As reported by Yahoo! News, the Swedish government is poised to permit embryonic stem cell research, but ban any medical applications of this research. This is the sort of nonsense compromise that we humans produce in our attempts at politics, but I suppose that this is still far better than the alternatives. This legislation, unlike that passed by many European governments, at least allows research to proceed. As the benefits of stem cell medicine become tangible in years to come, it will be increasingly hard for politicians to ban progress towards better therapies and cures for the incurable.
George Dvorsky expresses strong opinions on the influence of certain religious views on bioethics and politics in his latest column at Betterhumans. Research towards cures and life-saving therapies are being held back and banned in countries around the world, including the US. Technologies necessary for regenerative medicine, such as therapeutic cloning, are treated as targets rather than the vital medical advances they are. If we want a future of better medicine and longer, healthier lives, then we must support researchers and speak out against anti-research legislation.
The identity clinic Carl Elliott argues that happiness has become the goal of medicine - and it will make us miserable
The Red-Green Divide Over Human Enhancement Over the coming decades both demographic and technological trends will turn America's current red-blue divide into a red-green divide -- "red" for those religious Hispanic, blacks and evangelical whites who will want to stop human enhancement, and "green" for those more secular Hispanics, blacks and whites who will want to go forward with it.
Bioethics Group Urges Infertility Scrutiny Bioethics advisers to President Bush are urging more scrutiny of the nation's infertility industry, including research on the long-term health of test-tube babies. The President's Council on Bioethics also wants Congress to ban experimental procedures that might mix human and animal embryos.
Thou shalt not make scientific progress Medical research is poised to make a quantum leap that will benefit sufferers from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, muscular dystrophy, diabetes and other diseases. But George W. Bush's religious convictions stand in its way.
MIT Helps Unlock Life-extending Secrets Of Calorie Restriction Shedding light on why drastically restricting calorie intake prolongs life span in some organisms, MIT researchers report in the Jan. 1 issue of Genes and Development that lowering the level of a common coenzyme activates an anti-aging gene in yeast
Anti-Aging Gene Most of us think aging is inevitable. But Cynthia Kenyon has committed her career to proving us wrong.
'Designer babies' on the NHS Six ‘designer babies’ could be created in the Midlands by the end of the year - on the National Health Service.
Cogniceutical Improves Verbal Memory in Older Men Nature reports on a new cogniceutical based on a liquorice extract that improves memory in older men. The substance works by blocking the activity of a brain enzyme that boosts levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is thought to be responsible for eroding memory with age.
The Limits of Medicine Washington Post op-ed: "Why has our huge investment in health care left us so unhealthy? Partly it is because so many promised "miracle cures," from Interferon to gene therapies, have proven to be ineffective or even dangerous. Partly it's because health care dollars are so concentrated on the terminally ill and the very old that even when medical interventions "work," the gains to average life expectancy are small."
Unlikely nomads: Senior single women take up life on the road With spouses out of the picture and their children grown, hundreds of senior women are hitting the road for good, leaving retirement communities, shuffleboard tournaments, and the snow far behind.
value realized in times of crisis "Yet we still treat the oldest old
as either a messy problem to be solved or as an ancient scroll to be decoded.
That's all wrong. We should be treating them like national treasures and security
blankets in these anxious times."
Contining the money theme for the day, here is a piece from the Miami Herald. It provides a good insight into the way in which venture capitalists and other investors currently look at stem cell science. Stem cell research is a gold mine in waiting, but legislative uncertainty and the nature of early stage medical research is scaring investors away. "Investors in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries aren't committing billions of dollars, largely because society hasn't clearly decided whether the research is moral." In other words, we won't see major progress until politicians stop trying to ban this research. I, for one, think that deliberately blocking research into cures that will save millions of lives is a terrible, terrible act.
The Onion is a satirical publication that manages to produce pieces that are often indistinguishable from "real" articles. The latest issue contains an article on recent advances in stem cell medicine for hair regrowth entitled "Potential Baldness Cure Leads Man To Reverse Position On Stem-Cell Research." It nicely skewers all sides of the debate over stem cell medicine while almost passing for something you'd read in the Times. Some quotes:
"I've always said I don't believe in that Frankenstein-type research, but lately I've been thinking that there might be something to it," said Tell, a 43-year-old father of two and victim of male-pattern baldness. "If there are people out there who could truly benefit from that stem-cell stuff, who are we to deny them?"
The shift in thinking occurred just three days after Tell received a haircut that revealed a large, bare patch at the crown of his head. The bare patch accompanies the recently converted stem-cell-research advocate's receding hairline, of which he has long been aware.
"It's touching to see Chuck give so much thought to this very complicated issue," Farmer said. "Given his emotional honesty, I wish I could bring myself to tell him that the stem cells used in this study differ from the embryonic stem cells that sparked the political debate he originally engaged in."
It takes a little humor to show us the often ridiculous nature of the world we live in. It is saddening but true that the potential for curing baldness will likely do as much or more to advance the cause of regenerative medicine in the public eye as the potential to cure cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Human nature is an interesting thing, especially when it comes to self interest and our convictions.
An article by Mary Beckman at SAGE Crossroads examines the way in which scientific progress in medicine is enabled by philanthropy. Funding that would otherwise be unavailable is sometimes provided by determined private groups and individuals. John Sperling, for example, or the Methuselah Foundation. If you look back at times of great change in science, you'll see that the early funding often comes from wealthy visionaries, advocates, and the organizations they create. The mainstream funding establishment - private and public - is necessarily risk-averse, yet making advances in medical science towards real anti-aging therapies requires risk and uncertainty.
InfoAging is one of the best online resources for the basics of aging, aging science, and progress towards real anti-aging and regenerative medicine. It is a venture of the American Federation for Aging Research, and thus the tone is carefully conservative: information presented at InfoAging is all solid and in the scientific mainstream.
InfoAging is well-written and the presentation is user-friendly. Anyone involved in presenting scientific information to the public will benefit from taking a look around - I certainly aspire to write copy at the level of competence demonstrated by the InfoAging editors.
Public understanding is vital to progress in medical research, as I am fond of repeating. Widespread public support is essential in order for major research and commercialization initiatives to gain the necessary public or private funding. Education, activism and advocacy are essential to the process of bringing money to the table, thus enabling hard-working scientists to do what they do best.
If you're one of our newer readers, or reading our news through an aggregator, you should certainly take the time to look through the Longevity Meme articles. We reprint helpful introductions, explanations and companion pieces to healthy life extension: all the better to help you get started on a longer life and make the most of the community. You might want to take a look at "Winning the War Against Aging" by Joao Magalhaes and "Death is an Outrage" by Robert Freitas, excellent essays that tackle some of the core issues in healthy life extension. If you like what we have to say, by all means read more.
EurekAlert reports on a novel way of combining gene therapy with stem cells to cure cancer. Tissue repair stem cells (mesenchymal progenitor cells or MSC) migrate to tumors in the body in order to build tissue, but researchers altered them to attack cancerous cells instead. In effect, stem cells become the delivery mechanism for the gene therapy. From the article: "Andreeff will present animal data suggesting that gene modified MSC can inhibit the growth of leukemias, lung metastases of melanomas and breast cancer, ovarian and brain tumors. For example, MSC gene therapy cured 70 percent of mice implanted with one kind of human ovarian cancer."
I recently talked about the ubiquity of the Tithonus Error as an objection to healthy life extension, saying:
This is an interesting experiment: find any random person you know and ask them what the downside would be to using better medicine to live for 150 years. Nine times out of ten, I'll wager, your friend will tell you that living for so long would be terrible because a person would spend most of his or her life decrepit, increasingly crippled by age-related conditions. In otherwords, your random friend thinks that "healthy life extension" means "being aged for longer."
In a comment on that post, Alejandro Dubrovsky said:
No, i've done the experiments many times. The number one answer is 'boredom'.
He's right in that this is another common objection to healthy life extension. The world seems divided into two camps on this topic. For one side, it seems self-evident that longer life means boredom. To the other side - my side - this is a very strange attitude indeed. My life is so busy, by my choice, that I am prevented from doing nine tenths of the things I want to do. I must constantly, ruthlessly prioritize. It would take me a dozen lifetimes just to sample everything on my to-do list, never mind taking my time about it all!
How could anyone feel that they would be bored? In part, this might stem from the Tithonus Error itself. A person may assume they would be old and incapacitated in their extended life span, thus unable to do interesting things. But if you have the body and physical capabilities of a 30 year old, why not go clubbing in a new city to new music at 90. Or 190? As Joao Pedro de Magalhaes says:
Imagine that your grandmother looks like a teenager, plays soccer, parties at the clubs all night, and works as a venture capitalist. Or imagine your grandfather teaching you the latest high-tech computer software in his office, which you hate to visit because of the loud heavy metal music. Such a scenario is hard to envision because we are taught to accept aging and the resulting suffering and death as an immutable fact of life. We cannot picture our grandparents in better physical shape than we are. Nonetheless, aging may soon become nothing more than a scary bedtime story, perhaps one your grandfather will tell your grandson after a day of white-water rafting together.
Another possibility is a slightly more subtle one: a lot of people don't understand or appreciate the fact that change happens, and that we are ultimately responsible for change and betterment in our own lives. The future can always be better - if we make it so! We live in a society in which media, government and educators undervalue or ignore change, responsibility and self-improvement. So if a person is unhappy in their life now, he or she will often look ahead to see nothing but an extension of the present. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy at worst, and simply inaccurate at best. If you're bored today, do something about it!
Even active, inventive, happy people often assume that longer healthy lives will bring boredom through repetition, however. Ask someone you know how long it would take them to run out of new things to do and become bored if they could live in good health forever. Your friend will give you an outrageously low number of years, I'll bet. If you stop to think about it - rather than just going on instinct - you'll soon realize that you are never going to be any more likely to become bored of life than you are right now. There is simply too much to do, too many different things to think, feel, do and accomplish. In fact, the advance of technology means there is always more to do with each new passing year. New possibilities, activities and enhancements to the quality and variety of life are constantly opening up.
Instinct and gut feeling doesn't always serve us well, and healthy life extension is one area where it lets us down badly. For further reading, I recommend starting with Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Singularity Fun Theory", which handily answers questions like:
- How much fun is there in the universe?
- What is the relation of available fun to intelligence?
- What kind of emotional architecture is necessary to have fun?
- Will eternal life be boring?
- Will we ever run out of fun?
It may surprise you to see that one can examine these topics from a fairly scientific basis. This is really all about the number of things we can do, how quickly we get bored, and related ways in which our minds work. You can put numbers, physics and cognitive science to work on questions like these and get sound, serious answers.
A last possibility occurs to me: we live in a world in which individual autonomy and self-determination is valued less and less as time goes on. Many people expect to have new scientific advances forced on them by governments irrespective of their own opinions and desires. This is also true of healthy life extension - a large number of people suppose that they will be forced to live longer lives even if they choose not to.
Sadly, unless the direction in which our Western governments are heading changes, this is probably true. People are currently forced by law to live longer than they would want in many cases, since euthanasia is illegal in many parts of the world. This is a troubling state of affairs, since your life and body should be your business. The length of your life should be your choice. In essence, the search for working anti-aging medicine is all about providing a choice that we do not currently have: to choose to live another day, every day, with the healthy and capacity to enjoy it. If you do not want to live longer, if you do not want to take the anti-aging medicine of the future, you should not be forced to do so against your will.
How does this relate to boredom? Being forced to live a longer, healthy life when you don't want to seems to equate to boredom for some people. Again, I think this links back to the Tithonus Error, and linking later years with sedentary, quiet, inactive, "boring" lives.
However you cut it, it's clear that a web of assumptions, instinctive responses and false premises underly commonplace disinterest in and opposition to healthy life extension. My previous conclusion stands:
In order to widen the appeal of healthy life extension and gain widespread support for serious anti-aging research, we must overcome barriers imposed by misconceptions like the Tithonus Error. This is one reason why education, of both the media and the public, is so important to the future of health and longevity.
Randall Parker at FuturePundit offers a good example of the way in which progress in bioinformatics is making medical science faster and better. If computer simulations allow us to understand proteins a thousand times faster, then progress towards real anti-aging therapies (and cures for many currently incurable conditions) based on this knowledge will be correspondingly faster. We will see new and exciting medicine technology in a decade rather than never. I have opined at Fight Aging! on the relationship between speed of research and the time it takes to make new medicine available - you should take a look.
A EurekAlert article on saving for retirement - and the economic pressures on retirement and social security system in most countries - reminds me that we have to plan for a future in which real anti-aging medicine exists. I examined how much money we should look at saving in a post at the Fight Aging! blog, and conclude that your plans should be very different from those of your parents. The difference between a good plan and a bad plan is an early death, because you can't afford to pay for healthy life extension medicine and government programs have broken down. Have you thought about the future of your health and life span today?
As a part of my efforts to help the Methuselah Foundation, I will be putting together a limited run of "Fight Aging!" apparel, bumper stickers and the like to give away to new prize donors. I was in fact planning on doing this earlier in the year, but I didn't want to distract people from taking a look at The Three Hundred initiative. One publicity effort at a time is a good rule of thumb for young nonprofit groups.
Why am I mentioning this now? Well, if you have strong opinions about what sort of Fight Aging! gear you'd like to see - and what sort of message the gear carries - I'd like to hear them.
Additionally, if anyone cares to share comments and experience in doing this sort of thing themselves, I'm all ears. Having done my research, I'm seeing that there is a very wide array of choice, quality and vendors. Recommendations would be appreciated.
The Daily News reports that the Oregon Health and Science University will be opening a stem cell research center with a mix of state and private funding from The Oregon Opportunity. The director of the new center notes that "one of the things we have to be aware of in the stem cell field is to avoid promising too much. My prediction is it will be, not five, but 10 years before this is going to pay off." For my part, I think five years is long enough for us to see the first widespread application of comparatively simple treatments for heart disease - assuming that US politicians stop trying to halt this research.
Making the best of your natural longevity isn't rocket science, despite the many people who are happy to take your money to tell you otherwise. As this Charleston Daily Mail article points out, the benefits of exercise, supplementation and a good relationship with your physician are well known and well documented. The detrimental effects of smoking and being overweight are similarly well known. You can't yet do anything about the effect your genes have on your longevity, but you certainly can work on the rest of it! Stay healthy and you'll live longer. Live longer, and you'll be around to benefit from the real anti-aging medicine of the future.
In response to recent legislative attacks on cryonics, the Immortality Institute is managing an initiative called "Facing Cryonics." By associating individual names, faces and messages with the cryonics industry, we are better able to communicate with legislators. It is far easier for politicians to pass bad laws when they are not being engaged on a person-to-person basis. The Facing Cryonics initiative is a great way for you to show solidarity with cryonics supporters and advocates in the healthy life extension community. This sort of program will also serve well for other causes as it is expanded, such as the political battle over regenerative medicine and vital stem cell research.
Michael Fumento examines the promise of biotech - including cures for the incurable and greatly extended healthy life spans - at Tech Central Station. Relieving suffering, saving lives and fixing flaws in the human condition are just a fraction of what could be achieved in the near future with the right level of funding and public support. The naysayers and the anti-biotech crowd (like Leon Kass, for example) ignore these benefits in their attempts to block change and progress. To my mind, it is deeply immoral to hold back the development of new cures and better medicine. To do so costs lives and creates suffering.
Salon ran a good article by Farhad Manjoo the other day that looked at current US policy on stem cell research, as well as events at the President's Council on Bioethics. Chris Mooney feels that Farad Manjoo didn't come down hard enough on Kass and company, however:
I totally agree with Manjoo's deadly condemnation of Bush's stem cell policy. But I wasn't at all convinced by the supposed Blackburn takedown.
So in summary: The Salon piece is good on the subject of how stem cell research has ground to a halt. I have no idea why it's so weak on the Blackburn question.
Go and read Chris Mooney's post for the actual reasoning, which is too long to politely reproduce here. He's referring to the dismissal of Elizabeth Blackburn from the council, probably for her pro-research views and criticism. Farad Manjoo feels that there isn't much to that story; Chris Mooney and I disagree.
In any case, as I've said before, the best thing we can all do is to forge ahead and try our best to help hard-working researchers make Kass and his anti-progress crew irrelevant. The more advances and near-future cures that can be demonstrated and widely publicized, the less anti-research legislation we'll see.
The Methuselah Mouse Prize has passed the $50,000 mark! We're all very excited to see this anti-aging research prize doing so well in such a short time since the official launch last year. The prize total also benefits from a further $300,000 in pledges thanks to The Three Hundred. (You may recall that I have already touted the value of joining The Three Hundred to help the fight to cure aging. Go ahead - you'll be in good company!)
The prize now has more than 100 donors, including such noteworthy people as futurist Ray Kurzweil and Human Genome Sciences founder William A. Haseltine.
Viewing the donor list at the Methuselah Foundation website, you can read thought-provoking comments by people from all walks of life who have stepped up to make a contribution. Have you thought about the future of your health and longevity today?
This press release notes success in a human trial of a heart therapy that "involves taking the patient's own bone marrow and purifying it to obtain the type of stem cells which will hopefully give rise to new blood vessels and muscle so the heart can get more oxygen and function better." The trial took place in Uruguay and was administered by a team of Argentinian researchers. Meanwhile, the FDA has been preventing US researchers from performing this sort of trial until very recently. Approximately 50,000 people worldwide die every day due to some form of heart disease. Political delays in research have horrific human consequences.
SciDev.net reports that the Brazilian government is poised to pass a broad biotechnology bill that will prohibit therapeutic cloning, and thus also ban most promising stem cell research. There seems to be some hope that pro-research groups will have that part of the bill removed, but religious lobbying organizations are fighting hard to keep it in. A good quote: "The total prohibition [of research on human embryos] is reminiscent of the age of Gailileo, and could delay research that may lead to an improvement in the quality of human life." This is almost certainly understated.
Salon.com is running a good article that examines US administration policy on stem cell research. The author covers a fair amount of ground, including the recent Bioethics Council controversy, but doesn't make the real human costs of these policies clear. Delays in regenerative medicine and stem cell research will produce a future that includes tens or hundreds of millions of deaths that could have been prevented. Years of delay have already happened. We all need to speak out and make our voices heard in order to bring about a better future for health, advanced medicine and longevity.
We have been castigating the FDA for blocking an effective stem cell therapy for heart disease. As reported in the Houston Chronicle, the FDA has relented. Recent studies have raised questions about this type of therapy, but it seems that there are several similar types of therapy under discussion. From the article: "All of the 14 Brazilian patients showed some sign of improvement in their heart function after receiving stem cell injections, researchers said, including the ability of the heart muscle to pump blood. Several have even begun jogging. Although it is a very small sample of patients, just two have died in the nearly two years of monitoring, when, without treatment, half or more might have died."
Articles examining the detrimental effects of US government policy - legislation both enacted and threatened - on stem cell research have been cropping up more often of late, and a good thing too. When considering the cost in death and suffering, medical reseach policy is clearly far more important than most issues reporters and politicians spend time on. Bad legislation has a way of hanging around for decades, and decades of delay in developing regenerative medicine will impose great suffering and death on hundreds of millions worldwide. This article from the Mercury News also mentions the ongoing California Stem Cell Research and Cures initiative, which aims to put $3 billion dollars in state funding towards stem cell research.
Strokes or Sleeplessness? One Woman's Hormone Quandary I have tried, unsuccessfully, to wean myself off estrogen.
Did Meat Make Us Live Longer? Theory links dietary changes to the development of beneficial genes
Cutting Calories at Any Age Could Lengthen Life Caloric restriction can prolong lifespan in mice regardless of when they reduce their food intake, suggesting that humans could achieve the same benefits and that drugs could be created that have the same effects.
Altered genes let roundworms wiggle longer If humans are like worms, we may be closer to living considerably longer lives than most people realize.
Calorie Restriction Lowers Breast Cancer Risk Study Offers Clues About the Role of Early Diet in Disease
FDA Warns Manufacturers To Stop Distributing Products Containing 'Andro' HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced a crackdown on companies that manufacture, market and distribute products containing androstenedione, or, “andro,” which acts like a steroid once it is metabolized by the body and therefore can pose similar kinds of health risks as steroids
'Oldest Old' Still Show Alertness Recent Mayo study finds that half of nonagerians studied were perfectly alert; finds that about 12 percent had significant memory problems, but were clearheaded enough to live independently
Women No Longer Define Aging Gracefully in Looks Alone As women age, 50 percent actually look forward to getting older and wiser, and many are less likely to define "aging well" as looking 10 years younger than their true age. In fact, according the surprising results of a new survey, 66 percent of women over 35 are unafraid of aging.
Valley tycoon disputes NIH study John Sperling founded the University of Phoenix, cloned a cat and made a kind of alfalfa that grows in salty water. Now the 83-year-old billionaire is putting up $14 million to try to show that hormone-replacement therapy is safe for women entering menopause.
Youth Experiences May
Be Large Factor in Men’s Longevity The social settings of early life
have far-reaching consequences, affecting the risk of death even decades later,
according to a study of more than 5,000 men born between 1906 and 1921.
This is an interesting experiment: find any random person you know and ask them what the downside would be to using better medicine to live for 150 years. Nine times out of ten, I'll wager, your friend will tell you that living for so long would be terrible because a person would spend most of his or her life decrepit, increasingly crippled by age-related conditions. In otherwords, your random friend thinks that "healthy life extension" means "being aged for longer."
This preconception about the way in which healthy life extension works is known as the Tithonus Error. It is widespread to the point of ubiquity, unfortunately. Most people dismiss healthy life extension out of hand precisely because they see no attraction in being - as they assume - increasingly aged and debilitated.
The Tithonus Error gains its name from ancient myth. As Chris Lawson writes:
In Greek mythology, Tithonus was a handsome mortal who fell in love with Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Eos realised that her beloved Tithonus was destined to age and die. She begged Zeus to grant her lover immortal life.
Zeus was a jealous god, prone to acts of deception in order to seduce beautiful gods and mortals, and he was not pleased with Eos's infatuation with a rival. In a classic Devil's Bargain, he granted Eos's wish -- literally. He made Tithonus immortal, but did not grant him eternal youth.
As Tithonus aged, he became increasingly debilitated and demented, eventually driving Eos to distraction with his constant babbling.
In despair, she turned Tithonus into a grasshopper. In Greek mythology, the grasshopper is immortal. (In a close cultural parallel, the Chinese believed that locusts live forever.) This myth also explains why grasshoppers chirrup ceaselessly, like demented old men.
As Chris goes on to explain in an article well worth reading, modern medicine will never lead to a world of "debilitated, demented" aged people. Healthy life extension means extending the healthy part of your life span, not more years of infirmity. Fighting the Tithonus Error was why I coined the phrase "healthy life extension" and go to such pains to use it everywhere rather than the more commonly used "life extension." (I'm sure I'm not the first to do this. The term "health span" is also widely used, for many of the same reasons).
In order to widen the appeal of healthy life extension and gain widespread support for serious anti-aging research, we must overcome barriers imposed by misconceptions like the Tithonus Error. This is one reason why education, of both the media and the public, is so important to the future of health and longevity.
Biomedical research isn't easy, even though the current rate of progress often makes it seem so. This article from SFGate reminds us that for every success we read about, there are a dozen failures lurking in the wings. I don't think that the author's conclusions are necessarily valid - stem cells are notoriously hard to work with at this point in time. Reports earlier in the month indicated other side effects and difficulties in trials using stem cells to repair heart disease. This is all part of the learning process. You don't abandon scientific research because you aren't getting perfect results right now.
Reuters reports on a study confirming that calorie restriction can extend healthy life span in mice even if started in old age. Most scientists expect calorie restriction results in animals to translate well to humans, based on work done to date. This study was funded by BioMarker Pharmaceuticals, a company working on medicine to reproduce that beneficial effects of calorie restriction without the dieting. Scientists understand far more about the way in which calorie restriction works these days, so we should start to see results in a few years. In particular, the work on changes in gene expression that occur with calorie restriction is interesting and promising.
As medicine improves - and improves faster thanks to the efforts of researchers, educators, businesspeople, advocates and other pro-research folks - we will have access to ever more options for living longer, healthy lives. Those options are unlikely to be free, however, especially in the early years of availability. The cost of any given medical treatment drops as marketplace competition sets in and the technology is improved, but most medical expenses require planning.
That said, what sort of medical expenses should you plan on for a future that involves real anti-aging medicine? If I knew the answer, I'd go into business as a fortune teller (and make a killing on the stock market). I think, however, that there are some useful guesstimates that we can make based upon possible events down the road, the plausible future of regenerative medicine, and the way in which medical pricing has behaved in the past.
- The current cost of a major medical procedure that does not require extensive, long-term hospitalization is around $100,000 to $200,000. This may sound like a lot of money, but remember that it's quite possible to find yourself a millionaire late in life - even on a modest income - if you make good choices about saving for retirement. "The power of compound interest" is a phrase often used in those pro-401K leaflets.
- You should not expect insurance or governments to pay for real anti-aging treatments when they become available. They might do it, or they might not. There are several proposed future scenarios under which the medical insurance industry and government programs are bankrupted or forced into reform by extended healthy life spans. "Forced into reform" is a polite euphemism for "we are not paying for your treatment." The power of compound interest allows you to accumulate a great deal of money before you will need to spend it on retirement and future medical technologies - so make best use of your time and save wisely.
- The trend today is towards more regulation and price controls on medicine (which translates to scarcities, less investment in research, expensive products, and poor quality of service). If this trend continues, it means that we can expect more and more countries to look like Canada or France, in which low-grade medicine is free, but complex, new medical technologies are unavailable to the public. Once again, this indicates that you should save enough money to pay for expected medical expenses ... plus transport costs to a place with a more sensible government.
- The first wave of healthy life extension technologies will most likely be based on regenerative medicine and damage repair rather than damage prevention. Starting from this point, we can guess that the worst case scenario is that you will have to pay for replacement or major repair for each major organ in your body during this first wave period. If we believe that the costs for future regenerative medicine will be similar to current transplant costs, then that is a chunk of change. We can go back and forth on costs, but I'd start with $1,000,000 as a nice, round guesstimate.
- While $1,000,000 is a scary, scary number, the best case scenario may be much better depending on your age. If you have 50 years to go before you expect to need even one major medical procedure, then you're in good shape and will probably not even have to take advantage of first wave regenerative medicine. If you are only a decade or two away from your first expected major medical procedure, then you have plans to make.
- There are good reasons for believing that costs will remain much the same for major new medical procedures. Very little of that money actually goes towards technology and materials (no matter what that bill says). Most of it pays for people, time, expertise and organizational overhead. Those items tend to remain more consistant across the years even as the underlying technologies, skills and materials change.
- There is a great deal you can do to give yourself the best chance at good health in old age. If you are planning on spending money on new anti-aging technologies, why hamper yourself with costly, avoidable conditions? Take care of the health basics and you'll save an enormous amount of money. Prevention is far better (and cheaper) than cures.
What about paying for the rest of your retirement? Well, if you're happy, healthy and active, why retire? Life goes on, and eternal play is just as boring as eternal work. It will be interesting to see how things evolve.
As a last word, predicting the future is has long been shown to be a job in which random number generators and chimps do as well as humans. Regulation, societies, research and economies could diverge off into any number of unexpected directions, both good and bad. I hope these points demonstrate that you should be thinking about scenarios involving future medicine and the associated costs now, however, no matter what your age and status.
(From SFGate). David Ewing Duncan writes a good article on the state of healthy life extension, covering a fair slice of what's hot right now in related genetic and animal studies. Cynthia Kenyon gets good mention of course, as does Elixir Pharmaceuticals. Demonstrations of radical life extension in animals are very encouraging to the public and lead to greater support for research into human medicine, as realized by the folks running the Methuselah Mouse Prize. This said, it is important to note that humans are not like worms, and translating successes in mice into successes in humans is not always straightforward either.
Nature tells us of yet another reason to be pushing ahead with stem cell research. Scientists have demonstrated that "potentially limitless" numbers of T cells, a vital part of the immune system, can be created in the laboratory using stem cells. A quote: "In theory, the lab-made immune cells could be used for any patient, because they lack surface molecules that trigger rejection." We can now add immune system deficiencies to the long list of medical conditions open to stem cell based therapies. How much longer can European and US governments continue to block and criminalize this vital research?
What are the denizens of the blogosphere thinking about stem cell research now that it's in the news every day, new breakthroughs are arriving in close sequence, and the political battle seems to be heating up? This is a random selection from a perusal of Technorati, a very useful tool.
In reference to common religious and luddite arguments against progress, "note: they're already here" asks "What does it mean for something to be natural or unnatural?" The argument proposed is not a sound one overall, but it contains some thoughtful points and shows that people are thinking about these things:
For example, take the issue of stem cell research. The US government is banned from funding any stem cell research. Why? Because President Bush decided that it was "unnatural." But is it unnatural? President Bush, being a religious man, might say that a person who loses both their kidneys to disease did so because it was pre-ordained by God. To find another person who might have a kidney to donate is natural. To grow another kidney from stem cells would be unnatural, because only God should have the power to create people (or parts thereof).
The author does successfully demonstrate that the line between "natural" and "unnatural" is entirely abitrary and not fit to be used in any sensible debate. Not that politics sees much in the way of sensible, rational debate, but you know what I mean.
Virginia Postrel comments on both interesting news from Geron that I haven't seen detailed elsewhere and the Canadian ban on therapeutic cloning that I also mentioned at the Longevity Meme. I have to disagree with this point though:
The U.S. also has political gridlock--the best way to block new forms of regulation.
The best way to block new forms of regulation is to have a small government, one that lacks the resources and the will to interfere in every aspect of life.
On that note, the news regarding Pentagon funding of Swedish stem cell research had people confused. Early reports did not indicate that the research would have been allowed in the US, which led to comments like this one from Chris Mooney:
Is the Pentagon above the law? If not, how can it fund stem cell research? Is the DOD doing an end run around Bush's stem cell policy, or does that policy allow for some kind of battlefield exemption? Unfortunately, this annoying Reuters article on the Pentagon's funding of stem cell research in Sweden totally fails to address these central questions, leaving me completely confused about what to make of the latest news.
(Chris Mooney also has more on the Bioethics Council thing, which I suppose we can connect to stem cell research fairly directly). Another signature quote on the Pentagon funding is from the Stupid Evil Bastard:
How's this for ironic? The Pentagon has given a $240,000 grant to a team of Swedish scientists who are working with stem-cells in an attempt to develop an effective treatment for Parkinson's disease. The very sort of research that President Bush banned here in the United States back on August 9th, 2001. Words fail me. All I can do is sit here and shake my head and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
On a more serious note related to this topic, a post by Daniel McConchie on the way in which this Pentagon funding deal came about in the first place is well worth reading, even if I don't agree with his position on the potential of embryonic stem cell research.
On to baldness. It's fascinating, and heartwarming, that at least one vanity industry is getting it right. In the midst of a sea of useless products promoted as "anti-aging," the large hair regrowth industry is sinking serious money into regenerative medicine. I found this comment at Gerbil's Giant Gumball Gumbo:
Just goes to show how ludicrous Bush is by banning this type of research. While it is something as frivolous as baldness, some men find baldness a very restricting "disease". The future of health could soon rely on the study of stem cells and Bush is having none of it. Our scientists, our people, and the world are losing out.
OK...heres the deal. I give a crap that I'm bald. I have a crewcut down to about 3 mm and pretty much always have. But wanna place bets on whether the numbers for stem cell research will experience a bump with men 30+?
Cynicism says that self-interest will win out eventually for all new fields of medical research. The more uses that can be demonstrated, the more people will oppose the current restrictions. If vanity industries help the process along, and are putting money into serious research along the way, more power to them.
CORDIS reports on a new EU funded effort to tissue engineer corneal replacements. It's a good example of the sort of incremental improvement in medical technology that we will see thousands of times over in years to come. As an interesting aside, the article points out that being able to engineer new body parts has implications beyond transplantation. Research and tests currently performed on animal subjects and human volunteers could instead be performed on isolated organs grown specifically for that purpose. This should encourage some previously opposed groups to support these medical advances.
The Jewish World Review is carrying a good introductory article on the current state of the art in tissue engineering. As the author points out, a large number of people die waiting for organ transplants each year, although that is as much the fault of government regulation as it is of inadequate medical technology. A number of different approaches are underway to ensure that organs can be cultured on demand, including the use of biodegradable scaffolds, ink jet printers, and stem cells. There is a fair way to go yet, but the field is clearly advancing rapidly despite the damaging effects of regulation on stem cell research.
Stuff has published an examination of the disposable soma theory of aging, complete with a description of the bathtime eureka moment. While widely accepted now, this theory was fairly revolutionary at the time (the late 1970s). From the article: "Ageing is simply a matter of cumulative damage done to the relatively more vulnerable soma cells. In fact, if we can discover just how this damage occurs, we could learn the secret of much longer life." Scientists are working on that now, as it happens. You might also want to read a previous article that expands on this theory to explain why we live for so long after ceasing to reproduce.
This partial list of news and interest sites I peruse might be of interest to those of you who like to keep up to date on these matters. Some are better than others, but it really depends on what sort of medical or research news you are looking for. My bias is mostly towards less technical pieces for the Longevity Meme, so your mileage may vary.
- BioMed Central
- Genome News Network
- Life Extension Foundation News
- New Scientist
- PLoS Biology
- Reason Online
- Small Times
When digging up interesting articles or trying to find better pieces on a given story, nothing beats Google News. It certainly makes my life a great deal easier in many ways. It's also a good way to broaden your normal reading habits, as it will tend to expose you to the whole wide world of editorial bias and writers you would otherwise not have encountered.
A great column at Madison.com looks at the damage being done to vital stem cell research by politicians and interest groups. It is instructive to look back at important historical medical advances - such as penicillin, for example - and wonder what would have happened had they occurred in a hostile, anti-research political climate. Here is a quote that reflects our feelings here at the Longevity Meme: "The vital progression of this science has been drastically delayed, and with it, the research into possible cures for a broad spectrum of diseases including Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's. ... The politicians and the contingent of fundamentalist pro-lifers who oppose stem cell research in the U.S. should be ashamed."
The Pentagon and other branches of the US military actually fund a fair amount of medical research, but recent news that the Pentagon was funding stem cell research raised a few eyebrows. As it turns out, initial reports misrepresented the nature and scope of the work. As reported by the Genome News Network, this Parkinson's-related research is within the bounds of current restrictive US policy. Researchers are using two existing Swedish embryonic stem cell lines rather than creating new ones, and the level of funding is not large.
Christopher Reeve is asking people like you and I to write to the President and our elected representatives in support of stem cell research. The diplomatic phrasing here is "expand stem cell research." In reality, they mean "stop blocking stem cell research." Existing and threatened anti-research legislation is the root cause of the woeful lack of progress and funding for this vital field of medicine. Government funding is blocked and private funding scared away by the prospect of even more restrictive legislation. You can use the online CRPF system to quickly and easily make your opinions on this matter known. The future of your health and longevity is on the line, so speak up now!
There are more people who talk about taking action than who actually get out there and do the work in any community, but this is especially true for those using the Internet as a primary medium of communication and coordination. This is simply the nature of things, and there is nothing wrong with having a broad base of less active supporters for a smaller core of activists and advocates.
However, it's also true that a small number of obnoxious talkers can hinder the efforts of active members of the community or otherwise be a liability. It's people like that that prompted the following post on Cryonet from John de Rivaz:
Please take this as a general comment to these lists, I am not going into individual details.
The cryonics community is made up of "doers" and "talkers". As far as the biological science is concerned, I am a "talker", although I try to do things (like help new cryonics members in the UK) that relieve "doers" of work and hence enable them to have more time to "do biological science".
However I have noticed recently that there are a growing number of "talkers" who do the opposite. They spend lots of time researching and finding fault with some things "doers" have said. This is usually not with the science, possibly because they don't know enough to criticise it, or maybe the work is totally correct and beyond criticism (unlikely - look hard enough at anything and there is usually some tiny fault). Instead it is more often about some chance remark that is a non-sequitur or triggers a reaction in the commentator.
When this happens, the "doer" has to spend quite a lot of time replying to the comments made against him or her.
This is done at the expense of time that would otherwise be spent furthering the scientific aims of this entire movement, ie extending healthy human life as much as possible. I don't say never criticise, but perhaps if you see something wrong say so privately and **briefly**, and if it is really important the "doer" may do something about it. But don't engage in a long series of detailed emails where you have the days to spend researching them and he would have to take days off important work to answer you.
So yes, the "talker's" criticism may be factually or semantically correct. But the act of making someone else spend time defending their reputation over some relatively trivial issue when they would be better employed working towards a longer life for all is counter-productive to the movement as a whole.
There are fine lines between helpful criticism, legitimately differing viewpoints and unhelpful harassment, but trying not to cross the lines can only help the community. We're all pretty much in the same boat, aiming at the same broad goals. Infighting - or even just acting as a counterproductive "talker" - is not pretty and not helpful. Despite tremendous progress to date, a great deal of work remains to be done in the fight against aging.
The mainstream press is starting to catch on to the link between regenerative medicine and healthy life extension. This piece from the Miami Herald quotes Kent Vrana, pharmacology department chair at Penn State University: "Organ-replacement technology could boost the human life span to about 150 years." Using regenerative medicine and tissue engineering to build replacement organs on demand is the brute force, expensive, near term approach to extending healthy life span - if it's broken, buy a new one. Preventative therapies to block the aging process will likely be far cheaper and more effective in the long run, but the scientific community has a long way to go to develop this sort of technology.
Events and news of the past year have left me convinced that now is a good time to set forth on ventures related to healthy life extension, be they volunteer, individual, profit or non-profit. A wave is slowly rising and gaining strength: efforts by diverse groups to advocate, promote and educate are beginning to noticeably influence mainstream culture and media. This in turn leads to more such efforts. Just the other day, I noticed an article at Yahoo! News on regenerative medicine that mentioned life extension:
SAN FRANCISCO - In laboratories the world over, scientists bent on turning back our biological clocks are looking past harvesting human embryos and cloning in their quest for disease cures.
A small but growing group of researchers seeking the proverbial fountain of youth insists its work has no kinship to cryogenics, freezing Ted Williams' body, or other fantastic scientific forays in life extension.
What these scientists hope for is to be able to make old cells young again, imbuing them with all the potential healing power that youthful cells may possess.
This may not seem like much to those of you who are new to healthy life extension, but it is a big step to see mainstream media outlets talking seriously about extending the healthy human life span. This is a very recent (and very welcome) phenomenon.
In the laboratory, scientists are starting to make more and more promising discoveries. More of the public is starting to understand that healthy life extension medicine is possible, and how it might be achieved. You can't ignore the fact that laboratories around the world are overflowing with long-lived creatures as a result of current research trends. Groups like the Methuselah Foundation encourage this sort of science, as it brings greater public recognition of the possibilities the future holds for the healthy human life span.
The broader healthy life extension community is getting large enough and diverse enough to support fierce, high-profile battles between individuals and groups over money, viewpoints, goals and methods. (You can see some of these battles in action in the articles and webcasts at SAGE Crossroads). It's human nature at work, and a mark of progress. Only small groups are unified.
Most importantly, people have stopped laughing about healthy life extension. Those who are strongly opposed to the concept - such as Leon Kass of the President's Council on Bioethics are fighting hard to block research and convince people to continue suffering and dying ... but this opposition isn't laughing. Gandhi famously said:
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
This very true description of the way in which we humans fight our social battles has long lent strength to advocates of healthy life extension. Today, we stand close to winning the battle of knowledge, perception and education - to making sure that the potentials and possibilities of future medicine are understood and accepted. As happened in the past for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's and other medical conditions, public support will open the floodgates for serious research and commercial funding. With these resources, the scientific and medical community will be able to understand and cure age-related conditions and, ultimately, aging itself.
This is the way it will be. How long it takes is up to us. I encourage you all to take the plunge and help. Look on it as a small and very worthwhile investment into your future health and longevity.
A short item in the Boston Herald notes that efforts are underway to make Massachusetts the third US state to allow and endorse stem cell research. Advanced Cell Technology is in Massachusetts, and you may recall that Harvard University is currently working to establish a large stem cell center. Robert Lanza of ACT is quoted in the piece: "This is an exciting time in the stem cell field and we'd really like to see Massachusetts step up to the plate. Why should we leave it to other states to make a statement?" If you're new to this whole stem cell business, read the introduction at InfoAging to see why this research is so vital to future health and longevity.
BioMed Central reports that stem cell research is still effectively banned in Germany, with no real signs of change soon. After all, why should German politicians oppose local anti-research special interests when they can just let researchers in other countries do the work? Unfortunately, far too many politicians in far too many countries think this way. Not just for stem cell research, either: many areas of medical progress are held back by restrictive European-style legislation. Untold suffering results from these short-sighted policies, but all too few people seem to care enough to step up and make a difference.
Apparently I was correct in assuming that the Canadian bill on stem cell research (and just about everything else that could be crammed in there) was not necessarily good for science. Wired notes that the bill prohibits therapeutic cloning. Since all the most promising stem cell research relies on therapeutic cloning, this means that little meaningful research into regenerative medicine will be occurring in Canada. This state of affairs is similar to the regulatory shackles that prevent meaningful research in much of Europe. It's sickening that politicians spend so much effort to prevent better medicine from being developed. Take action!
Just occasionally, we like to pour on the common sense. Here, the Baltimore Sun reports on a study demonstrating yet more benefits from a program of moderate exercise. Age-related decline is much more pronounced in inactive people, and excess weight has been demonstrated to be bad for you in far too many ways to list here. If you want to live healthily - and live long enough to benefit from the healthy life extension medicine of the near future - then you need to be looking after your natural longevity. This isn't rocket science, folks! An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and working to produce good health in years to come is just as important as preparing for your future financial needs.
ScienceDaily reports on further advances in the use of stem cells to regenerate hair follicles. As I've noted here previously, the hair restoration industry has been one of the few vanity industries to contribute meaningful funding to regenerative medicine. There are a strong financial and competitive incentives for companies in this industy to produce effective methods of hair regeneration - and those research efforts will benefit the wider fields of regenerative medicine and stem cell research. Now if only all the worthless pill and potion merchants elsewhere would take note and start in on real, worthwhile medical research in their own fields ... but I'm not holding my breath on that one.
More on the President's Council on Bioethics controversy ...
Bioethics and the Political Distortion of Biomedical Science Elizabeth Blackburn comments on her dismissal in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Case Against Perfection [cover story of this month's Atlantic Monthly, not yet online] What's wrong with designer children, bionic athletes, and genetic engineering: a prominent political philosopher, and Council member, Michael Sandel investigates the false promise of human mastery.
Zero-Sum Bioethics A critique of Michael Sandel's article expressing qualms about enhancement
Should Moral Vertigo Make Biotech Fall Over? Ronald Baily of Reason also critiques Sandel's case; How disgust for the new rapidly turns to acceptance
The Meaning of 'Human' in Embryonic Research A review by the NYT of Being Human: Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics
In other news ...
Ovaries may lay new eggs Possible stem cells in ovaries prompt fertility boosting ideas
Baby boomers pay dearly to be wrinkle-free The anti-aging product market shot up 13 percent in 2003, more than double the previous two years' 4 percent to 5 percent growth rate
Prevalence of hearing impairment mushrooms with baby boomers There is a 26 percent greater hearing loss among those now ages 46 to 64 than in previous generations. The prevalence of hearing impairment in adults nearly doubled from 1965 through 1994.
Breeding the Future If we could figure out ways to honor adults who contribute to the world without reproducing biologically, I would feel a lot more hopeful about the
Is Modifying Genes Playing God? If the future is like the past then there will be a few pioneers in one part of the world or another who will use genetic engineering for enhancement purposes.
Genetic Engineering Is Next Doping Threat Now the big fear is that muscle-directed gene transfer will be used for performance enhancement
Reversing cells' aging is seen as formula for youth In laboratories the world over, scientists bent on turning back our biological clocks are looking past harvesting human embryos and cloning in their quest for disease cures.
UCLA scandal raises questions over cadaver market A lurid scandal over the sale of cadavers from the University of California at Los Angeles has ignited a debate over the lucrative but shadowy body-parts market and its ethical questions, among them who, if anyone, should make money off the sale of donated bodies.
Study finds fewer, but more advanced, colon cancers in postmenopausal women on hormone therapy
Can more babies save Boomers' benefits? To keep Social Security solvent, we need more young workers paying Social Security taxes. And if you want more young workers, you need a bigger supply of young people
Life surpassing old expectations Age: The average life expectancy in the United States has reached 77.4 years. By century's end, could it hit 150? How about 1,000?
Calorie Restriction Lowers Breast Cancer Risk New research shows that restricting calories early in life can help decrease breast cancer risk later on.
I'll give it a rest for a while after this post, I promise. Negativity just isn't as good as getting out there and getting things done.
One of the wonderful things about the distributed journalism that arises from blogs is that stories can no longer be buried. The memory hole doesn't really exist in this new world of shared information, and people will continue to comment on matters of significance for as long as they remain significant.
So on with the application of distributed journalism to the bioethics council. Glenn Reynolds provides a roundup of responses, discussions and commentary, as do the folks at the Speculist. A lot of people are - justifiably - unhappy with the way in which the current US administration is trying to block vital medical research.
I am hopeful that this widespread attitude, coupled with an upswing in funding initiatives for regenerative medicine, marks the beginning of end for efforts to block medical progress. The cost is already high, and there is far too much to gain from regenerative medicine to allow small groups to stand in the way of better medicine and longer, healthier lives.
As I've always said: if they want to refuse the new medicine, that is up to them. The freedom to make and debate personal choices is vital, but opponents of progress have no right to force their choice (of suffering, death and shorter lives) on everyone else. There's already far too much of that in modern society.
A WebMD article comments on recent work that reinforces the science behind the protective effects of calorie restriction. This isn't really news to anyone who has been following CR science for a while: low calorie diets have long been shown to protect against cancer in animals. In addition, a wealth of data exists to link human obesity - or even just excess weight - to greatly increased risk for cancer (as well as just about every other unpleasant age-related condition you can think of). If you haven't done so already, I think you owe it to yourself to look into calorie restriction. Improve your longevity and you'll be more likely to benefit from the future of real anti-aging medicine!
Have you taken time to look at the new CR Society website? The latest version is much improved, good looking and graceful. Congratulations to the developers for a job well done. If you are thinking about taking up calorie restriction to help optimize your natural longevity, the CR Society online guide is well worth reading. The new site makes it much easier to find other goodies like book reviews, an community resource for recipies, and the community e-mail lists. If you have questions about CR, just join up and ask - the community is friendly and helpful.
University of Cambridge biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey says the first person who will live to be 1000 is 45 years old right now. Aubrey thinks aging is barbaric. Aubrey is right.
Aubrey believes there will be a sea change in public opinion about the reversibility of aging once genetic engineering, stem cell therapies, and several other aging-reversal therapies allow mice to live much longer.
Aubrey de Grey has also commented on the likelihood of the cryonics industry picking up steam as people realize that extended lives are quite possible in the future.
Bringing about a sea change in attitudes towards serious anti-aging research is vitally important to our future; significant medical research only happens in the context of widespread public understanding and approval. Just look at the funding projects now being attempted for stem cell and regenerative medicine research in California and New Jersey. Think about the changes in public opinion that led to increased AIDS funding, or the start of the fight to cure Alzheimer's. Successes in cancer and diabetes research rest atop firm public opinion and widespread education - just try to find someone today who thinks that curing cancer is either impossible or a bad idea!
There are many ways, large and small, in which you can help to build a better, healthier, longer future for yourself and everyone you know. Visit the Longevity Meme to find out how.
(From the Baltimore Sun). Life expectancy has been rising with the advance of medical technology throughout the 20th century. Conservative gerontologists like Jay Olshansky - who seem to believe that we cannot address the underlying aging process - believe this rate of increase will slow and stop. Forward looking scientists like Aubrey de Grey are working to build a far better future, however. Aging is simply damage to the body, and this can in principle be repaired - all we have to do is to direct sufficient resources to solving this problem. Progress in regenerative medicine is a good start, but there is far more work to be done on medical science, activism and education.
The Three Hundred is the latest initiative undertaken by the Methuselah Foundation, administrators of the Methuselah Mouse Prize. How much is a greatly extended healthy life span worth to you? Is it worth the small effort to pledge a few dollars a day to help medical science advance towards understanding and eventually curing aging? I think so, and others agree. Now you can show your support by becoming a member of The Three Hundred, a group of visionary humanists who will make a real difference to the future of aging research and healthy life extension. As someone who values a longer, healthier life, isn't it time to make the commitment?
While out browsing the blogosphere, I came across an interesting post on bioethics at Selling Waves. It's good to know that I'm not the only person in the world unhappy with the modern state and influence of bioethics.
The outrage and commentary over the recent re-stacking of the President's Council on Bioethics seems to have wound down to an acceptance that this is all politics as usual. Thus, we should filter anything that Leon Kass and his appointees have to say through their known prejudices and the desires of the current US administration. There are a strong group of writers - like Ronald Bailey and Chris Mooney - who will do just that. The rest of us should stand up and call for the council to be abolished and continue to support research for longer, healthier lives.
No matter how Leon Kass wants to finess it, his declared views on medical research and human nature state - directly - that continued suffering, disease and death on a horrific scale should be enforced. In other words, attempts to cure these conditions should be blocked by government fiat. This is, frankly, a repugnant worldview. It springs all too readily from a certain type of religious conviction, more is the pity. Hold it yourself, by all means (and live, suffer and die by the strength of your convictions), but don't force your consequences on people who have different goals and different views of the future of medicine.
In the wake of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which aims at $3 billion in state funding for research, a New Jersey legislator is talking about raising another $3 billion through a non-profit endowment foundation. Stem cell research, as I'm sure you're all aware by now, is almost certainly the best hope for near term healthy life extension technologies. The healthy human life span can be extended by repairing age-related damage, or by preventing it. Regenerative medicine aims at repair. This field shows great promise as a path to curing all of worst diseases and degenerative conditions of aging.
EurekAlert reports on a small step forward in the search for alternative sources of stem cells. A number of different groups are working on ways to make cells in the body reverse their differention to become stem cells or some other form of progenitor cells. The regenerative abilities of some lizards seems to depend on this or a similar process, for example, but scientists are still working their way towards establishing a basic understanding in this area. We just don't know what is possible in humans, and thus embryonic stem cell research is still vitally important to progress. You can read up on stem cells at InfoAging, a very good resource for this sort of information.
Things were a little confusing there at the end of the work week with respect to the cryonics legislation in Arizona. A fair amount of maneuvering and argument is going on, at a pace too rapid for the developments to be presented to the community in a cogent fashion. Now that the weekend has arrived, Alcor has put together an update the past few days. A timeline for this entire process can also be found at the Alcor website.
It's worth mentioning that Aubrey de Grey (who seems to be everywhere at once these days) made an appearance at the hearings while he was in the US. His thoughts on this legislation follow:
Dear Rep. Aguirre,
I have just learned, to my very great surprise and consternation, that the Arizona House of Representatives will be considering bill HB2637 (embalmers; funeral establishments; storing remains) today (Thursday). I strongly urge you to vote "NO" to this bill, which is potentially a desirable piece of legislation but which in it current form will do untold harm to an industry that will play a huge part in the future of humanity and in which Arizona enjoys a unique leadership position. No other organisation in the world is remotely in Alcor's league in terms of the ability to lower human tissues to very low temperature without damage; hence, any legislation that hinders their work is a blow to this technology worldwide, whereas legislation that assists this industry by delineating appropriate regulation and oversight is potentially of great benefit. Your vote today is therefore of huge significance.
I am a research scientist working on the biology of mammalian aging at the University of Cambridge in England. My specific focus is on the development of techniques to repair and reverse the age-related degenerative changes that accumulate during life and eventually kill us. As you may recall, I travelled specially to Phoenix to testify to the House Health Committee on this matter on February 26th and was most gratified at the apparently universal appreciation by Committee members of the importance of Alcor's work, not only for current Alcor members but for the vast numbers of people who will undoubtedly opt for cryonic suspension in the period -- which is not far away -- when a genuine cure for aging is clearly foreseeable but not yet actually available. Depending on the pace of progress by me and my fellow gerontologists, you may well be among those people. If the pace is slower, your children may be. Either way, the work that Alcor is spearheading will very probably save tens of millions of lives. That is not an exaggeration.
For your convenience, I will summarise here the reasons I gave to the Health Committee why it is so imperative that Arizona get this piece of legislation right. Alcor preserves people in a state that is very similar, from a recoverability point of view, to someone who has been immersed in cold water for several minutes to an hour and whose heart has stopped for most of that time. Such people are clinically dead, which means that they could have been pronounced legally dead, but in fact they can in many cases be resuscitated. Thus, hundreds of people are walking around today in perfect health who have at some time in the past been clinically dead. Cryogenic preservation involves doing a modest amount of further damage to someone who has recently become clinically dead, but at the same time placing them in a state (very low temperature) in which no further deterioration can occur. Thus, in decades to come, when techniques to repair molecular and cellular damage to all tissues (including the brain) have been developed by me and my colleagues around the world, those same techniques will be applicable to people in cryonic suspension. The tissue damage that caused them to become clinically dead, plus the extra damage that was associated with suspoension, will be reversed and the individual will be restored to complete health.
It is therefore imperative that legislation which regulates cryonics be drafted in a manner that reflects the fact that cryonic patients are potentially resuscitatable, despite being clinically and legally dead. In the first instance, the use of the term "remains" in many places in the legislation is clearly unacceptable. "Remains" are what human bodies become when they are incontrovertibly beyond the reach of medical science, something which (as I have explained above) is not the case for cryonics patients. Secondly, it is absolutely essential that this legislation include a clear definition of what
cryonics is and an oversight structure that clearly distinguishes cryonics from embalming and other purely cosmetic procedures that are used to preserve (briefly) the appearance of bodies by actively eliminating the possibility of resuscitation, including provisions for becoming licensed as a cryonics provider. Third, the current legislation ignores the fact that Alcor and the Funeral Board have reached a clear accord with regard to the way in which cryonics should and should not be regulated, which can undoubtedly be translated into good legislation given the extra time that seemed, on February 26th, to have been permitted.
In summary, I strongly urge you to vote against HB2637 in its current inadequate form, and instead to work with the interested parties to craft appropriate legislation that will bring credit to Arizona and cement its leadership role in both the short-term (Kronos) and long term (Alcor) scientific battle against the ravages of old age.
Dr. Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey
One important issue that came up is the importance of being polite when dealing with legislators, no matter how dishonorably or dangerously they are behaving. From the Alcor CEO:
At that point, not knowing Representative Stump's intentions we felt that we had no other alternative but to oppose the bill on the floor. We began contacting our members via e-mail and phone, requesting that they contact members of the House of Representatives and urge them to vote NO on HB2637. Although I specifically requested our membership to be respectful in their tone when contacting members of the legislature, a few members decided not to heed that advice.
I cannot over-emphasize how much the negative communication to legislators hurt our cause on Thursday. It is simply unacceptable to impugn the integrity of a member of the legislature no matter how passionate you may feel about an issue. Our responsibility as citizens is to respectfully and briefly state our position, explain why the proposed legislation should be defeated, and thank the legislators for considering our interests. Personal attacks against a respected member of the legislature are a sure way to quickly lose support, as we saw on Thursday. If you don't feel you can calmly and respectfully state your case, then you should not contact members of the legislature at all. Alcor once again owes Representative Stump an apology for the unwarranted actions of a few.
This is an unfortunate consequence of giving politicians power without any immediate checks to the way in which they use this power. Voting for office holders every few years, especially in this age of incumbent protection, is simply not enough. Politicians can behave as badly as they like in the short term, but we must bow and scrape in order to prevent them from damaging our businesses and lives.
So be polite, folks, even if you have to grit your teeth in order to do so.
Betterhumans, a popular online transhumanist magazine, has officially announced its sponsorship of the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. You may have noticed that the current prize cash total now graces the left column of the Betterhumans home page. The Methuselah Foundation is doing well with the mouse prize; it's nearing $50,000 in cash and more than $200,000 in pledges thanks to the new Three Hundred membership inititive. Research prizes are have demonstrated their worth in advancing scientific progress over and over again throughout history. Have you donated to the Methuselah Mouse Prize yet? You should - it will make a big difference to the future of your health and longevity.
As illustrated by this Yahoo! News article, the mainstream press is starting to see the connection between the growing, respected field of regenerative medicine and healthy life extension. The piece also mentions some of the ways in which researchers are trying to make an end-run around the need for embryonic stem cells. It is said that revolutionary breakthroughs tend to happen 50 years after people stop laughing about the possibility. I'm not hearing laughter these days, and I think we can do a lot better than 50 years to reach working anti-aging medicine - assuming that everyone knuckles down and works hard.
I touched on the importance of biomarkers in my post on the meaning of aging, and was fortunate enough to have Aubrey de Grey on hand to offer useful commentary and clarifications.
Biomarkers for the aging process are an important issue in aging and serious anti-aging science. Stephen Gorden has followed up with thoughts and explanations at the Speculist. Aubrey de Grey offers more information on the topic there too.
As pointed out in the Speculist post, SAGE Crossroads has covered biomarkers in a webcast last year. The SAGE Crossroads site is turning into a very good resource for those seeking insight into the major issues and debates in aging science, as well as mainstream views of healthy life extension.
While we're on the subject, the Canadian Senate has finally (after almost a decade) passed a controversial bill on reproductive technology. It's a very broad bill, but does permit heavily regulated embryonic stem cell research. Unfortunately, like all bills spending a long time in consideration, it appears to have everything but the kitchen sink attatched to it. It comes complete with all sorts of restrictions, and so it remains to be seen as to whether it will perform as advertised. The cynic writing this post has his doubts - regulation and price controls are not compatible with rapid progress in medical science.
A bill to "permit and regulate" embryonic stem cell research is making its way through the legislative process in Minnesota. The normal, flawed arguments are heard from the anti-research side of the debate. A common, and very insulting, view appears to be that the scientific community will race off to immediately do whatever implausible act it is that the anti-research speaker fears the most. This is nonsense: scientists, just like all of the rest of us who have our heads screwed on right, want to do good work, cure disease and extend the healthy human life span. Knee-jerk reactions to change and new science are not helpful and just harm everyone in the long run.
One of the first posts at Fight Aging! was a draft presentation for The Three Hundred initiative of the Methuselah Foundation. This initiative has now been launched, and you can read the invitation and call to action at the Foundation website:
What's it worth to you to live 150 healthy years? What's it worth to you to raise the average human lifespan to 150 years, just as a start?
These are not idle questions.
Our fund-raising experience has convinced us that there really are thousands of individuals who will be willing to step forward and choose life over money. So we're taking an entirely different approach to fundraising.
We are looking for a few good people to make a meaningful, but affordable commitment: $1,000 a year, by the end of each year, for 25 years, which amounts to $85 a month or $2.75 a day, the equivalent of one visit to Starbucks.
Our model is a classical one. It's based on another battle that saved the future of Western Civilization: Thermopylae. In 480 B.C., 300 Spartan warriors fought against incredible odds, so that the rest of Greece could mobilize against Darius's Persian hordes. Without their delaying action at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, the achievements of Greece and our culture as we know it would have been swept away.
The Methuselah Foundation is asking you to follow in the footsteps of this noble Three Hundred, not to risk your lives, but to provide some of your treasure, so that others may live ... and live ... and live, so that the human species can beat back an enemy even more dangerous than the Persians - the Grim Reaper himself.
This special group - strictly limited to 300 individuals - will live on in history just as the original 300 have, even to this day. You can be one of them.
The names of the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae were engraved on a stone tablet in Sparta that was still legible seven centuries after the event. A momument stands to this day to pay homage to their sacrifice. We are asking you to lend your name to this enterprise, and be remembered for as long as the race survives. We are asking you to participate in one of the most historic moments in human history, the moment when we overcome the final barrier.
We have reached a potential tipping point in human history: a time in which the quest to extend the healthy human life span can be taken seriously and extensive resources devoted to understand and defeat the aging process. The pledges of the Three Hundred will help further large sums to be raised for Foundation projects such as the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research.
I am a member of the Three Hundred, and I have put my money where my mouth is. To become one of the Three Hundred is to take the initiative, to recognize that our contributions will make an ever-growing difference to the future of medical research, health and longevity. We are the rainmakers; the pebbles who trigger the avalanche; the first to heed the call. By our actions, we lead the way and will long be remembered for it.
Think deeply, follow my lead, and join the Three Hundred. Take part in the fight to cure aging!
One problem facing evolutionary theories that explain the characteristics of human aging is the fact that we continue to live for so long after we can't reproduce. As noted by Betterhumans, a new study offers a plausible explanation for this longevity. As a social species, we continue to help our genes spread even when we can no longer reproduce. There's more to it than that, of course, but the details given in the article are fairly convincing. It certainly merits further work and investigation. This doesn't get us any closer to curing aging, of course, but there's no such thing as useless information in the larger picture.
You can't trust politicians. From Alcor: "Up to this point, Alcor has negotiated in good faith with Representative Stump, attempting to draft legislation that would address his concerns for the protection of the citizens of Arizona as well as protect the rights of our members and patients. ... In spite of our conciliatory actions and assumption of good intentions on the part of Representative Stump, he has decided to move forward with a House vote on his bill TOMORROW (the 11th) without allowing the affected parties to complete negotiations." The Alcor CEO urges you all to send a message to the Arizona legislature before or on the 11th: "Alcor Life Extension Foundation urges you to vote NO on HB2637. This bill is a solution without a problem."
There is a war being fought over the meaning of "anti-aging" and (to a lesser extent) "life extension." It's fought with words and funding between and within a number of different factions within the business and scientific community. You can see views from the scientific community expressed in a recent SAGE Crossroads webcast.
A recent skirmish in this war - in the context of the Silver Fleece award made by Jay Olshansky to A4M at International Conference on Longevity - was mentioned at the Longevity Meme, complete with further links for your perusal. This was a fairly typical exchange of views, but involved some of the players in the wider war who are of more interest to advocates for serious research into understanding and curing aging.
On the one side, we have Jay Olshansky, regarded as one of the more conservative gerontologists. He has said that radical extension of the healthy human life span is impossible in the near term, and maybe also in the long term. This is an extreme position that Jay Olshansky must defend within his own field. Moderate gerontologists like Stephen Austad (with whom Oleshansky has a well-known public bet on healthy life extension) and forward-looking biogerontologists like our own Aubrey de Grey hold that large gains in healthy longevity are possible within our lifetimes.
On the other side, we have the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), often represented in the media by Ronald Klatz. I will admit to being confused by the actions of A4M; they seem to straddle the new school and old school worlds in the community. For example, A4M was an early donor to the Methuselah Mouse Prize and Ronald Klatz speaks out in support of therapeutic cloning, stem cell research and regenerative medicine as tools that will extend the healthy human life span. On the other hand, A4M runs anti-aging conferences that are widely reviled in the scientific community due to the presence of vendors from the fraudulent and adventurous marketing school of "anti-aging" pills, potions and crystals. At the same time, Ronald Klatz has expressed the desire to see the "marketeers" vanish from the industry, and recognizes the great harm they are doing to scientific progress.
Olshansky views A4M as doing great damage to legitimate research and science. The founders of A4M view Olshansky as an entrenched member of an establishment unwilling to grant legitimacy to any of the "anti-aging" industry, no matter what evidence is offered or views espoused.
This war is being fought over money, but money takes second place to the perception of legitimacy. It is this perception of legitimacy that determines funding for scientific research and revenues for businesses. Scientists feel, quite rightly, that the noise and nonsense coming from the "anti-aging" marketplace is damaging the prospects for serious, scientific anti-aging research. If everyone knows that anti-aging means high-priced cream from Revlon marketed to the gullible and brand-aware, no scientist is going to get funding for a proposal that uses the word "anti-aging." Worse than that, people start to assume that real efforts to reverse aging must be impossible.
Businesses in the "anti-aging" marketplace make money from the aura of legitimacy whether or not their products perform as advertised, and so a lot of effort is expended to create and maintain this perception of legitimacy. Those businesspeople who do feel they have working problems carry out their own fight aginst opportunists, frauds and "marketeers" who they feel are damaging their own market. Ironically, this is much the same argument used against these businesses by scientists like Jay Olshansky. The vast amount of money spent on products that claim to turn back the clock demonstrates that people want real anti-aging medicines. The trouble is that these real anti-aging therapies simply don't exist. Or do they? It all depends on how you define "anti-aging."
I've spoken before about "optimizing natural longevity" in the context of trying to draw a distinct line between what you can do now to lead a longer, healthier life, and what will be possible in the future. We can presume that there exists, for each person, some maximum life span that you can reach using the technologies and understanding of today. You can adopt calorie restriction, exercise, keep a good relationship with a physician, and spend an appropriate amount on supplements and healthcare. Each of these items will help you to live longer and in better health than you would otherwise have done. Does this make them "anti-aging," preventative medicine, good maintenance, or merely not damaging yourself quite so much?
If an improved supplement comes onto the market that adds a few years of life through some biochemical mechanism, is that "anti-aging?" How about improvements in general healthcare for the elderly that have the same effect? Or a way to cure heart disease? All of these things are clearly going to extend healthy life span by some amount. We could spend a lot of time arguing one way or another (and proposing further, more ambiguous examples). When Ronald Klatz says "anti-aging," however, I'm fairly sure he doesn't mean the same thing as Jay Olshansky's definition.
One problem is that we don't have any way of measuring effectiveness for a proposed anti-aging treatment, short of waiting for the subject to keel over. This is clearly not the desired experimental approach for those of us who want to see radical life extension in our lifetimes. We need biomarkers for aging: ways of measuring the progression of the aging process in our bodies. Even if we do find aging biomarkers, however, it isn't clear that they will allow accuracy to the point of being able to say "this treatment is giving you an extra two years of healthy life." Car enthusiasts can tell when they're getting that last 10% out of the engine, but you can't determine that sort of thing when examining health and life span.
I'll leave you with this thought to mull over: if we possessed medical technologies that could extend the healthy human life span to 150 years (or more), I think it's a fair bet that we wouldn't be arguing about the semantics of anti-aging and life extension. In large part, this money-fueled argument is entirely due to the absence of working anti-aging medicine that can greatly extend our healthy life span.
This is - once again, not to be repeating myself too much here - why a focus on medical research and funding is vital to healthy life extension. If a tenth of the effort spent on redefining "anti-aging," selling junk, or trying to optimize natural longevity was spent on the medicine of the future, just imagine where we could be by now! The medicine (and lifestyle choices like calorie restriction) that we have access to in the here and now are largely ineffective in the grand scheme of what is possible. Science can do far, far better in the long run, but getting there is going to take work, activism and support. What are you waiting for?
EurekAlert reports on another important advance in tissue engineering technology. Culturing blood vessels is an essential component of being able to build working organs (or indeed almost any meaningful amount of tissue). With advances in biodegradable scaffolding to control the shape and size of engineered tissue, the ability to grow blood vessels to order is needed for further progress towards complete organs. This branch of regenerative medicine shows real potential to extend healthy life span by repairing damage caused by aging and age-related conditions.
The USF Oracle is carrying an overview of the current science of stem cell research and the associated debate. The piece includes quotes from the various sides of the fence, as well as a short history of related science, legislation and politics in the US. Reading this and then proceeding to Ronald Bailey's latest piece on "moral vertigo" at Reason Online would be a good introduction for someone who hasn't been following the issues. The anti-research side of the debate have succeeded in greatly slowing research in the US and Europe. You and I wind up paying the price for their opinions in a currency of life span and health.
The Age reports on the third annual Silver Fleece award, given out by Jay Olshansky at the International Conference on Longevity in Sydney. It's intended to highlight "the most ridiculous, outrageous, scientifically unsupported or exaggerated assertions about intervening in aging." As I've mentioned in the past, there is a complex, many-pointed war of words and funding underway between factions in the billion dollar "anti-aging" marketplace, factions in the scientific and medical communities, and other groups less easily categorized. This merits a longer analysis at some point, but you can find a taste of it in a recent Telegraph article and a disgruntled A4M press release.
Connecting names and faces with the practice of calorie restriction (CR) seems to be a trend in the media at the moment; this example is from the Washington Times. There are some interesting comments in there, such as: "The truth of the matter is, I don't think CR is a good way to extend life, but it is the best way right now." This is true in a sense, but CR does provide demonstrated health benefits and is a good way to help maximize your natural health and longevity. CR cannot extend this maximized natural life span by decades (or more), however, which is why healthy life extension places such great emphasis on supporting and advancing medical research into real anti-aging therapies.
The cryonics community have been talking about the science of cryonics for more than 30 years, and so the basics have been covered many times over. Newcomers to the community may have to wait a while before hearing about some of the most basic topics, since they are discussed infrequently.
Members of the Cryonet e-mail list have recently been talking about the relevance of cases of temporary death due to drowning in cold water. In a number of instances, victims have been revived after up to an hour of clinical death and gone on to lead normal lives. This leads to a simple set of arguments that demonstrate cryonicists are on to something in their quest to defeat death through cryosuspension. This informative post is made by Charles Platt and steps through the points in a logical, helpful way:
Cold-water-drowning cases who have been revived after an hour or more without vital signs are relevant to cryonics in several ways.
1. They are living proof that postmortem brain damage can be delayed by hypothermia, especially if cooling occurs initially while the heart is still beating. This is an important factor because blood circulation can withdraw heat from the body and brain far more rapidly than surface cooling after the circulation stops. This should be reassuring to any member of a cryonics organization that cools the patient promptly after legal death has been pronounced, provided an ice bath is supplemented with cardiopulmonary support to sustain some circulation of the blood.
2. They demonstrate that cellular processes in the brain can restart spontaneously after a period of total dormancy. Consciousness returns and memories are preserved. By extension, cryopatients may be similarly revived after decades rather than hours of stasis. This is a major credibility issue for many people.
3. Resuscitation of patients after more than an hour without vital signs is a direct challenge to anyone who believes that the soul leaves the body after "death" occurs. Since revived patients do not behave like zombies, we have to assume that the soul, if it exists, is still present. Therefore, either the soul doesn't leave, or there is no soul, or the person wasn't really dead. If the drowning victim wasn't really dead, then cryopatients aren't really dead either (so long as they have been properly cryopreserved).
I have debated the relevance of cold-water-drowning cases at some length with a friend who feels that the cases are less convincing than, say, the cat-brain experiments performed by Suda. Usually the cold-water-drowning cases do not provide specific data, such as the exact time when cardiac arrest occurred. Nor was anyone able to measure brain activity or body temperature. Thus the cases are dissatisfying compared with properly controlled lab work.
On the other hand, when trying to present cryonics in a way that people find palatable, I prefer to avoid the disturbing image of isolated cat brains being reperfused with blood. I think it is much easier to talk about cute little children who are revived after being very very cold. Most journalists apparently share this outlook; the case of Brittany Eichelberger (who was rescued from a snow drift one Christmas Eve) was featured twice in People magazine, and she also appeared on TV. Thus far, the isolated cat brains have not attracted an equal amount of media attention--and if they did, I doubt it would be as positive.
Numerous cases of cold-water-drowning, followed by resuscitation, are reported each year. The history that Aschwin presented here is not unusual. You'll find a bunch of histories (some on PubMed) if you use a search string such as "cold water drowning" resuscitation.
A compelling (and acceptable) argument for the static nature of the brain is the first step to accepting that cryonics can achieve its goal - if all of the other non-trivial obstacles are overcome. Wikipedia contains an informative page on cryonics that talks about some of these issues.
Many people find cryonics a tough sell, or something that they don't want to think too hard about. I have the following to say to them: "In that case, you'd better work harder to ensure that regenerative medicine, nanomedicine and real anti-aging therapies are developed in your lifetime!"
The history of the Bioethics Council in light of recent events - and the events themselves - are summarized by Timothy Noah over at Slate in a piece entitled "Leon Kass, You Silly Ass!
Please stop denying you tilted the bioethics panel." It's a good article, and ends with the comments:
In arguing that he isn't trying to tilt his panel's balance, Kass is doing something nobody in the ethics racket should ever do. He's telling a big, fat, utterly transparent lie.
As reported at Madison.com, opponents of current anti-research legislation are on the move again. From the article: "U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin today announced a renewed push in Congress to end Bush administration restrictions on stem cell research." This effort also draws in groups like the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and patient advocates including Christopher Reeve. The timing is better now, it seems: "Asked why she believes this week's letter to the president will be any more successful than past efforts, Baldwin said public support for unfettered stem cell research has broadened in the wake of dramatic research breakthroughs."
azcentral.com reports that Ted Williams' son may now be cryopreserved at Alcor alongside his father. The article offers a good one sentence summary of the past year for Alcor: "Williams' fight to freeze the remains of his famous father - he said it was the baseball slugger's wishes - sparked national interest in cryonics and has left Arizona legislators considering a bill that would give the state oversight of facilities that perform such research." It is a real sign of progress that news outlets now write about the cryonics industry in a normal, positive way. I hope to see increasing growth and improvement in the business and technology of cryonics in the years ahead.
Elizabeth Blackburn, the scientist recently dismissed from the President's Council on Bioethics due to her positive views on stem cell research, has documented her side of the story. Chris Mooney has a good analysis up at the Intersection which ends with the following thoughts:
According to this report from the Boston Globe, Blackburn's determination to publicly critique these two reports may have been her undoing. Shortly before her dismissal, Blackburn had shown Kass the critique she'd penned with Rowley, and told him of her determination to publish it. Moreover, a similar critique, exclusively of the "Beyond Therapy" report, was submitted to the journal Science. But according to the Globe, Kass demanded that Blackburn withdraw the letter, and she complied.
So it seems clear that Kass had a motivation to get rid of Blackburn. She was causing a lot of trouble on the Council with her scientific objections. Indeed, the facts of what happened with her firing are becoming increasingly clear. They all point in the same direction: To a case of egregious science politicization on the part of Kass and the Bush administration.
What to make of all this? While it's just a single panel in the sea of government dishonesty, all attempts to stop research into stem cells and regenerative medicine should be taken seriously. This research is our best near- and mid-term hope for curing age-related conditions and greatly extending the healthy human life span. It seems to me that the clear responses are to:
- vote and participate in the political process as you see fit to prevent this sort of behavior in government,
- speak out in protest against attempts to block vital medical research,
- work to make this a non-issue by advancing science using private funding
The latest Longevity Meme newsletter is out today: recent events, site updates, news, opinions and more. As always, you can read it here on the Longevity Meme website in addition to opting to receive it in your in-box. Did you know that you can also read the newsletter through RSS? Instructions can be found on the newsletter page, and you can find out all about RSS in many places online. If you're not reading the newsletter, please allow me this one moment of shameless self-promotion in which to suggest that you sign up. I hope that you'll find it a useful and interesting view into the community, related happenings and activism for longer, healthier lives.
For those of us now entering middle age, it's early days in the new school fight against aging. If we stay in good health, we have a good 50 years of science in which to find a way to cure and reverse the effects of aging. My personal sense of things is that this is probably just about enough time to be sure of achieving this goal. Most great ideas are brought into existence about 50 years after people stop considering it ridiculous. This is as much an educated guess as anything else, however, and all the signs also point to major gains in the healthy human lifespan within 20 years due to regenerative medicine. The ability to repair the damage of aging will give us more time in which to understand how to prevent it.
Despite this 50 year buffer, I am very glad to see major initiatives underway aimed at understanding the genetics and biochemistry of the brain. The brain really is in a class of its own in terms of the technology we need to ensure long term healthy life extension. Unlike everything else we only have one of, you can't just whip out the brain and replace it with a new one. Even today, we have sophisticated techniques to replace or repair the heart and keep the patient alive during the process - but our self, our mind, does not reside in the heart.
Scientists in the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine fields sound confident that, over the next ten or twenty years, we learn how to grow new organs on demand from the stem cells of any given patient. It's an enormously complicated problem, but the path to solving it is very clear. Transplant grown from your own cells open up a while field of options to extend life span and cure disease by replacing any failing part of the body ... except for the brain. Medical researchers need to develop a different toolbox in this case. We can't skip over understanding exactly how the human brain works, as we will have to develop medical technologies that can repair age-related and disease-related damage in situ - all without disrupting or damaging the mind that resides in the brain being treated.
You can see the earliest goals in this process being achieved in the fight against Alzheimer's, a horrible condition that cannot be cured too quickly for my liking. Individual mechanisms of aging and operation in the brain that relate to this condition are now being picked out and used to develop therapies. (This of course is the result of a enormous increase in funding for Alzheimer's research over the past decade - nothing like this sort of progress happens in the absence of funding). Alzheimer's is particularly worrisome from a healthy life extension perspective because it appears to be an inevitable part of the aging process. Some people get it later than others, but live long enough and you will get it, and it will kill you. First, however, it will destroy your mind; a shuddersome fate.
I expect to see advancing neuroscience - scientists in this field have already made amazing process in understanding the way in which mind, memory and thought relate to physical structures inside the brain - merge at the boundary with regenerative medicine. Understanding exactly how the brain works naturally leads to understand how to repair it when it becomes damaged. If you are interesting in learning more about where neuroscience is today (and what the implications are for the future) a good starting point is the Brain Waves blog.
An opinion column in the Mercury News calls for a biotechnology group with a moderate voice to oppose the hostile anti-research climate in Washington. "Silicon Valley and the biotechnology industry cannot afford to sit back and let President Bush and the President's Council on Bioethics dictate the industry's future." As the columnist goes on to point out: "The alternative is a future regulated by the likes of Leon Kass." This is a scary prospect for anyone who pays attention to what Kass advocates: he has frequently stated his opposition to any attempts to extend the healthy human life span and combat crippling age-related conditions.
Boston.com reports on the latest developments regarding the President's Council on Bioethics. Here's a quote from Elizabeth Blackburn, removed last week, on the reports issued by the council: "There is always this strong implication that medical research is not what God intended, that there is something unnatural about it. We had a great many comments on the report, and they would just make a little changes that didn't fully address them." There's much more of that sort of allegation in the article, and from other sources. Many people, myself including, are justifiably angry at Leon Kass and the US administration for blocking, belittling and lying about vital medical research.
It's often hard to tell just how well a field of research is doing from outside, as filtered by the press, rumor central, and chatting to scientists. How fast are things going? Is lots of press attention a sign of progress, or just a sign of lots of press attention? How extensively is research funded compared to other fields? How does it all stack up in the grand scheme of things? What can we expect in the way of progress and accomplishments in five or ten years?
(As I point out in another post, correlations between speed of research and the pace at which new technologies, therapies and medicines become commercially available don't necessarily exist).
For my part, I'm a fan of the "concrete and conferences" metric for measuring the health of science. Two side effects of increasing research funding in a field are new buildings at universities and research centers (the "concrete" part of the metric) and new gatherings of researchers (the conferences). Both of these symptoms are also fairly easy to track. The more of both, the better, with new buildings indicating more money entering the system than new conferences.
Between five and seven years ago, the first new buildings for nanotechnology research centers (like the Center for Nanoscale Research and Science and Technology at Rice - probably the only place on the web you'll be asked to "click on a buckyball to begin") were under construction. The building authorities were well aware of the expansion of the field that was to take place. Today, nanotechnology is very much a hot ticket item.
Today, we see much the same process of pouring concrete and establishing conferences for stem cell and regenerative medicine research - and at much the same level. This is a very encouraging sign for the future of this field, and the corresponding future of human health and longevity.
It'll get even more encouraging when we see the building contractors called for anti-aging research institutes at major universities, but that, I suspect, is still some years away from happening.
The Weekend Australian reports from the ongoing International Conference on Longevity in Sydney. It's a curious mix of old school and new school in science, medicine and community. Human growth hormone therapies, calorie restriction (the only proven old school technique, and even this can't add too many years to your life span), genetics and regenerative medicine all discussed side by side. The future of healthy life extension is clear to the scientists, and it rests in supporting and funding the advance of medical research. There are a lot of good quotes in there, and the article itself captures the spirit of the times in anti-aging research well - there is a clear transition underway from old to new. Go and read it.
In March 2004, Douglas Melton and researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Insitute (HHMI) released 17 new high quality stem cell lines to the world, for free. A quote: "Consistent with the general practice among academic scientists, these cells are a reagent that will be shared. We hope that sharing these cells will quicken the pace of discovery." This hard work goes a long way to making current anti-research legislation irrelevant, boosting research into regenerative medicine for longer, healthier lives. The world should be thanking Dr. Melton and his team - we have provided a page at the Longevity Meme to help you and I do just that.
I do not exaggerate when I say that we should all be lining up to congratulate Dr. Douglas Melton and the researchers of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Their release - for free, to the world - of 17 new stem cell lines is the sort of positive response to government research restrictions that we should all applaud. This represents a great deal of hard work at all levels and is a particularly timely and impressive achievement in the present climate.
Melton is hopeful that the availability of the new cell lines will speed research developments in the area of stem cell biology. "Consistent with the general practice among academic scientists, these cells are a reagent that will be shared," said Melton. "We hope that sharing these cells will quicken the pace of discovery."
This sort of work should be encouraged and publicly applauded. Accordingly, you I have put up a page at the Longevity Meme to help you send a letter of thanks and congratulations to Dr. Melton and the HHMI researchers. They have worked hard to ensure that you have a chance at a much longer, much healthier life - and you should let them know that you appeciate their efforts.
The Syndey Morning Herald reports that the first International Conference on Longevity is under way. An array of aging, lifestyle and serious anti-aging researchers are participating, and the article outlines a few of the areas of discussion and disagreement in scientific circles. The overall tone of the conference is somewhere between that of the more conservative aging researchers and healthy life extension advocates like us. It is very exciting to see more events like this being organized around the world. New conferences, like new buildings, are signs of a healthy, interested scientific community.
The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative has launched, and is seeking the large number of signatures necessary to make it onto the November 2004 state ballot. Donations and volunteer work are also sought. The initiative is a well organized attempt to put billions of dollars of state funding into stem cell medicine over the next decade, financed by bonds and backed up by regulation of the research itself. It is also a direct challenge to Federal government policies restricting this research. The initiative website is a job well done - the rest of us should be taking notes. We can probably expect these efforts to encourage similar state funding plans in New Jersey.
The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative is underway, with eight weeks to gain a million signatures. If sucessful, it goes on the November 2004 ballot:
More than 120 million Americans suffer from chronic and life-threatening diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, ALS, osteoporosis and spinal-cord injuries. More than two million people die every year. Now or in the future, you or one of your family members or friends may be stricken with one of these devastating medical conditions. In fact, they affect a child or adult in 40% of all families. They also create hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs annually. And, until recently, there was no real hope of cures.
Now, the promise of cures is within reach...
Recently, medical researchers have discovered that many diseases and injuries could be successfully treated or cured by new regenerative medicine therapies involving a special type of human cells, called stem cells. Stem cells are "unspecialized" cells that can generate healthy new cells and tissues. As a result, they have the potential to provide lifesaving cures for many different diseases and injuries.
The initiative authorizes state bonds that will provide an average of $250 million per year over a 10 year period to fund stem cell research by scientists at California's universities and other advanced medical research facilities throughout the state.
Why will I not be supporting this? Because I am libertarian, and economic science has adequately demonstrated that all government-controlled spending is more harmful to progress than the alternatives (free markets and individual choice). I am a pragmatist, and I realize that my position is shared by only a small minority of the population. However, by advocating the use of legislation to achieve the ends I approve of, I would become no better than those who are trying to use legislation to force a halt to medical research.
In a world (and past eras) of low taxation, many wealthy individuals use the monies otherwise lost to the government to fund the medical research that is not deemed commercially viable. In this world, today, very few individuals become wealthy enough to do this - but they still do it. Look at the efforts of John Sperling or Paul Allen. It doesn't require a 30% tax rate and a huge government to make research happen - in fact, the presence of government slows and hampers research far more than it helps. Governments throw up barriers, distort prices, make research inefficient in a hundred different ways, legislate against new technologies and occasionally, just once in a while, throw a little of the loot gained through taxation into medical research. You can't just pick and choose - if you support part of this process, you are helping to support it all.
These, however, are my principles. As I noted, they are not widely shared outside libertarian circles. You, the reader, are probably quite comfortable with today's level of taxation, the size and scope of government, and the ballot and bond-issuing process in California. If so, then you should certainly support the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative: in your value system, it is a very rational choice for the future of your health and longevity.
As for myself, I am still deciding how to present this somewhat contradictory message in a user friendly manner at the Longevity Meme. On the one hand, I do provide a service, and most of the people I provide that service to disagree with me on this issue. On the other hand, I have my integrity, which - as I have previous noted here - is very important to both myself and the nature of these websites. It's something of a quandry, but I can't take too long to decide on a solution given the deadline for ballot signatures.
As reported by the BBC, a Harvard researcher (Dr Douglas Melton) has succeeded in obtaining philanthropic funding and leading the development of 17 new stem cell lines. These lines will be made available for free to scientists, thus breaking the deadlock over availability of lines caused by US government policies. Dr. Melton and his group deserve widespread commendation and some sort of medal for succeeding in a positive, proactive response to current attacks and legislative limits on stem cell research. Over at Fight Aging!, I explain why the number of available stem cell lines is so important. The bottom line: no stem cell lines means no research, and thus no regenerative medicine to extend the healthy human life span.
I talk about the healthy life extension community a great deal, but what exactly is that community? What does it look like, who are the members, what are their goals, and where does it all fit in the larger scheme of things? Finding the answers to these and a hundred other questions can be a daunting task for newcomers, especially given the absence of any road map. Accordingly, I have put together a visualization of the wider community and surrounding interest groups. I hope that you find it helpful as you learn more about the community and healthy life extension - life is easier with a road map in hand.
The latest version of the community diagram and accompanying commentary is now a hot topic page at the Longevity Meme. Many thanks to everyone who provided comments on the earlier draft posted here, and I hope this effort will help newcomers to better understand and contribute to the healthy life extension community.
If you're not up on the basics of stem cells and their relationship to the future of medicine (or even if you think you are), you should read the excellent introduction at InfoAging before carrying on with the rest of today's post. InfoAging really is an enormously useful site. It manages to simply and easily explain many of the wonders of modern medicine and the aging process for non-scientists amongst us.
If you keep up with news on politics or research, you have no doubt heard a lot about the number of stem cell lines available to researchers in the US (and the rest of the world, for that matter). A stem cell line is a growing collection of similar cells, all cultured from a stem cell. Lines can continue to divide and grow for a long time, and so researchers can continually draw cells from lines for research. If you want to do reliable stem cell research, you need a reliable source of stem cells - hence the lines. Without them, no research.
Read on to see why this matters a great deal:
A Harvard researcher, fed up with the unavailability of federally allowed lines, raised private, philanthropic funding to create more stem cell lines.
"I and others in the field have found it very difficult to obtain the cells on the NIH registry. Six to nine months would pass (before we got a response)," Melton said. "I sort of gave up on trying a couple years ago and focused my efforts on creating my own."
It's a sad state of affairs that the above quote even exists. These new lines will be given away, such is the great need for them (and Stephen at the Speculist comments, sadly, that this should be a campaign issue). Issues surrounding the current US policy on stem cell lines have been in the media for a while - politicians have in essence been openly, bald-facedly lying about the number of lines available and the effects of their policies ever since the current legislation was put in place.
Uncertainty over the future of stem cell and therapeutic cloning policies, as well as other anti-research efforts affecting stem cell medicine, have been scaring away private funding. In most cases, private funding is looking for a profit, and there's no profit if your product is made illegal. Medical research and commercialization is notoriously expensive, and so potential investors are very wary and risk averse.
Why are stem cell lines so important? I partially answered this question above: stem cells don't just materialize from thin air. Researchers need stem cells in order to carry out experiments, determine how stem cells work, and develop therapies for the many conditions that can be cured using stem cells. Reliable science requires reliable sources of stem cells. In order to properly characterize the way in which stem cells behave, something of the order of 1000 stem cell lines will eventually be needed.
The current lines are just a small drop in the bucket of what is necessary for medical science to boldly stride forward into the era of regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine already shows - even in its infancy - strong signs of being able produce cures for every known degenerative condition and ways to heal every known type of injury. Cures for diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, burns, bone loss, nerve damage and much more have already been demonstrated in petri dishes, in mice and in a few human trials. This is not pie in the sky science. It's very real.
This is what stem cells and stem cell lines should be mean to you: the assurance that scientists are working to cure the diseases and conditions of aging that you will one day suffer. Without widespread and easy access to these lines, this work will not proceed.
Ronald Bailey takes a much closer look at the new appointees to the Bioethics Council and methodically takes apart the arguments of Leon Kass defending the recent shuffle. His other good article at Reason today points out the obvious: that "government isn't the best place to look for unbiased science." This is in the context of the recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists attacking the current - and previous - administrations for its record on science, policy and honesty. Some good points are made in both articles. I'm still calling to abolish the council, and you can help to make it happen!
This PDF letter to the President nicely demonstrates how government policy over the past few years has blocked stem cell research in the US, and how involved politicians have been lying through their teeth about it all. In addition to the therapeutic cloning bans that were attempted but not voted into law, the standing laws on stem cell lines and public funding have caused great damage. The largest damage has been indirect: the much larger pool of private funding has been scared away for the better part of five years now. This is why a South Korean group can do in two years what ACT has been unable to do in five - it's all in the funding.
A number of blogs are carrying an open letter from Arthur Caplan protesting the recent Bioethics Council stacking. I'm not overly fond of the bioethics industry myself - I see it as a racket wherein people syphon money from real research in order to create imaginary problems that block progress. You can read more on that topic at Fight Aging! Within the bioethics industry, however, there is a great deal of resentment and anger directed towards the likes of Leon Kass, chair of the Bioethics Council. His positions are generally viewed as extreme and damaging, even by other bioethicists bent on slowing the engine of medical progress. Chris Mooney has more on this open letter, well worth a read.
We've spent a lot of time lambasting the vanity industries in their "anti-aging" incarnation. Quite simply, no product sold on the market today can extend the healthy human life span. The level of fraud and adventurous marketing has caused great damage to legitimate anti-aging research over the years. However, there is a vanity industry that is doing good work on regenerative medicine: hair restoration and baldness cures. Here, the profits to be had have spurred a great deal of fundamental research into regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. This work will benefit us all as it percolates into other, more beneficial, attempts to regenerate the damage caused by aging and disease.
Wired weighs in on the recent biothics council shenanigans. Elsewhere, a Tech Central Station article declares this all to be politics as usual, more or less, while the new appointees are defending themselves in the media. I say it still looks very suspect: this administration knows the answer that it wants and builds "advisory" panels to try and get that answer. That it failed for stem cell research and the Bioethics Council the first time around is an indicator of the potential and compelling nature of this research. Regenerative medicine is the future of healthy life extension and we must support it.
As reported at Reuters, South Korean researchers have developed and patented a method for extracting stem cells from frozen embyros. Given the present policy and legislative climate in the US, it is not surprising that this advance was made elsewhere. While South Korea has its own version of the stem cell and therapeutic cloning debate, funding is available and politicians are not trying to ban these medical technologies. This makes all the difference in the world to the speed at which regenerative medicine can be developed. When will the US government wake up to the damage it is doing to the future of health and longevity? That is up to you and I: speak out now!
The President's decision to eliminate all progressive voices from his Bioethics Council is bracketed by two events in Korea:
- First, researchers cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them.
- Now researchers have developed a method for extracting stem cells from frozen embryos.
Park Se-pill, head of Seoul-based Maria Biotech Ltd, said in a statement he and his colleagues had, with the consent of those responsible, harvested seven stem cells from 20 frozen embryos, due to be discarded after being used at in-vitro fertilization facilities.
While our government actively works to shut down the entire field of regenerative medicine, huge strides are being made elsewhere in the world. Will we ever catch up? It depends on whether we ever get to enter the race.
I don't know about you, but I value honesty and freedom. Spending a few days contemplating even a small corner of the morass that is modern Washington politics leaves me feeling grimy. So we'll start on a different and more positive topic today. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that for most sensible, healthy people today:
The best new thing you can do for your long term health is to get out and do more to support medical research
Speak out in online forums. Talk to your friends. Donate time and money patient advocate groups (and aging research advocates like the Methuselah Foundation). Oppose anti-research legislation, and help organizations like the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in their goals. There is much to do, and the need for many helping hands. See an earlier post here for more details about healthy life extension activism.
Now let's be clear: if you are overweight, seriously ill, damaging your health, or otherwise in bad shape, this doesn't apply. You have more immediate problems to attend to first. You might want to read step 1 of the introduction to healthy life extension and go from there.
As for the rest of us, why activism? Well, your health depends on medical science. Medical science isn't static: you can expect better medicine in the future, but just how much better will it be? How much time do you have before you begin to suffer from an age-related condition that will need treatment? Is that condition even treatable using today's medical technology? When do scientists expect to develop therapies for this condition? Is research being funded?
The speed at which medical technology and capabilities advance ultimately depends on public support, education and awareness. Without this support, funding becomes very hard to come by and progress is slow or nonexistent. Large investments in research - of the sort needed to cure diseases and prevent age-related conditions - only occur when public sentiment is overwhelming. Think of the media and public sentiment surrounding AIDS research, or the war on cancer.
Where does public support for medical research come from? It comes from activism, built brick by brick through the work of activists and advocates. By taking part in raising awareness and avocating medical research, you help to create a positive environment for funding. Funding means faster progress, and faster progress means better, less costly, more widely medical technology. This, in turn, means that you can live a longer life in greater health and comfort.
Exercise, good diet, supplements and a sensible lifestyle are essential to healthy living, but they do not have the potential to improve your future health as greatly as successful activism. None of these activities and strategies can improve medical science: only activism can help to achieve that goal.
Devon Fowler and I talk further about activism for the future of your healthy and longevity at the Longevity Meme.
The Longevity Meme response to the recent stacking of the President's Council on Bioethics is to call for the abolition of the council. It's clearly nothing more than a rubber stamp for anti-research policies that have already caused great damage. It has to go. A round up of other comments can be found at Fight Aging!, including some by Chris Mooney. We'll no doubt see more articles in the week ahead. In the meanwhile, it sounds like time to write to your representatives and call for the council to be abolished.