mutations (if they matter at all). Extracellular junk (amyloid) and senescent or otherwise toxic cells are probably not an issue in flies and worms so that makes things easier, but on the other hand, since flies and worms don't get cancer, their nuclear mutation rate may also be a limiter, and since they're so very postmitotic, stem cell therapy is impossible. So in fact, worms and flies are probably a good deal harder to age-reverse than humans!

Methuselah Yeast, Worms

An article from last month in PLoS Biology reviews work by David Sinclair on the biology and genetics of aging in yeast and Cynthia Kenyon on aging in nematode worms. Both have managed significant (one might say radical) healthy life extension in their test subjects, although science is still far from taking this knowledge and using it to extend the healthy human life span. The more we know, the closer we get, however: every step forward is a step taken towards longer, healthier lives for you and I. If you're scientifically minded, don't forget to scroll down past the references to read the interesting end comments as well.


Death Sucks

[ Note: A shorter version of this entry appeared on my blog, The Speculist, on January 16, 2004. This essay does not delve into the specifics of any anti-aging techniques, but I hope that it helps to explain why I think fighting aging is such a good idea.]

Reader Mary (Definitely on the Outer Ring) posed the following question in a recent comment:

Why are you so scared of dying?

She wrote some other provocative questions as well, but I want to focus on this one for now.

From the context, I'm going to assume that what Mary is asking is a philosophical question. She doesn't want to know why I would get out of the way of a speeding truck. All mentally healthy human beings are "scared of dying" in that sense; it's something we share with virtually every living being on the planet.

What Mary wants to know is this: why am I not resigned to my own mortality? Why would I want to engage in this unseemly practice of exploring alternatives to dying?

I'll tell you why, Mare.

Death sucks.

Some say that dying is as natural as being born. I say, so what? Vomiting is as natural as eating, but I happen to like eating a lot more.

Some say that death is a part of life. I contend that, by definition, it is not.

Some say that death is the threshold to the next stage of existence. I say maybe so. But this stage seems to have a natural built-in aversion to the threshold to that stage, and I'm going to take that aversion seriously

Many believe that the fear of death is a primitive relic, a lingering superstition. Fear of death, they will tell us, is what originally led humanity to irrational thinking. We invented gods and spirits primarily to assuage this fear. Now we live in an age when rational thinking might once again hold sway, although irrationalism persists all around. To differentiate themselves from the irrational throng, rational thinkers proudly state that they are not afraid of dying.

I remember years ago, when I went to see Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ, there were two groups of sign-carrying protestors standing out front of the theatre. One group was Christian, the other was Atheist. The box office line was rather long, and those of us standing in it were stuck between these two groups: one warning us not to go see this shocking piece of blasphemy, the other encouraging our support of free speech. Needless to say, there was a good deal of verbal sparring between the two camps. Some comments were good natured and even a little funny, but it got heated from time to time. I remember one exchange ended with these very words:

Yeah? Well, I'm not afraid of dying.

Hey, good one. Sign-carrying atheists, one; sign-carrying fundamentalists, zero.

Unfortunately, that's a load of crap. No, I don't mean that I doubt that guy's sincerity when he said that he was not afraid to die. I'm sure he meant it, and wasn't just trying to score points against those polyester-clad, big-haired fundamentalists in front of his cool sign-carrying atheist friends. But the notion that the fear of dying is uniquely linked with irrational thinking is just about as wrong as it can be.

Let's go back 50,000 years or so ago and take a look at our primitive ancestors. It's true that somewhere along the line they developed burial rituals and a belief in an afterlife. Maybe this was just an irrational response to their fear of death and the grief of losing a loved one. But it was just a small part of what they were doing. What, then, were they spending most of their time doing?

Figuring out how the world worked.

These plants will make you sick. These are good for food. Spears with sharp stone heads are better than pointed sticks at bringing down game and warding off predators. This is a good place to stay; predators don't usually come here. After the moon changes three more times, we'll start heading south. We used to wait until it got cold, but this way works better and we lose fewer members of the tribe.

Our ancestors relentlessly pursued an empirical investigation into the nature of...everything. Science didn't begin with Newton or Bacon or the ancient Greeks. It started way back when. All mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy - all rational human thought - has as its foundation the pioneering work of these our ancestors.

Now what do you suppose motivated them to do all this hard investigative work, to engage in all this rational thinking. I believe that it was, in large part, the fear of death.

Think about it. They were besieged by threats on all sides. A rational, empirical approach to the world emerged as the soundest way of warding off those threats. If our fundamentalist-taunting friend could go back in time and somehow convey to a group of his ancestors his basic credo of intellectual superiority - "I'm not afraid of dying" - they'd think he was nuts. And not because they were so irrational.

But we're only halfway there. Let's look at the other side.

Paradoxically, the self-satisfied volley of "I'm not afraid of dying" might just as easily have come from the religious side of the ticket line. Religious and spiritually oriented people are often quick to tell you that they have no fear of death. And if you really got it, - whatever that means to the particular believer - you wouldn't be afraid of death, either. If you only understood about Jesus' victory on the cross, or reincarnation, or nirvana, or even just the Natural Order of Things, you would be as resigned to your own eventual demise as the rest of us.

Yeah, well, that's a load of crap, too.

I'm going to restate that so I'm not misunderstood. Any religion that teaches that you should be okay with the fact that you're going to die is a load of crap. Christianity (to use the religion I'm most familiar with) most assuredly does not teach this. As C. S. Lewis famously put it:

But here is something quite different. Here is something telling me -- well, what? Telling me that I must never, like the Stoics, say that death does not matter. Nothing is less Christian than that. Death which made Life Himself shed tears at the grave of Lazarus, and shed tears of blood in Gethsemane. This is an appalling horror; a stinking indignity. (You remember Thomas Browne's splendid remark: "I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed of it.)

I agree with Thomas Brown and with C. S. Lewis. I'm ashamed of death. Christianity teaches that death came to humanity as a result of our fall from grace. The history of technological and medical development shows that we die because we haven't yet figured out how not to. Either way, death is a shortcoming. Either way, it's evident that we were meant for something better.

Deep down, all human beings - including people of science, people of faith, and people who could care less about either - share the same natural revulsion for death. We can blot these feelings out and cover them up, but to do so is to become like those rabbits in Watership Down who sang melancholy songs while trading their lives for some lettuce and carrots.

Those who claim to have no fear of death, whether they be an Objectivist or the Dalai Lama or some Palestinian strapping dynamite to his chest, have lost touch with a primary truth of human existence: a truth which has lead us both to science and to faith. Those who seek to prolong human life - whether via antioxidants or cryonics or standard medical procedures - have tapped into that same fundamental truth: death sucks.

So it's a profound truth at the core of our existence. As one reader glibly responded to my original posting of this entry: "So what?"

I have two possible answers to that "so what," both of which come from, absurdly enough, Rodney Dangerfield.

In the movie Caddyshack, there's a scene in which the Rodney Dangerfield character's caddy complains about having to carry such a heavy golf bag. Dangerfield tells the kid to suck it in, that when he was the kid's age, he had to carry twenty-pound blocks of ice to the top of ten-story buildings (or some such hardship.)

The kid is not impressed.

"So what?" he says.

"So what?" Dangerfield replies. "So let's dance!"

He whips a remote control out of one of the pockets of the golf bag and turns on a stereo hidden inside. The entire fairway erupts with music (Journey's Any Way You Want It, as a matter of fact) and all the golfers begin to dance.

It's a silly scene in a very silly movie. But Dangerfield's response is right on the money.

So life is full of hardship. So one person's hardship might be worse than another's. So we toil away for years on end, grow frail, and one day die.

So what are you going to do about it?

I'm going to dance.

I'm going to laugh. I'm going to sing. I'm going to shout. I'm going to work. I'm going to play.

I'm going to live.

As poet Andrew Marvell put it:

The grave 's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

When I asked Cambridge University Geneticist and anti-aging visionary Aubrey de Grey what plans he had for a life that might span several centuries, his answer surprised me. Aubrey told me that he wants to live a long time so he can spend more time with his wife and his friends, so he can have a few more chances to take his boat out on the river, so he can get in a few more games of Othello.

"At root," Aubrey explained, "the reason I'm not in favor of aging is because I like life as I know it."

The other answer I have to that persistent "so what" doesn't really come from Rodney Dangerfield, although he did recite it quite passionately in the movie Back to School. This response comes from poet Dylan Thomas:

Though Wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

So that's my answer. Death sucks, and I have no intention of going gently into that good night.

My thanks to Reason for asking me to be a part of this new blog. In the weeks to come, I intend to do more than just rage against the dying of the light (although I think we should all do that every now and then, just to keep us grounded). I'm going to add my voice to those who even now are looking for a way if not to stop the Sun, then to outrun it.

Building Better Calorie Restriction

Also from Wired, an examination of modern aging research that takes calorie restriction as a starting point. Several groups (like BioMarker Pharmaceuticals) are searching for a way to develop life-extending medicine that has the same effects as a calorie restriction diet, but without the need to eat less. Extensive calorie restriction science now points the way to biochemical and genetic mechanisms within the body that can, in theory, be targeted by therapies. It is possible that therapies could even do better than calorie restriction itself, but that remains to be seen.


Bootstrapping Towards Radical Life Extension

"Radical life extension" means different things to different people, whether engineering a healthy life span of 150 years, 500 years or 1000 or more. I think that we can all agree that it implies a far longer healthy life span than can currently be attained, or even attained in the near future. Radical life extension implies the need for radical improvements in medicine, biogerontology and our understanding of the biochemical, genetic mechanisms of aging.

Radical life extension is not unbelieveable, or obviously unattainable, however. We can conceive of a car, lovingly maintained and supplied with ample spare parts, lasting for a century or more. It would require a great deal of effort, but it is not impossible. Similarly, we can suggest general methodologies by which the healthy human life span could be greatly extended. You can always buy a new car, but you can't buy a new self.

Bootstrapping, the title of this little piece, is one of the assumptions taken for granted in most discussions about healthy life extension. This assumption been examined ad nauseum in past decades of transhumanism and life extensionist writing, and so is mostly skipped over or referred to in passing in more modern pieces.

(See Closing in on the Cure for Death by Aubrey de Grey at the Longevity Meme for an example of this in action).

We need to give this bootstrapping idea more prominence again. A lot of newcomers are finding their way to healthy life extension in these times of advancing medical science. They need to be shown the dream that motivates us. The promise of longer, healthier lives is in the air, and bootstrapping explains how we can realistically work towards living to see the medical technologies of radical life extension. (Whatever they may turn out to be; the smart money is currently betting on medical nanotechnology, or nanomedicine, expected to arrive somewhere in the middle part of the 21st century).

The future is bright - if research is allowed to continue unimpeded by restrictive legislation - but we have to face up to the fact that scientists don't currently know how to greatly extend the healthy human life span. The best we can do right now is to live a healthy life in the hopes of becoming a centenarian. Calorie restriction (eating fewer calories, while still obtaining the necessary nutrients) has been shown to extend healthy life span, but it does not appear to be able to give you more than 20 extra years at most. Of course, your years will be very healthy, but many of us feel that dying at the end of it rather defeats the point! Why be satisfied by 20 extra years when we could be working to do better than that?

This is where the bootstrapping takes starts to take off, in theory at least. The extra healthy life we gain for ourselves through a healthy lifestyle and calorie restriction can be used to support, fund and advocate research to extend the healthy human lifespan. At the moment, this means:

- participating in the fight against cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's
- supporting the Methuselah Mouse Prize
- pushing for more funding for aging and real anti-aging research
- fighting political attempts to ban medical research
- supporting research into stem cells, therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine

In my opinion, the next wave of medical technologies that will prolong healthy lifespan will be based on regenerative medicine. If we, as a society, can successfully fund and support regenerative medicine, we will probably be able to cure most age-related damage to our bodies two decades from now. We will be able to repair diseases, replace injured tissue, and grow new organs for transplant from our own stem cells as needed. This is not pie in the sky science: the first steps have already been demonstrated in labs around the world. Regenerative medicine and stem cell medicine represents a first crucial level of control over the material and processes of our bodies.

If regenerative medicine can give us 30 extra years of healthy life, then we will have time to develop working medical nanotechnology - it will be 2050 already! While regenerative medicine is largely a matter of manipulating existing proteins, genes and cellular mechanisms to heal, nanomedicine promises to use tiny machines to do all that far more efficiently and with greater degrees of control and effectiveness.

Beyond nanomedicine...well, nanomedicine will give us many healthy years to think about what comes next.

This, in a nutshell, is the bootstrapping process: extending healthy life span faster than we age. It's a realistic goal for modern science. Not an easy goal, but a realistic one. It will take a great deal of funding and time, far more than is currently being applied to medicine and the science of aging. This is why we advocate and speak up: even us younger folk only have a few decades in which to make sure that the right fields of science take off. This is why we have research prizes, life extension organizations, advocates and debates. We are being presented with - literally - the chance of a lifetime, and we must rise to meet the challenge!

Wired on John Sperling

John Sperling is the guy who will probably save (and greatly extend) your life, even if you didn't know it up until now. He's what the healthy life extension movement has always needed; an enormously wealthy, savvy person who is prepared to go out and do what needs to be done. This Wired article gives an overview of John Sperling's projects to date, and some speculation on the future. We bow before the master, and hope that we at the Longevity Meme can achieve one hundredth of this level of progress towards our goals. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the start of a medical revolution looks like.


EuroStemCell Project to Launch

The Scotsman reports on the launch of the new EuroStemCell project. The project leaders aim to build a European stem cell research industry to rival those in the US and Asia. This is a good thing, needless to say, but the project participants face many of the same uphill battles against anti-research legislation experienced in America. Germany and France have enacted particularly restrictive laws that prohibit most promising research in this field, and the UK is one of the few European countries in which meaningful stem cell research can proceed at all. Regular readers may recall attempts in 2003 to ban stem cell research in the European Parliament, efforts that fortunately met with failure.


Enhancing Natural Muscle Regeneration

(From EurekAlert). One branch of research into regenerative medicine seeks to replicate, restore or enhance the existing ability for the body to regenerate damage. This Italian research identifies a mechanism by which muscle tissue is regenerated, thereby presenting the opportunity for a therapy, as well as insight into why this regenerative capability declines with age. This is early stage work, far from any potential medicine, but all new knowledge of regenerative mechanisms helps to provide a vital basis for the next generation of therapies.


The Obligatory Diversion Into Politics

(Just for today, I promise, and it does have great relevance to the topic of healthy life extension).

I try to be apolitical and fairly quiet about my libertarianism, I really do. Politics, in my view, is an arena entirely separate from the drive to research better medicine and extend the healthy human lifespan. Would that everyone else thought the way I do. Would that we lived in a time when governments were too small for opposing sides in public debates to buy legislation and enforcement to interfere in every aspect of private life.

Unfortunately this is not to be. We live in a world in which everything, no matter how personal, is fair game for legislation, special interests, institutionalized corruption and the tyranny of the majority.

These sentiments bring us to the 2004 presidential elections in the US.

It's a given that whoever is elected to office will be a professional politician, a vested part of the political landscape, and thereby a weasel who will work to expand the size, scope and waste of the federal government. That much has been true of any of the presidential elections of the past century. From a libertarian perspective, all presidential candidates look just as bad and the results of an election are almost irrelevant to the average person in the street.

This time around, however, the results of this election mean a great deal to those of us in the healthy life extension community, libertarian or otherwise. The current US administration has done untold damage to the most promising medical research over the past three years, both in America and worldwide:

- Effectively banning embryonic stem cell research

- attempting to ban therapeutic cloning, a technology required for most stem cell research

- attempting to push a worldwide, UN ban on therapeutic cloning

- blocking successful stem cell therapies through FDA intervention

Stem cell research and regenerative medicine offer the best near term hope for therapies and interventions that will greatly increase healthy lifespan. These branches of medicine offer the possibility of near term cures for a long litany of the worst diseases and age-related conditions:

- Parkinson's
- Alzheimer's
- Cancer
- Osteoporosis
- Paralysis
- Serious injury
- Nerve damage
- Blindness
- Deafness
- Heart disease
- Diabetes

(Start learning more about stem cell research and regenerative medicine).

All of these named conditions have been cured in animal models, in early human trials, or in laboratory tests. Commercial therapies would be only years away in some cases, such as for heart disease.

All this wonderful research is estimated - by eminent scientists and respected advocates like Christopher Reeve - to be five years behind schedule due to the actions of the Bush administration, its appointees and paid bioethicists. If President Bush is re-elected, he will use that mandate to criminalize the medical research mostly likely to extend healthy human life and cure the worst diseases and conditions of aging. Both the Federal ban and the UN ban will be revisited in 2004 or 2005. If these efforts succeed, a five-year delay could turn into ten years, or twenty. The effects of even a threatened ban on private sector funding have been devastating, but it could become far, far worse.

How many years are you willing to risk delaying the development of cures for cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and heart disease? How many years are you willing to put off access to better medicine to increase the healthy human lifespan? 6000 people die in the US each and every day, most from conditions that will one day be cured through regenerative medicine. Tens of millions suffer from incurable diseases that will one day be treatable through stem cell based regenerative medicine. How much death and suffering is acceptable to you?

You can find the position statements of the Democratic candidates for President on the matter of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning at the CAMR website:

Position Statements

As I've said before, all these men are professional politicians - weasels, the lot of them, up to their necks in an essentially corrupt system. Campaign promises aren?t worth the paper needed to print them. But these weasels, unlike the one currently in power, probably won't fight to condemn sick and aging people to death by squashing medical progress. They won?t appoint Bioethics Councils whose members advocate short lives, suffering and death as preferable to medical research. They won?t attempt to globally ban medical research at the United Nations.

So there you have it, the real issue of this Presidential election in a nutshell. Is better health, curing the incurable and a longer, healthier life important to you? Then look carefully at your options when you vote, and, as I do, wish that you lived in a world in which scientists didn?t need to beg permission from uncaring bureaucrats to develop a cure for cancer.

Transcript of "Is Aging a Disease"

SAGE Crossroads has posted the transcript of their latest debate, "Is Aging a Disease" held last month between Art Caplan and Rick Moody. It's one of their best yet, and I recommend you take the time to read it (scroll down a bit on that page for the transcript). In the end, both sides agree that we need to be putting more money into aging and real anti-aging research in order to see meaningful results. There are a lot of great quotes in there, far too many to print here - go and take a look.


The Problem with Bioethics

Once upon a time, a discipline called "medical ethics" existed and was held in high regard. Medical ethics addressed the subjects of triage and best use of sparse resources in medicine: who to save when you cannot save everyone? New advances in medicine were welcomed and enthusiastically funded, because new and better medical technology meant improvements in health, lifespan and the ability to save more lives.

Somewhere along the way, overstressed, under funded medical ethics - a discipline whose members welcomed new medicines, new therapies and better ways to treat disease - became fat, well-funded "bioethics." Bioethics is concerned with slowing down the advance of medical science with deep philosophical and ethical questions that can only be answered by means of large salaries, hundred million dollar buildings, and political interventions.

In short, medical ethics lost its way and become corrupted by power.

Bioethicists and bioethics organizations profit by inventing new roadblocks to throw in the path of hardworking medical researchers. This is the fundamental problem with bioethics. It is not in the self-interest of any bioethicist to actually help scientific research proceed, or to refrain from inventing reasons to block progress towards vital new therapies. After all, research that can just go ahead unhindered will not put dollars in the bioethicist's pocket, nor justify a fat salary and an expensive campus.

Bioethics is a parasite; sucking funding that should have been used to develop better, cheaper, more widely available medicine. Funds that could have gone to developing cures - literally hundreds of millions of dollars - are instead going to organizations that produce nothing but hot air, self-justification and reasons why we should not develop cures. Entire branches of the most promising modern medicine have been set back by years.

As parties who profit from slowing and blocking research, it is only natural that bioethics organizations and anti-research, luddite groups have come together in recent years. Supporters of regenerative medicine (based on stem cell and therapeutic cloning research) have watched bioethics groups earn a good living by supporting politicians and influential special interest groups in their attempts to ban research, for example.

The President's Council on Bioethics is packed with the worst offenders in this union of self-interested bioethicists, anti-research politicians and special interest groups. Pronouncements from the Council and Leon Kass, its chairman, are used as justification for legislation designed to shut down stem cell research. The Council has further advocated worldwide bans on research into regenerative medicine, and on any research towards extending the healthy human lifespan.

It is here that we see that the logical final evolution of bioethics, just as for legal institutions and other groups that make a living through obstruction, is to be assimilated into an interventionist government.

So the next time you hear a bioethicist commenting on research, remember what their motivations are. Remember how they earn a living, and remember how that is going to affect your future health and longevity.

More on the Boston Study

InfoAging reprints a much better article on the Boston work into regenerative medicine for cardiac problems. A quote: "This has real promise for a disease that affects 6 million people. This is a very serious and very grim condition for which we have not had much to offer our patients." Approximately 2000 people die each day in the US due to heart disease of some sort. Anti-research groups who work so hard to oppose stem cell work, regenerative medicine and therapeutic cloning should stand aside. We must support medical researchers in their work to produce the therapies that will save millions of lives.


Adult Stem Cell Study Launches In Boston

The Boston Business Journal reports on a new adult stem cell research project. This aims to provide regenerative therapies for certain types of heart disease - as such, it is very similar to a successfully demonstrated therapy from 2003 that is currently blocked by the FDA. We have to hope that the FDA won't simply repeat this process for this new line of research, given the damage to health and scientific research caused by these sorts of interventions. This research is valuable and should not be blocked by a small political elite: now is the time to write to your representatives and help to make stem cell research an issue in the Presidential election cycle.


Questioning State Regulation for Cryonics

From the Arizona Capitol Times, a discussion and overview of current state government attempts to regulate cryonics providers - specifically Alcor in this case. The small cryonics industry has operated quietly, legally and safely in the US for decades, but events in 2003 led to this current flurry of potential legislation and regulation. An entry from Rand Simberg's blog made at the time hits all the relevant points about legislator hubris and special interests. The cryonics industry can potentially serve a useful purpose in the fight against aging (and you can find out more at Cryonet), but not if it's stifled, buried by legislation and misunderstanding.


Fight Aging! Collaborative Weblog

We at the Longevity Meme are entering the blogging world full force with the launch of a collaborative weblog ("Fight Aging!") to cover "reports from the front line in the fight against aging; the science of healthy life extension; activism and advocacy for longer, healthier lives." Those of you with weblogs of your own can help us publicize by linking to Fight Aging! and referencing us as we continue to grow. If you have an interesting and relevant weblog, we are interested in a link exchange. The first topic of interest to most of you will be "The 300", a sneak peek at the latest Methuselah Foundation initiative.


The 300: First Draft

The Methuselah Foundation will soon be beginning a new initiative to gain philanthropic donors prepared to commit $25,000 over 25 years to the Methuselah Mouse Prize and other innovative projects designed to encourage real anti-aging research. Taking inspiration from the 300 who stood at Thermopylae during the Persian Wars, these donors will be honored and their names remembered. One possibility is for their names to be inscribed into the Long Now Clock, a construction designed to survive for 10,000 years.

For my part in this project, I've been looking at how to present this idea to the world. Here is my first draft:


Honor to those who in their lives
have defined and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
yet with pity and compassion too;
generous when they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hatred for those who lie.

And more honor is due to them
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and that the Medes in the end will go through.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1903)

In 484 BC, 300 noble Spartans changed the course of history. They faced an overwhelming and apparently undefeatable Persian army, but they stood and carried out their chosen obligation in the pass at Thermopylae.

After treachery, and with brute force, the enormous Persian force under Xerces eventually took the pass. The delay allowed the Greek city states time to organize, however. Later that year, the Greeks turned the tide of the Persian Wars at the Battle of Salamis. Without the bravery, sacrifice and obligation of the 300 Spartans, this would not have happened. Today, thousands of years later, their names and deeds are still remembered, and rightly so.

Today, we all face a different sort of overwhelming enemy: the aging process. It comes for us all, seemingly unbeatable like Xerces' Persians. We fight back as best we can with science, research and better medicine, but like the Greeks, aging science is underfunded, disorganized and in need of time.

Can we beat back aging for long enough to develop therapies, preventions and cures for its degenerative effects in our lifetime? Can we really defeat aging once and for all? We are all involved, and we will all suffer the same fate as those who lose in battle if we do not rally and win this war.

The Methuselah Foundation is seeking modern Spartans; 300 noble men and women to stand in the pass of aging research and win more time for the forces of science. Each Spartan pledges $1000 a year for the next 25 years to the Foundation, these funds to be used for innovative and influential projects in anti-aging research like the Methuselah Mouse Prize.

The first Spartans have already come forward and made themselves known. Together we can change the course of history; we can win time for science to organize and defeat aging in our lifetimes. Come and join our ranks: our names and deeds, like those who stood at Thermopylae, will be remembered forever!

Antioxidants and Alzheimer's

Science Blog notes recent research indicating that antioxidants may protect against Alzheimer's damage to some degree. Antioxidants are showing up more widely in the news; there is some fairly good science behind their use as an aid to general long term health. The free radical theory of aging, while certainly not a comprehensive theory, suggests that antioxidants can prolong healthy lifespan by fending off the main cause of age-related damage. Another article at Science Daily discusses recent advances in artificial antioxidant research, and at least one new supplement product is a new form of antioxidant.


Methuselah Mouse Prize Update

The Methuselah Foundation, the group running the Methuselah Mouse Prize, have unveiled their new website. The prize is currently subject to a $2000 matching challenge fund from two generous donors, so all new donations made up to that amount will be matched. Now is a good time to learn more about the prize and the hope of living in a world where "getting old" doesn't mean "getting sick." (You can also learn more about the value of research prizes here at the Longevity Meme). Step up and show your support for healthy life extension medicine: make a donation today!


The Fight Aging! Disclaimer

Please read this disclaimer carefully. It is a commonsense statement that should apply to all health information you find online. Your health is valuable and easily damaged. What is good advice for one person may not be good advice for another: people vary considerably in health matters.

Information provided on Fight Aging! should always be discussed with a qualified physician. It is not intended to replace the relationship between you and your physician.

It is recommended that you follow up with your own research on topics that interest you. The Internet is powerful tool for research. Take advantage of it! At the same time, be cautious. Be skeptical and search out support for any claim. If a claim has any merit, there will be many reputable sources of information that discuss that claim.

Learn how to read primary scientific sources as a layperson, and how to research presently available treatments. Take no chances when it comes to your health! Be an informed consumer, show an interest in health matters, and take the time to learn. You will benefit in the long run.


The purpose of this World Wide Web site is to compile, condense, and relay information to our visitors, as well as to provide a forum to allow others to express their views, research, and findings.

While a reasonable effort is made to periodically review each document and source, Fight Aging! and the Fight Aging! authors cannot and do not warrant the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, correctness, or fitness for a particular purpose of the information or views made available through this media, or the material contained within. Neither Fight Aging! nor Fight Aging! authors shall be liable to you for any injury caused in whole or in part by any information obtained through Fight Aging! You agree by your decision to access this information that under no circumstances will Fight Aging! or Fight Aging! authors be liable to you for any decision made or action taken by you in reliance on such information or views.

You should, as with any medical decision, consult with your physician prior to taking any medication or adopting lifestyle changes that could affect your health.

Last Updated: May 10th 2014

The Spread of Calorie Restriction in the Media

Awareness of calorie restriction (CR) is spreading further in the mainstream media, as illustrated by this short piece in the Mansfield News Journal. It is good that calorie restriction - both the science and the lifestyle - is finally getting some time in the spotlight. Positive public perception leads to more scientific research, and there are a number of very interesting directions that could lead to some form of life extending "calorie restriction in a pill." In the meanwhile, visit the CR Society website to learn more about how you can use CR to extend your healthy lifespan.