LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
March 08 2004
The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a biweekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.
- It's Been a Busy Two Weeks
- Alcor Wins In Arizona With Your Help
- Call to Abolish the President's Council on Bioethics!
- The Future of Our Health Lies in Stem Cell Lines
- Latest Healthy Life Extension News Headlines
IT'S BEEN A BUSY TWO WEEKS
It's been a busy two weeks of activity in the community and at the Longevity Meme since the last newsletter went out. It so happens that a new batch of site updates coincided with (and were expanded by) news out in the wider world. You'll find more on that below.
While all that was going on, time was somehow found to revamp the Methuselah Mouse Prize website:
In addition, the submission phase of the Immortality Institute book project has wrapped up. The Institute has received a wide range of quality articles from well-known people in science, philosophy and the healthy life extension community over the past couple of months - there are some real gems in there. Next comes the hard work of editing and pulling it all together! I wish I could show you some of the good stuff now, but you're all going to have to wait a few months to see the end result.
ALCOR WINS IN ARIZONA WITH YOUR HELP
As you will recall from the last newsletter, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation - a cryonics provider - was facing an unpleasant and last minute legislative threat in their home state of Arizona. Fortunately, the community rallied round and the end result was close to the best success that anyone reasonably expected under the circumstances. You can read about it here in a letter from Joe Waynick, the new Alcor CEO:
From the letter: "Lastly, but certainly not least, we must thank all of the members who took time away from their busy schedules to email, fax, and call Arizona state legislators, urging them to oppose this bill. When they revealed to us that they were receiving from 150-200 emails per day, we realized that you all really made a difference! Thank you!!!"
It is very gratifying to see that we, as a community, can make a real difference. Thank you to everyone who participated. Now, if we can just do the same for anti-research legislation at the national level...
CALL TO ABOLISH THE PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL ON BIOETHICS!
I think that, by now, most people know my opinions on the rampant growth of the bioethics field. I view it as a form of racket, in which ordinary problems - that people can and have solved through common sense and normal political processes - suddenly require enormous sums of money to be diverted from research into salaries and institutes for bioethicists. These bioethicists then spend time creating further problems in order to justify their salaries - money that should be going to real research that can save lives.
But let's put my opinions to one side for the moment. In certain media and weblog circles, it's been all bioethics all the time for the past ten days. If you aren't privy to those circles, you might be forgiven for not actually noticing that anything happened - the mainstream press hasn't yet picked up on the action.
It would appear that we now have firm confirmation that the President's Council on Bioethics is nothing more than a rubber stamp for US administration anti-research policies (such as for stem cell and therapeutic cloning research). Two strong supporters of this vital research were abruptly removed from the council at the end of February and replaced with people who had previously declared their support for Leon Kass' positions:
This caused widespread outrage amongst columnists and commentators who were already heated over blatant political manipulation of science in the US administration. More information can be found in these articles and posts:
At the end of last week, we found out more to the story when a very critical article by bioethics council members Elizabeth Blackburn and Janet Rowley was published. Elizabeth Blackburn was one of those dismissed, and represented a group within the council with pro-research opinions that were being ignored and glossed over. The report is clear, damning and well worth reading:
Based on all of this, it is clear that the council has to go. Its only purpose is to support legislation to block advances in regenerative medicine that are offensive to religious pressure groups. We have already lost a great deal of time in the path to developing real anti-aging medicine and cures for a wide range of age-related conditions. You can take a few minutes of your time to protest these blatant attempts to hold back medical science and take action here:
If we don't speak out in favor of progress, there are those who will take progress away from us. Use your voice!
THE FUTURE OF OUR HEALTH LIES IN STEM CELL LINES
Why is the number of available stem cell lines so important to the future of our health and longevity? I explain here:
The short of it is that stem cell lines provide a reliable source of stem cells. Without this reliable source, reliable stem cell science is impossible. No lines means there will be no progress towards using regenerative medicine to cure cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, nerve damage, heart disease, diabetes, blindness, and many other conditions. A large part of the slowdown in stem cell research over the past few years has to do with an entirely avoidable absence of, and confusion over, available lines.
With that established, it was with some pleasure that I read last week of the release - for free, to anyone in the world - of 17 new stem cell lines by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute team led by Dr. Douglas Melton. This accomplishment took a lot of work at all levels, and will be of enormous benefit to the research community. To my mind, this is the ideal proactive response to anti-research legislation: work to make it irrelevant.
It's not every day that you can write to thank people who are making an enormous difference in a fight to save millions of lives. Groups like the HHMI researchers certainly don't get thanked enough for stepping up to the plate and hitting the ball out of the park. So pick up a pen, and get writing!
That would be all for this issue of the newsletter. The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.
Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward the newsletter on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!
Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Call For A "Moderate Voice" (March 07 2004)
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.
Light Shed On Bioethics Council Actions (March 07 2004)
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.
More From The Longevity Conference (March 06 2004)
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.
Congratulate Dr. Melton and HHMI (March 06 2004)
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.
International Conference on Longevity Starts (March 05 2004)
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.
Cures for California (March 05 2004)
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.
New Stem Cell Lines Made Available (March 04 2004)
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.
Our Community, Visualized (March 04 2004)
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.
Ronald Bailey on Leon Kass (March 03 2004)
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!
How US Policy Stopped Stem Cell Research In The US (March 03 2004)
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.
100 Leading Bioethicists Speak Out (March 03 2004)
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.
A Vanity Industry With Something to Contribute (March 02 2004)
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 on the Bioethics Council (March 02 2004)
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.
South Korea Moves Ahead Again (March 02 2004)
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!
Abolish The Bioethics Council (March 01 2004)
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.
Harvard To Form Stem Cell Center (February 29 2004)
Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has announced plans for a large stem cell research center. The Boston Globe frames this decision as another attempt to bypass US government restrictions: "Harvard has the responsibility to be taking up the slack that the government is leaving." With plans for State funding in New Jersey and California, this is part of a growing challenge to anti-research policies. "Every success will change the argument. The American people will not stand for scientists not being able to work on their diseases." You can help to challenge anti-research legislation by supporting the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and taking part in their action programs.
India Can Become a Stem Cell Research Hub (February 28 2004)
Indian researchers and investors are clearly looking to the future of regenerative medicine: state and private investment in therapeutic cloning and stem cell research is happening there. Meanwhile, in the the US and Europe, anti-research politicians, special interest groups and legislation have crippled progress in these vital fields of medicine. It's a sorry state of affairs, and we must stand up and make our views known. Otherwise, we face a future in which research to extend the healthy human life span (and the use of therapies developed in other countries) is forbidden. Is government-mandated suffering, disease and death really what we want for ourselves and our children?
Bush Removes Therapeutic Cloning Supporters From Bioethics Council (February 28 2004)
Two members of the President's Council on Bioethics who expressed positive views on therapeutic cloning have been replaced, as reported at Reuters. Various commentators are expressing surprise, but the role of the council has always been to provide justification for anti-research policies. It hasn't been doing that job so well of late, so it was time to stack the deck a little more. This indicates that the current administration is still very serious about banning stem cell and therapeutic cloning research. The cost of blocking research into regenerative and healthy life extension medicine is already unthinkable ... are we going to let them get away with this, or are we going to do something about it?
South Korea To Forge Ahead In Stem Cell Research (February 27 2004)
The Korea Herald reports that South Korea will forge ahead with stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine. A large investment and a new research center have been announced, and the organizers plan to move directly to human trials, first focusing on Parkinson's disease and spiral cord injuries. From the article: "The center's medical team plans to transplant stem cells in the brains of these patients to regenerate nerve cells for the first time in the world." Back in the US, New Jersey is also making headlines as plans - and associated controversy - for a major state investment in stem cell research move ahead.
Interview With Joe Waynick, Alcor CEO (February 27 2004)
The Arizona press abounds with articles about Alcor and the recent cryonics regulation bill. This piece from azcentral.com is a short interview with Joe Waynick, the new Alcor CEO. He offers his opinions on the upside and downside of this regulatory regime, and a few other topics. The article also provides some recent history of the cryonics industry for those who haven't been keeping track, and you can always find out more at Cryonet. It occurs to me, in wake of recent events, that making regulated cryopreservation financially attractive to the funeral industry would now be a good path to growth.
Sounds Like Victory in Arizona (February 26 2004)
It sounds like things have gone well for Alcor in the first round of their current legislative issues in Arizona. Thanks to broadly expressed support (including some important names in the healthy life extension community) and some last minute legwork, the proposed bill has been largely defanged. The end result will likely be some form of "benign regulation" as for the Cryonics Institute in Michigan. From the Alcor president: "We must thank all of the members who took time away from their busy schedules to e-mail, fax, and call Arizona state legislators, urging them to oppose this bill. When they revealed to us that they were receiving from 150-200 e-mails per day we realized that you all really made a difference!"
Almost Getting It Right (February 26 2004)
An article from azcentral.com looks at a the recent SAGE Crossroads debate "Is Aging a Disease?" The author gives a good account of the relevant points, but then unfortunately fumbles the ball before drawing the correct conclusions. Aging and anti-aging research is essential to the future of healthy and longevity. Far too little research is being done today and the pool of funding for serious attempts to slow, reverse (and reverse engineer) the aging process is tiny. If, like Harry Moody, we dismiss the possible results of this research a priori, then of course we won't get any real results! Aubrey de Grey gives a good account of this sort of problem in perceptions and public funding in his "Closing in on the Cure for Death."
Free Radical Theory Doubts (February 26 2004)
Recent research is casting doubt on the long-standing oxidative damage and free radical theories of aging. More research is needed in order to establish the truth of the matter, but attacks on well established theories are usually a sign of meaningful scientific progress. This article from Food Production Daily is fairly clear about the consequences of proving free radical theories wrong, and it is certainly the case that more work must be done based on these new findings, but I don't think that the researcher's position is as strong as he says it is. We'll have to wait and see what the scientific community makes of this.
Meanwhile, In The Business World... (February 25 2004)
We don't hear anywhere near enough in the media about the work of commercializing biotech and regenerative medicine, yet this part of the path from laboratory to therapy is just as vital as the initial science. This article from the Miami Herald gives a brief overview of the current state of play for stem cells in the business and venture capital worlds. The short of it would be that many, many people are interested, and see huge potential for investment and profit. Unfortunately, the current regulatory atmosphere presents equally large risks. The current US administration, and other governments overseas, have scared off investment in regenerative medicine. Thus, more time and lives are lost to the monster of politics.
Ronald Bailey on Alcor Regulation (February 25 2004)
Ronald Bailey weighs in on the Alcor regulation issue, calling the proposed bill "one of the silliest pieces of 'consumer protection' legislation ever devised." That's certainly saying something, given Ronald Bailey's extensive history of commentary on bad lawmaking and other forms of government stupidity. As it happens, he comes to much the same conclusion as I do regarding the proposed Arizona regulations: this is the work of funeral industry lobbyists, buying legislation to put a potential competitor out of business. Not pretty, but a great example of American "freedom and democracy" in action. Step up and protest before it's too late!
It's Always More Complex Than You Think (February 24 2004)
It seems to be true that, wherever you are in the research process, human biochemistry and genetics is more complex than you think. It's good to keep reminding ourselves about this, since the present pace of research makes it easy to become optimistic (and thus complacent) about the future of health, medicine and longevity. Here, Betterhumans notes research that questions the form of the link between antioxidants and healthy lifespan: there may be additional layers in the biochemistry that researchers have not yet explored. This means that the time taken to develop therapies based on understanding these mechanisms just increased by an unknown amount.
Centenarian Studies and HDL (February 24 2004)
You may recall some work last year on longevity, HDL and the sizes of lipoproteins (something that is genetically determined). Small lipoproteins imply a shorter, less healthy life. This New York Times author interviews Dr. Nir Barzilai, who has been studying centenarians for genetic and biochemical clues to longevity. At the top of the list so far: HDL and lipoprotein size. The researchers expect to track down specific longevity genes related to these conditions in the near future, and trial drugs to mimic their effects. Having this genetic knowledge to hand would be a good argument for tweaking the genes in all new children to produce longer, healthier lives.
The Power of Advocacy (February 24 2004)
The latest webcast from SAGE Crossroads is a discussion of the power of advocacy to shape the path of medical research. For example, much of the tenfold growth at the National Institute on Aging over the past two decades has been due to advocacy for Alzheimer's research. Insights into the way in which the NIH and NIA work - given their enormous influence over their course of aging and anti-aging research - are always appreciated. Large organizations are only now thinking about backing real anti-aging research in any meaningful way. The weight of science and advocacy should overcome remaining reluctance before the end of the decade.
Concerning Cryonics Regulation (February 23 2004)
Brian Wowk has written an eloquent open letter on media sensationalism and the current Arizona state efforts to shut Alcor down through bad legislation. If you are interesting in finding out more about the backgound of this situation before speaking out in support of Alcor, then read this open letter. This is a textbook case of the way in which a lazy, sensationalist media and protectionist special interests combine to damage legitimate science and businesses. The only defense against this sort of nonsense is public education and demonstrated support for science, research and progress. You can learn more about Alcor and the science and history of cryonics at Cryonet and Wikipedia.
New Jersey To Fund Stem Cell Research (February 23 2004)
Wired reports that New Jersey legislators intend to build a multi-billion dollar stem cell research institute in New Brunswick. The governor's budget proposal includes $50 million over the next five years for embryonic stem cell research. This follows recent moves in California to direct billions in state funds to stem cell research - and I'd say it's probably just as up in the air. New Jersey's recent pro-research legislation passed very narrowly and is still protested - so there will likely be equally close battles over funding proposals for embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.
Life in the Age of Old, Old Age (February 23 2004)
A long, worthwhile article from the New York Times looks at notable centenarians, prospects for lengthening the healthy human lifespan, arguments for and against progress, and social changes forseen to be the results of advancing medical science. Today's spritely 70-somethings who act 50-something will be replaced by spritely 90-somethings who act 50-something. There are human faces, dreams and aspirations surrounding advances in longevity - people have gained extra healthy years and done well with them. Others may yet gain more, but how rapidly will the necessary new medicines come into being? This is a matter of funding and the will to support medical research.