LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
February 23 2004
The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a biweekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.
- Alcor and the Fight Against Bad Legislation
- Cryonics in a Nutshell
- Read "Death Sucks" as a Longevity Meme Article
- Highlights from Fight Aging!
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
ALCOR AND THE FIGHT AGAINST BAD LEGISLATION
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is a cryonics provider and research institute, in operation since 1972, based in Arizona. They are currently on the receiving end of a particularly obnoxious set of "shut them down without looking like we're trying too hard to shut them down" state legislation. This has all happened without any input from Alcor or the community, and Alcor was not even informed of hearing dates - so this has become something of a last minute affair. You can get up to speed on events at the following web pages:
Alcor's new President, a man who has inherited a suddenly hot seat by the look of things, has put together an informative action list. He is asking for us to contact Arizona officials before this Thursday 26th of February and voice our support for legitimate cryonics research and service provision. Visit the page below to see how to spend a few minutes of your time to help out:
As many of you may recall, the whole state regulation and threat of shutdown fire drill was recently put on for the Cryonics Institute in Michigan. The situation there was quickly resolved to everyone's satisfaction - "benign regulation" as the Institute principles put it - which raises questions about the intent of regulators and funeral industry lobbyists in Arizona. For example, author Richard Sandomir quoted Arizona Funeral Board Director Rudy Thomas as saying, "These companies need to be regulated or deregulated out of business." As I have pointed out once or twice, Rand Simberg got it right in his comments made when this mess was just getting started:
At the root of it all, we recognize that cryonics is legitimate science - and we should defend legitimate science from those who would try to ban everything unfamiliar and new.
CRYONICS IN A NUTSHELL
If you are new to the concept of cryonics and cryopreservation, you'll find a wealth of information at the following pages.
The long and the short of it is that a growing cryonics industry offers the only potential hope for people who are too old to benefit from near future advances in healthy life extension science. We need not, and should not, leave these people behind - especially since it wouldn't take many unanticipated difficulties and delays in aging research to make all of us reading this now fall into this category.
READ "DEATH SUCKS" AS A LONGEVITY MEME ARTICLE
Phil Bowermaster's entertaining, punchy piece on the human relationship with death - spruced up and rewritten - is now the latest Longevity Meme article.
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.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM FIGHT AGING!
Have you been reading our new blog? You should be! Here are a few "Fight Aging!" highlights from the past two weeks:
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.
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 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?
We Would Be Here Already 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.
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 simultaneously blisteringly fast and frustratingly slow. How can this be the case?
So drop by, or add us to your RSS aggregator. I think you'll find it worthwhile.
That would be all for this issue of the newsletter. The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.
Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward the newsletter on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!
Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Calorie Restriction in Local News (February 21 2004)
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 (February 21 2004)
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.
New Type of Stem Cell to Repair Brains? (February 20 2004)
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 (February 20 2004)
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 (February 20 2004)
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.
Watching Progress in Cancer Therapies (February 19 2004)
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 (February 19 2004)
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.
Understanding the Mechanics of Stem Cells (February 18 2004)
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 (February 18 2004)
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 (February 17 2004)
Mlife.com 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 (February 17 2004)
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."
From Research To Therapies Takes Time (February 16 2004)
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 (February 16 2004)
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!
If National Pride Is What It Takes... (February 15 2004)
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 (February 15 2004)
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 (February 14 2004)
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 (February 14 2004)
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.
Vital Progress Summit Gearing Up For The 15th (February 13 2004)
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.
Nanomedicine When? (February 13 2004)
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 (February 12 2004)
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 (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.
Cloned Stem Cells Repair Heart Damage (February 11 2004)
(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 (February 11 2004)
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.
Of Mice and Mitochondrial Medicine (February 10 2004)
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 (February 10 2004)
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.
To Save the Lives of Millions (February 09 2004)
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" (February 09 2004)
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.