LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
March 22 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.
- Ever Wonder What the Community Looks Like?
- Join the Three Hundred to Fight Aging
- Why Donate to the Methuselah Foundation?
- Latest Healthy Life Extension News Headlines
EVER WONDER WHAT THE COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE?
It isn't quite living color, I'll admit, but this map of the healthy life extension community does look pretty in the right light. If you've ever wanted to know more about how the community holds together, who the members are, and where to find them, then now is your chance.
I hope that this helps many people skip over the slow process of digging up this information the hard way. Life is always easier with a map in hand.
JOIN THE THREE HUNDRED TO FIGHT AGING
The Methuselah Foundation have launched an intriguing new initiative: for the price of a cup of coffee per day, would you like to join a select group of humanitarians who will be remembered for their vision and saving millions of lives?
The group is called "The Three Hundred" in honor of those who stood at Thermopylae in ancient Greece. The Three Hundred won time; time that allowed the Greeks to achieve a great victory in the course of defending their homes, lives and lands. The modern Three Hundred will, through modest donations and the work of the Methuselah Foundation, win time for scientists to fight and defeat the aging process itself. As the Methuselah Foundation asks:
"What is it worth to you to live 150 healthy years? What is it worth to you to raise the average human lifespan to 150 years, just as a start?"
The first members of the Three Hundred have stepped forward to make their pledges, myself amongst them. You can make a real, tangible difference to the future of healthy life extension medicine by doing the same. Find out more about the work of the Methuselah Foundation (including the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research) at the following website:
WHY DONATE TO THE METHUSELAH FOUNDATION?
Like the X Prize, the Methuselah Mouse Prize (administered by the Methuselah Foundation) is one of the most exciting efforts in its field. I recommend reading comments by supporting donors and the first members of The Three Hundred; they will certainly make you think about priorities and what will soon be possible in medical science.
In particular, the thoughts of David Thompson spring to mind.
"I am a funeral director by trade and have seen more than my share of death. It is never pretty, and some of the things I have seen are terrifying. If you have ever thought about how peaceful someone looked in a casket, let me let you in on a little secret, they didn't look that way before we embalmed them. I have yet to pick someone up from the morgue that looked glad to be there.
"The day will come for most of us when death approaches and we will go through a list of things we wish we had done. If only I had started my diet earlier, why didn't I keep my new years resolution to exercise? Don't let wishing you had donated to the Methuselah Mouse Prize be one of the last things that goes through your mind.
"Before you know it one of my friends or I will be coming for you, put us out of work before we do."
As David points out, death and the degenerative conditions associated with aging are not noble, pretty, dignified or desirable. This horrible outcome happens to everyone, but the medical research and funding communities have not yet fully risen to the challenge. We must fight to support the advance of real anti-aging science, as by raising awareness we can open the funding floodgates. This happened in the 1970s for cancer research, and it is happening now for Alzheimer's research. Efforts like the Methuselah Mouse Prize are one of the best ways forward to the creation of a fully funded anti-aging research industry based on serious science.
Serious science could cure aging in our lifetimes: we just have to unlock the public support and resources to make this happen. You can read more about the science and one plan to beat aging at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) website, run by Aubrey de Grey.
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
Tissue Engineering for the Eye (March 21 2004)
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.
Building New Organs For Transplant (March 21 2004)
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.
Disposable Soma Theory of Aging (March 21 2004)
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.
Jeopardizing Stem Cell Possibilities (March 20 2004)
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."
Pentagon Funds Stem Cell Research (March 20 2004)
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.
Help To Expand Stem Cell Research (March 19 2004)
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!
Biotech Will Extend Healthy Life Span (March 19 2004)
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.
Massachusetts Joins the Party (March 18 2004)
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.
German Politicians Still Banning Stem Cell Research (March 18 2004)
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.
Canada Bill Prohibits Therapeutic Cloning (March 17 2004)
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!
Reminder: Exercise is Essential (March 17 2004)
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.
More on Regenerative Medicine For Hair (March 17 2004)
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.
Calorie Restriction Lowers Cancer Risk (March 16 2004)
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!
The Calorie Restriction Guide Online (March 16 2004)
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.
On Raising Life Expectancy (March 15 2004)
(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.
Join The Three Hundred (March 15 2004)
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?
Not To Be Outdone (March 14 2004)
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.
Searching for New Sources of Stem Cells (March 14 2004)
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.
Betterhumans Sponsors the Methuselah Mouse Prize (March 13 2004)
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.
Regenerative Medicine Heats Up (March 13 2004)
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.
Canada Finally Passes Stem Cell Bill (March 12 2004)
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.
Minnesota Moving Towards Stem Cell Research (March 12 2004)
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.
Evolutionary Explanation for Human Longevity (March 11 2004)
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.
Alcor Legislative Alert For March 11th (March 11 2004)
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."
Blood Vessel Advances in Tissue Engineering (March 10 2004)
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.
Roots of the Stem Cell Controversy (March 10 2004)
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.
Third Silver Fleece Award Presented (March 09 2004)
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.
The Personal Side of Calorie Restriction (March 09 2004)
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.
Attempting to Remove Bad Legislation (March 08 2004)
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."
Ted Williams' Son Cryopreserved? (March 08 2004)
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.
Read Our Newsletter Via RSS (March 08 2004)
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.