A Brief Paean To Betterhumans

If we're counting eyeballs and weight of online presence, I think it's fairly safe to say that Betterhumans has become the public face of transhumanism. (You can find a short explanation of the relevance of transhumanism, transhumanists and transhumanist ideas to healthy life extension at the Longevity Meme. Transhumanism gets a nice large ovoid in the community diagram as well). Betterhumans is doing a good job of bringing transhumanist ideals - including the engineering of longer, healthier lives through advanced medicine - into the public eye.

Public understanding and support is essential to funding large scale medical research programs - hence the need for activism, education and other similar efforts. Media outlets like Betterhumans are doing their part in this process.

Even if transhumanism isn't your cup of tea, Betterhumans is a publication that should be on your favorites list. It presents good articles about medical advances that matter because the editors are aware of the most important goals: increasing healthy life span, defeating age-related conditions, and fully understanding human biochemistry. The future isn't just just a thousand happenings taking place tomorrow - it's a path to destinations that we can clearly envisage now. The multitude of small steps taken by scientists each and every day only make sense in the context of these destinations.

These are the early years of a great, world-changing, awe-inspiring biomedical revolution. There is much to be done and far more to see before it's over. Take part, or follow along, but be aware.

New Brain Cells From Bone Marrow?

An article from Science Blog describes progress made in producing brain stem cells from adult bone marrow stem cells. In theory, these cells could be implanted in the brain to regenerate damage caused by neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Taking stem cells from a patient, making them turn into a certain type of precursor cell, and then returning the cells into a damaged area of the body is a technique currently showing promise for heart disease. We're a long way from human trials in this case, however. Researchers must first test this process in animal subjects - to establish whether or not it works, and find the best way to introduce stem cells into the brain.

Link: http://scienceblog.com/community/article2680.html

Aha! Another Piece Of The Puzzle

Medical News Today reports on new insight into telomeres and a molecule known as RAD51D. From the article: "RAD51D is known to play a role in repairing DNA, but the authors suggest that is has a second role – as supplier of a protective cap for the telomeres." Telomeres are themselves a form of protection and timer, preventing genetic damage, but getting worn away with each cell division. Differences in the activity of RAD51D may cause normal cells to become immortal cancer cells, and it may also play a part in the aging process. This research opens a whole new set of inquiries - the more we learn, the closer we come to being able to effectively fight aging.

Link: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/index.php?newsid=7818

WTA Back To Backing Life Extension

In the past couple of years, I've felt that the World Transhumanist Association has been drifting away from serious considerations of healthy life extension (and other hard science topics) in favor of more airy subjects like art, religion, and politics. Becoming a sort of higher brow euro-transhumanism, if you will - all style and talk, no substance. It's good to see that, after the recent board elections, brainstorming sessions, and website revamp, living a longer, healthy life is back on the top-level agenda.

Too few groups are currently advocating radical life extension - we need to make much bigger ripples in the media and public opinion. We still have a lot of work to do in order to bring about widespread understanding and desire of healthy life extension - especially if we want to see large scale anti-aging research projects get off the ground within the next decade.

Meanwhile, On The Front Lines...

While politicians are squabbling over whether to allow an ounce or a dram of stem cell research to proceed, there are promising signs for future growth in the business and research communities. Newsday notes that the New Jersey Stem Cell Research Endowment Fund is planning an initiative to assist collaboration between academic researchers and biotechnology companies. Partnerships between the two sides are essential to the funding process and the task of turning new medical technologies into viable therapies. Now if the politicians would just stand aside, I'd be far happier about the future of regenerative medicine, health and longevity.

Link: http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/ny-bc-nj--stemcellresearch0425apr25,0,739562.story?coll=ny-ap-regional-wire

The Importance Of Exercise

CNN reports on yet another study demonstrating the beneficial effects of regular exercise on health and life span. From the article: "Routine workouts helped stave off not only the physical effects of aging, but also decline in memory and other brain function." When you stop exercising, the benefits are lost - so maintaining a regular exercise program is very important to your long term health and resistance to age-related conditions. Working on your natural longevity is essential if you want to be alive and active to benefit from the future of healthy life extension medicine in decades to come.

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/04/29/old.brains.ap/index.html

Bipartisan Rumblings Over Stem Cell Policy

The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) notes that 200 members of Congress have signed an open letter requesting that President Bush undo restrictive, anti-research stem cell legislation. Hundreds or thousands of distinct, viable stem cell lines will be needed for vigorous research into regenerative medicine. Thanks to this US administration (and despite generous privately funded efforts), there are currently fewer than fifty viable lines, most of which cannot be used. You can help remedy this situation by writing to your representatives - CAMR provides a web page to make this easy. Please take a few minutes today to make your voice heard.

Link: http://www.camradvocacy.org/fastaction/news.asp?id=856

Roy Walford, M.D. (1924-2004)

It is with some sadness that we note the passing of Dr. Roy Walford, in many ways the father of the modern calorie restriction movement. I see no media coverage yet, but the news was posted to a few of the community lists:

Dr. Roy Walford, pioneer in techniques of calorie restriction for extension of life span, has died in UCLA-Santa Monica Hospital today of complications of ALS, a rare muscle wasting disease with no well-established modifiable risk factors. Dr. Walford was two months short of his 80th birthday. Present were Dr. Walford's daughter Lisa and son Peter, as well as friends of the family. Dr. John Braun of UCLA plans to raise funds for a endowed chair at UCLA in Dr. Walford's honor. Funeral arrangements have not been announced, but cremation is planned for the body, with scattering of ashes at sea.

Steven Harris

Dr. Walford's books and other publications were a great help to me in my explorations of calorie restriction, and they remain the recommended starting point for newcomers. He contributed greatly to advancing medical knowledge in this field, and was an inspiration for many of us.

Each death in the world is a terrible tragedy, but as individuals we just don't see or appreciate that fact all that often. The best thing we can all do in memorium for those who have passed is this: to continue to contribute our time and effort towards improving medicine, providing alternatives to the grave, and defeating the aging process - fighting to make death by old age a thing of the past.

The GenAge Database

João de Magalhães, a scientist working on the biology of aging, maintains a database of genes related to human aging. Even if you're not someone who needs to dig up information on a specific gene (like PASG or HELLS, mentioned here yesterday), the introductory material makes for an interesting read. It's is good to note that the list of genes known to affect aging in mammals is growing. The modern field of bioinformatics has already greatly reduced the resources required to analyse and identify genetic information. This means that we can expect to learn far more of the way in which our bodies work in years to come. This knowledge can then be turned to therapies, cures and the fight against aging!

Link: http://genomics.senescence.info/genes/

What Is Anti-Aging?

A new hot topic is up at the Longevity Meme entitled "What is Anti-Aging?" As I have previously mentioned at Fight Aging!, a battle is being waged over the meaning of "anti-aging" in science, medicine, and the business community. Is it real science, as yet unavailable, a type of legitimate medicine, or the latest skin cream from Revlon? Given that all too few advocates clearly define their terms before wading into the fray, anti-aging can be a confusing topic for the newcomer. I hope that this short introductory article helps to make things a little more clear - and remember to always be wary of what is said by people who are trying to sell things to you.

Link: https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2002/11/what-is-antiaging/

How Obesity Happens

Studies show that even a little excess body weight dramatically raises the risk of suffering - and dying early - from a wide range of age-related conditions. Cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and many others are on this list. Being overweight will shorten your life span, make you less healthy, and drain your wallet through medical expenses. With that in mind, Betterhumans reports on new research into the biochemical cause of obesity. It seems that too much fat in the bloodstream blocks an important signalling process that tells the brain to stop eating. Medications that could address this problem already exist, so you may be hearing more about this research before too long.

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/News/news.aspx?articleID=2004-04-27-2

More On PASG And Premature Aging

I mentioned this research into the PASG gene last week: EurekAlert now has a little more on the subject. Altering the gene causes premature aging in cells and animals, implying that this gene controls part of the natural regeneration process. Another puzzle piece is now available for scientists trying to understand the mechanics of aging. As is the case for many other discoveries related to premature aging and cell death, this will be tested as a cancer therapy. If researchers can find a way to alter PASG genes in cancer cells (and not in healthy cells), it should make an effective treatment. As a doctor once told me, killing cancer is easy - but doing it without killing the patient is very difficult.

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-04/jhmi-gdl042704.php

Thoughts on Literary Visions

I just finished reading Dan Simmons' "The Ilium," at the behest of friends who were so enamoured with it that they named their band The Firmary. In this sci-fi novel, death no longer exists: humans in this future world are "faxed" to the firmary to repair any injury, and every 20 years for a re-conditioning. At the Fifth, or Final, Fax, they are sent up to live among the post-humans in presumed Eden-like bliss.

Without fear of death, these humans are a somewhat pathetic lot: soft and decadent, waited on hand and foot by robotic servants, unable to read and lacking in any curiosity or enterprise. Even their relationships seem superficial and lightly felt.

In contrast, I also just finished "The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break," a novel by poet Steven Sherrill. The ageless immortal in this case is the Minotaur, millenia removed from his Labyrinth and now a short line cook in a rib joint in the Deep South, where he lives in a trailer park. His lengthened experience and lack of fear for death have, rather than trivializing his sense of humanity, instead sharpened it. He remains wholly concerned with the same human longings: love, companionship, friendship, and a sense of belonging.

I bring these two books up because much of the debate around anti-aging focuses on how the removing the specter of decline and death may fundamentally change what it means to be human. For Simmons, humanity is lessened by its absence. This is the fear of those such as Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama. For Sherrill, its absence exposes the true human blights: loneliness and human isolation. Those surrounding the Minotaur, who do still fear death and aging, are no happier because of it: they too suffer from unwanted solitude and disjunction. I'm sure Steven Sherrill did not intend his book to make a statement about anti-aging, but his book, as has Simmons', serves to provoke my thoughts about it.

"Fountain of Youth" book released

"The Fountain of Youth: Cultural, Scientific, and Ethical Perspectives on a Biomedical Goal," published by Oxford University Press, has just been released. This is a collection of essays edited by Stephen Post and Robert Binstock, both of whom are investigators on the anti-aging ethics project that I work on. The title pretty much describes the content: the quest for anti-aging medicine is weighed by scholars from a variety of perspectives, from theology to literature to science to feminism to politics. My own contribution is a comprehensive annotated bibliography on anti-aging literature, which includes significant articles and books about anti-aging science and medicine, its history, its portrayal in literature, and the ethical analyses of it. Here is the table of contents:

1. The Search for Prolongevity: A Contentious Pursuit, Robert H. Binstock

2. The Quest for Immortality: Visions and Presentiments in Science and Literature, Mark B. Adams

3. Decelerated Aging: Should I Drink From a Fountain of Youth?, Stephen G. Post

4. A Jewish Theology of Death and the Afterlife, Neil Gillman

5. In Defense of Immortality, Carol G. Zaleski

6. In Search of the Holy Grail of Senescence, S.Jay Olshansky and Bruce A. Carnes

7. The Metabiology of Life Extension, Michael R. Rose

8. Extending Human Longevity: A Biological Probability, Robert Arking

9. Eat Less, Eat Better, and Live Longer: Does It Work and Is It Worth It? The Role of Diet in Aging, Gemma Casadesus, George Perry, James A. Joseph, and Mark A. Smith

10. Extending Life: Scientific Prospects and Political Obstacles, Richard A. Miller

11. An Engineer's Approach To Developing Real Anti-Aging Medicine, Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey

12. An Unnatural Process: Why It Is Not Inherently Wrong To Seek a Cure For Aging, Arthur L. Caplan

13. Longevity, Identity, and Moral Character: A Feminist Approach, Christine Overall

14. LeChaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?, Leon R. Kass

15. Anti-Aging Research and the Limits of Medicine, Eric T. Juengst

16. The Social and Justice Implications of Extending the Human Life Span, Audrey R. Chapman

17. The Prolonged Old, the Long-Lived Society, and the Politics of Age, Robert H. Binstock

Epilogue: Extended Life, Eternal Life: A Christian Perspective, Diogenes Allen

Annotated Bibliography, Roselle S. Ponsaran

Primary Literary Sources on Prolongevity, Carol A. Donley

How Are the First Stem Cell Therapies Doing?

The first, comparatively simple, regenerative medicine procedures isolate stem cells from a patient and then return them to the body to promote healing. This is the methodology used in trials with heart disease patients since 2002. In many ways, this is a banner therapy for stem cell medicine as a whole - despite using adult stem cells and having little to do with therapeutic cloning. It is the first therapy based on stem cells likely to see widespread use and success.

(For the purposes of this post, I'm ignoring stem cell transplants from bone marrow between matching donors - that could be regarded as a more sophisticated form of old style bone marrow donation).

The latest published information on a human trial of this stem cell based heart disease therapy (held in South America because the FDA would not allow trials to take place in the US through most of 2003 and early 2004) is promising. A ScienceDaily article on the study summarizes some of the results:

Amit Patel, M.D., from the Division of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a faculty member of the university's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at the Benetti Foundation in Rosario, Argentina, say their findings provide the first convincing evidence that transplantation of adult stem cells that promote growth of blood vessels and heart muscle can be a viable treatment for congestive heart failure. While some previous studies have suggested benefit, results of these studies have been questioned due to the small number of patients studied and lack of comparison data from patients not receiving the therapy.

The study involved 20 patients with severe heart failure (New York Heart Association heart failure classification III and IV) who had ejection fractions less than 35 percent. Ejection fraction is a standard measure of heart function and is determined by the total amount of blood that the left ventricle pumps out per heart beat. A patient with good heart function has an ejection fraction of at least 55 percent. Each patient was scheduled for off-pump (beating heart) cardiac bypass surgery; 10 were randomized to also receive stem cells during surgery. The other 10 patients underwent the bypass operation alone. Each group consisted of eight men and two women.

Before surgery, the average ejection fraction in the patients randomized to bypass surgery alone was 30.7 percent with a range of 26 to 34 percent. The patients randomized to receive stem cells in addition to bypass surgery had an average ejection fraction of 29.4 percent before treatment, with a range of 23 to 34 percent.

At one-, three- and six-month follow-up, the ejection fraction rates for the stem cell patients were significantly improved compared to the other patients. ... At six months, the average ejection fraction rates were 46.1 and 37.2 percent, respectively, with ranges of 44 to 50 percent in the stem cell patients and 33 to 44 percent in the bypass alone group.

So the goal to attain bare minimum healthy functioning was an improvement by 25 percentage points of ejection fraction in this group. Stem cell therapy plus bypass surgery looks to be about twice as effective as the surgery alone, a difference that puts the recipients within striking distance of healthy heart function. Pretty impressive stuff.

Heart disease is a form of muscle damage, and as such it is open to this sort of comparatively simply process. Imaging what scientists will be able to achieve with more knowledge and control of stem cells and their usage!

Ben Bova On Therapeutic Cloning

In a column at the Naples Daily News, writer Ben Bova discusses the potential of therapeutic cloning and how it differs from reproductive cloning. I quote: "One day in a future that most of us will live to see, patients will regenerate skin, nerves, whole organs and limbs from stem cells of their own bodies. Regeneration will take the place of much of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments." This future needs protection from anti-research pressure groups and short-sighted politicians. Delays, bans and poor research funding quickly translate into continued widespread suffering and millions of avoidable deaths. We can do better than that - but we must act to support the future we desire.

Link: http://www.naplesnews.com/npdn/pe_columnists/article/0,2071,NPDN_14960_2834614,00.html

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute

News Medical published a long and informative article last week on the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), now being put together by its founding organizations. The main goal of the Institute is to take cutting edge science and develop practical therapies for a wide range of conditions - including diabetes, neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's, heart disease, and muscular dystrophy. This regenerative medicine based on stem cells is the near future of extending the healthy human life span. We cannot (yet) prevent or slow the aging process, but, not too many years from now, scientists will be able to repair many of the resulting conditions and diseases.

Link: http://www.news-medical.net/view_article.asp?id=787

Whatever Happened to Live and Let Live?

An article I commented on earlier contains a range of ideas, people and quotes opposed to healthy life extension. I am not bothered by the fact that there are people who do not want to live longer, healthier lives - let them do as they will with their own health and bodies. What bothers me is the modern presumption that holding an opinion immediately entitles one to a society-wide consideration of the merits of coercing other people to abide by that opinion. This seems coupled to a few other problematic concepts:

  • The idea that "society" is an entity somehow distinct and separate from the people who compose it. For the "wellbeing of society," we hear calls for all sorts of damage and harm to be visited the very people who are the society.

  • The idea that any given choice, problem, or dispute should be resolved in only one way, in all places regardless of local differences.

  • The idea that centralization of decision making is a desirable thing. You would think that the well-understood failures (and the attendant slaughtered millions) of communism and socialism would make this a clear fallacy.

These bad, and unfortunately widespread, ideas lead to a large, wasteful, centralized government that blocks the normal process of finding diverse, peaceful, appropriate local solutions. It leads to great resource-consuming battles over legislation and political power - the money spent on each US presidential election could cure a bevy of diseases if applied to medical research.

When every little aspect of life - and indeed, your right to continue living your life, or your access to healthy life extension medicine - is open to legislative interference from a distant and impersonal government at the behest of people you have never met, shouldn't you be worried?

Another Step Forward For Stem Cell Science

Forbes reports on a small but important step forward in the basics of stem cell science. Researchers have developed a comparatively straightforward way to grow mouse embryos from embryonic stem cells. This conclusively proves that embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any other type of cell (are totipotent). Scientist believe this process will work for human stem cells as well, and so it should help to speed progress towards therapies in many areas of regenerative medicine. If nothing else, it should help to efficiently generate the stem cells needed for future research into preventing and curing age-related conditions.

Link: http://www.forbes.com/health/feeds/hscout/2003/05/01/hscout512987.html

Varied Foolishness From The Naysayers

An article on healthy life extension research from SFGate gives many column inches to the naysayers who raise foolish objections to longer, healthier lives. We should cut to the chase and ask them if they support the implications of their position - enforced upper limits on life span. This is, after all, where their arguments lead: to bans on research and forcing the death and suffering of millions for the sake of airy and abstract philosophical positions. Things change, and with advancing medical science our lives are changing for the better. The naysayers have every right to refuse the fruits of progress themselves, but no right whatsoever to force their desires onto the rest of us.

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/04/25/INGA168A4H1.DTL

Change To RSS News Feed Structure

As those of you who read the Longevity Meme through a feed should already be noticing, I've made a minor - and quite possibly overdue - change to the feed structure. I rather liked the old way of doing things, but it led to attribution being stripped by major RSS aggregators. Thus my writing has been showing up on noteworthy health sites with no link back to the Longevity Meme. Time spent chasing up busy webmasters to obtain correct attribution is time better spent on other projects - I explain more in a post at Fight Aging! If you have comments, suggestions or requests relating to this change, I am happy to hear from you.

Link: https://www.fightaging.org/archives/000094.php

Updating the Longevity Meme RSS News Feed

I will be updating the format of the RSS news and commentary feed at the Longevity Meme within the next day or so. I've been pondering this for a while, since my feed is a little non-standard in its present configuration. Most RSS feeds use the <link> element to point back to an article at their own website, while the <description> element is an except of that article. In my case, I am using the <description> element to carry commentary on an article on another website, and the <link> element to point to that article. What this means is that while it's all perfectly clear to human readers what is going on, automatic aggregators tend to assume that my comments are an except of someone else's article. Once the aggregator has stripped and reformatted my posts, links back to the Longevity Meme and correct attribution has been lost.

I've been aware of this problem for a while, but I rather like my way of doing things. Up until recently, aggregated Longevity Meme content hasn't been all that widely used, and I've been able to politely ask webmasters to give correct attribution when it did show up on a popular site. Unfortunately, it's now getting to the point where that strategy is too time-intensive for me - it's easier just to change the feed format.

I'm fiddling with some ideas now, but my primary concern is to make it the change easy on my human readers (as opposed to my devoted machine hordes, spidering the site on a daily basis). I don't want to confuse people or make you take an extra trip back to the Longevity Meme when you just want to read the article I'm commenting on. So I'll let you know how it goes, and I'm always prepared to feedback and good ideas on the topic.

Skin Elasticity And "What We All Know"

(From NewsWise). Just occasionally, we need reminding that what "we all know" is not necessarily true - and that goes for scientists too. We all know that skin loses its elasticity with age, and this has been associated with the progression of many age-related conditions (including hardening of the arteries, joint stiffness, cataracts, Alzheimer's and dementia). New research has indicated that the underlying mechanisms are quite different from those previously assumed, however. This explains past failures to find effective therapies and opens the door to a whole new set of research aimed at preventing loss of skin elasticity and associated serious age-related conditions.

Link: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/504523/

No Genetic Link Between Longevity And Alzheimer's?

I don't normally post PubMed abstracts, but this is an interesting study. The researchers conclude that longevity is an independent prerequisite for the development of Alzheimer's, but is not genetically related to the condition. Your longevity genes will not make you more likely to get Alzheimer's in any way other than by living longer. This is important because - if validated by more and larger studies - it means that there are less likely to be hidden complications relating to Alzheimer's when extending the healthy human life span. The study suggests that Alzheimer's is not like cancer in this respect, and this is a good thing.

Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=15084787&dopt=Abstract

Illinois To Vote On Stem Cell Bill

The Illinois Leader notes that state legislators will soon be voting on a bill permitting embryonic stem cell research. The voices of anti-research pressure groups - the same old faces from the abortion debate - are becoming shrill of late. More states are moving to permit or fund stem cell research into curing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, bone loss, and other common age-related conditions. This research shows great promise in the laboratory and human trials to date. New Jersey groups are already moving ahead with funding and organization, California will likely see a state ballot on the issue in November, and Massachusetts politicians are also in the news - pushing for legislation to permit research to go ahead.

Link: http://www.illinoisleader.com/news/newsview.asp?c=12308

Genetic Integrity And Aging

Inability maintain the integrity of the genome is thought to be an important cause of aging, developmental abnormalities and cancer risk. EurekAlert reports on a study on premature aging in mice that adds weight to this theory, illuminating some of the fundamental biochemical mechanisms that play an important role in genetic expression and aging. The scientists behind this research hope that these mice will provide insight for further aging, cancer and longevity research. It's a small step forward, but every step forward brings us closer to understanding aging - and thus to developing therapies to slow, prevent and reverse it.

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-04/cshl-sos042204.php

Passage: Yoda

After attaining his fifteen minutes of fame in the world media, Yoda the dwarf mouse has passed away at an age comparable to 136 in humans.

I think that the press attention surrounding Yoda, by far outshining the human researcher managing the study, Dr. Richard Miller, illustrates just how on the money the Methuselah Mouse Prize is. People like mice. Mice - especially cute mice - can be media celebrities: spokesmice for aging and serious anti-aging research. Yoda probably did more for the public perception of aging research this year than everyone else I know put together.

It's a funny old world; here's to Yoda and many more like him. (With a final tip of the hat to Dr. Miller's very shrewd handling of the media. Kudos).

Government Mandated Upper Limits To Life Span?

Government mandated limits to life span: it's an ugly idea, frequently explored in Science Fiction. Is it likely to happen in the real world, however? Worse things have been done to people in the name of law and government in the past, even in the recent past. If you live in a developed country, the chances are that government employees already have a great deal of control over your life span: your opinions on the matter are usually irrelevant.

For example, it is extremely difficult to choose the time and method of your own death, even under the most compelling circumstances. Assisted suicide is illegal in many countries, leaving terminal stage patients - who often endure intolerable pain and loss of dignity - with no options other than to suffer. Cryonics patients often want to die in a time and manner of their choosing, in order to best preserve their brain for cryosuspension. The US legal system prevented a patient with a terminal brain tumor from being cryosuspended before the tumor could damage his brain beyond repair. I am at a loss to explain why courts, laws, and plain old other people should have any say in these matters. If you don't own your body and your life, what do you own?

It is unfortunate that we live in a society in which people serve laws, as opposed to the other way around.

The concept of legislation to set upper limits on life span is something of a bottom line for many of the debates taking place around the world on policy, aging, increasing life spans, and biotechnology. I don't see a Logan's Run scenario materializing for 80 year olds any time soon - although, as I mentioned, far worse has been done in the name of government in past decades - but doesn't a ban on healthy life extension technology amount to the same thing?

Currently, the best hopes for greatly extending the healthy human life span in the near future revolve around stem cell research and related fields. It looks very likely that most of the degenerative conditions of aging can be repaired using stem cell therapies - many impressive results have already have been attained in the lab or early human trials. As you may have noticed, however, national legislators in much of the Western world have been attempting to ban both the research and its applications. There have even been attempts to force a worldwide ban on therapeutic cloning at the UN. (Therapeutic cloning, or SCNT, is a vital technology for this research).

Banning the tools of regenerative medicine looks - to me - fairly close to declaring and enforcing an upper age limit for the next few decades. Killing people, in other words. Actively foiling the attempts of a dying man to pay for a cure is murder, no different than using poison to achieve the same end.

Too many people - like Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, et al - are arguing that healthy life extension should not happen, or that legislation should be used to prevent the necessary medical technology from being developed. I think that the Kasses of this world need to be directly challenged. We should demand answers: do they support mandated and enforced upper limits on life span? Do they support state-sanctioned murder to achieve these ends? From where I'm standing, it certainly sounds like they do.

The next time you listen to a debate over aging policy, regenerative medicine, or stem cell research, take a closer look at what these politicians and pundits are implying - and challenge them on it.

The Stem Cell Debate In The US

USA Today takes a high level look at the stem cell research debate in the US. It has become an extension of the abortion debate in many ways, with two intractable sides attempting to force or prevent legislation. As one researcher says: "If politics were not involved, the field of embryonic stem cell research would be much more advanced than it is today. It is difficult to estimate just how damaging the current restrictions have been to the field to date, but if the current restrictions are not eventually lifted, patients will suffer needlessly." Legislative obstruction of medical research costs lives.

Link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2004-04-20-stem-cell-cover_x.htm

What Aging Problem?

In an article at Spiked, Phil Mullan takes a sharp stick to the European debate over longer life spans and social policy. As he points out, "the parts don't add up to a problem." Even if we take the leap in assuming the welfare state social model to be a useful one, the facts as reported just don't add up. Much like the environmental debate, policy decisions and proposals do not seem to be strongly connected to the real world. It is worth paying attention now, as these politicians may well be deciding what sort of healthy life extension technologies your government will allow in years to come. While that isn't an enforced upper limit to life span, it's certainly close.

Link: http://www.spiked-online.com/Printable/0000000CA4E3.htm

An Interesting Semi-Objection

James Hughes, in a column at Betterhumans, floats an interesting semi-objection to radical life extension - that turns out to be more of a side journey into asking what it means to be you. Plausible future technologies will make this an increasingly difficult question to answer, but philosophical speculation certainly doesn't invalidate the fight against aging! In any case, Hughes returns halfway to the fold by the end of the article, concluding: "So bring on radical life extension. It will make us all happier, better people, and we will live long enough to honestly not fear death, partly because we will know that everything we are will continue on in some form."

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/Features/Columns/Change_Surfing/column.aspx?articleID=2004-04-21-1

Anti-aging in the news

Ethics of boosting brainpower debated by researchers With this history of paying to improve our bodies and minds, why not extend that liberty to memory-improving drugs or brain-enhancing implants? These and other questions being raised by modern neuroscience were the topic of a meeting of neuroscientists, ethicists and psychologists funded by the National Science Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences. The group's goals were to outline both the ethical issues raised by modern neuroscience and the steps scientists should take, if any.

Calorie restriction drastically reduces risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes People who severely restrict their caloric intake drastically reduce their risk of developing diabetes or clogged arteries, the precursor to a heart attack or stroke. In fact, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, some risk factors were so low they were comparable to those of people decades younger.

Longevity gene may also predict better outcome for breast cancer patients A gene known to promote longevity in animals has now been discovered to encode a tumor suppressor - a protein that helps prevent cancer, according to a study by a team of scientists from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The new gene, which was inactivated in two-thirds of patients studied, presents a potent new target for breast cancer therapy, the researchers say.

New study looks for ways to delay disability in older adults People over age 70 represent the fastest growing segment of the United States population. Learning how to prevent or delay age-related disability in this age group is the focus of a National Institute on Aging study being led by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom writes a tale for the Journal of Medical Ethics, where aging is the ultimate enemy

Swimming may have anti-aging benefit U.S. researchers said they have found a possible link between swimming and staving off the effects of aging.Researchers at Indiana University said they will test their theory on competitors at the United States Masters Swimming Short Course National Championship in Indianapolis later this month, to see if swimmers' biological ages are different from their chronological ages.

Most Adults Won’t Give Up Sex for Staying Young, Senior Citizens Won’t Give Up Coffee Americans are coming out from
under the covers and unveiling their attitudes about aging. A trip to the "Fountain of Youth" may be a much desired destination on one's life itinerary, but what are Americans willing to give up for a drink of the infamous elixir? Not sex, said half of men and a third of women ages 18 to 64 in a February 2004 survey of 1,000 adults by Body Confident(TM). Those in the 64-and-over
age group named coffee (18 percent) as the item they are not willing to exchange.

Can a shot a day (safely) keep aging away? More and more Americans are turning to human growth hormones in an attempt to defy the effect of aging. But are they safe? As baby boomers mature, their desire to defy and deny the effects of aging has led them to try some very expensive and cutting-edge measures.

Fungus May Boost the Old, Out-Of-Shape Supplements made from a Chinese fungus may help older and out-of-shape people feel a bit more energized, corporate researchers said on Monday.They said people who took the supplements increased their ability to use oxygen as they exercised -- one way doctors measure fitness -- and were able to walk a mile slightly more quickly than those who took a placebo.

Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford Outlines Science-Based Plan for Dietary Supplement Enforcement Dr. Crawford said the agency would soon provide further details about its plan to ensure that the consumer protection provisions of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) are used effectively and appropriately. Through DSHEA, which sets up a distinct regulatory framework for dietary supplement products, Congress attempted to strike a balance between providing consumers access to dietary supplements and giving FDA regulatory authority to act against supplements or supplement ingredients that present safety problems, are marketed with false or misleading claims, or are otherwise adulterated or misbranded.

Bioethics Council Chairman Speaks With FRC About Troubling Report Family Research Council (FRC) is publishing on its website a short "Q&A" with Dr. Leon Kass, who chairs the President's Council on Bioethics. On April 1st, the Council released a report, "Reproduction and Responsibility," which touched on several issues, from embryonic stem cell research to human cloning and animal/human hybrid creations. Many pro-lifers were concerned that the report might be interpreted to call for a ban on embryonic research after 14 days, rather than from the moment life begins.

States dive into stem cell debates An annual Senate debate has hit the road, moving to 33 state legislatures considering 100 bills that alternately condemn, condone or fund embryonic stem cell research. The legislative battles culminate in a California voter initiative in November that would, if approved, pump nearly $3 billion over 10 years into such research.

The Kass Council's Ex-Friends We're used to criticism of the President's Council on Bioethics - aka the Kass council after its Chairman Leon Kass -- from liberals and libertarians. Its most recent proposals regarding embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning have it taking fire again. This time, however, it's the council's usual allies, social conservatives, who are upset.

Kerry on the Record: Stem Cell Research The bottom line is that Kerry has pledged to increase stem cell research if elected president.Charging that the Bush administration has an “anti-science attitude,” Kerry, a practicing Roman Catholic, has steered clear of berating George Bush’s own strong faith that has made the president less than comfortable with stem cell research that involves using human embryos.

New theory on use of hormone therapy Despite recent controversy over treatments, experts now look at whether estrogen given at the onset of menopause will curb heart disease. Just weeks after the National Institutes of Health halted a massive study, finding estrogen's risks outweigh benefits for post-menopausal women, a privately funded trial will look at whether hormone therapy prevents hardening of the arteries in younger women, age 40-55.

The Fable Of The Dragon-Tyrant

Nick Bostrom is a transhumanist philosopher who writes about healthy life extension. Here, he has crafted a clever fable; a modern fairy tale. It reads well, and in the telling illuminates the history of a great and important battle: the fight against aging (or the great and powerful dragon-tyrant). As Bostrom says, "It matters which stories we tell ourselves." Aging and death have been viewed as inevitable for so long that we, as a society, are now slow to seize the chance to develop a cure. Every year of delay brings another fifty million deaths that might have been prevented.

Link: http://www.nickbostrom.com/fable/dragon.html

Calorie Restriction in the Press

Calorie restriction (CR) is riding high in the press in the wake of a very impressive set of human study results. This should certainly provide impetus for further funding in the scientific community, and is good confirmation on top of the many, many animal studies on the beneficial effects of calorie restriction.

With all the media attention, the CR Society has an influx of new members and their e-mail lists are humming. The Longevity Meme is experiencing a mini-deluge of visitors as well, since my CR page is fairly high up on a Google search on "calorie restriction". One of the newcomers was kind enough to send me the following e-mail:

I just wanted to say thank you for the clear and interesting exposition of CR on your website.

As a lifelong 'fatty' and stress eater, I was drawn to search for CR links as a result of recent media publicity. The lovely thing about your site is that it explains the principles clearly without making those of us who do not follow a healthy diet feel subhuman and degraded - a very substantial reason why I at least have often rebelled against dieting. In fact, it sounds so sensible, reasonable and logical I want to find out more.

Thanks, and wish me luck. And courage.

The best of luck to everyone who is about to embark on a new CR diet! You should certainly take advantage of the CR Society resources:

It's very pleasing to see calorie restriction getting the recognition it deserves. I hope that it will bring many more people into the healthy life extension community and open many more eyes to the concept of extending the healthy human life span.

A New Alzheimer's Hypothesis

Medical News Today is carrying a good article on the latest research into curing Alzheimer's. Scripps Research Institute scientists are proposing that Alzheimer's arises due to inflammation - the fibrils and plaques commonly associated with the disease are several steps along in the chain of consequences. The article is actually a very good primer on Alzheimer's science, theories, research and the current state of knowledge. Beating this neurodegenerative disease is vital to early steps in the process of lengthening the healthy human life span - without a cure, lengthening life span would simply mean that we would all eventually suffer from Alzheimer's.

Link: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/index.php?newsid=7378

Washington Post On Calorie Restriction

Every news outlet in the world is talking about calorie restriction (CR) today, it seems, and justifiably so. The new human study results are very impressive. A quote from John O. Holloszy, the lead research for this study: "These people are definitely protected against the major killers. It should definitely increase longevity." From Roy Walford, the father of the modern CR movement: "It is a very important paper. You may well be able to choose between [caloric restriction] and that double-bypass cardiac surgery you are not looking forward to." If you are interested in learning more, you can start here at the Longevity Meme, or visit the CR Society website.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A25564-2004Apr19.html

A Conversation on Aging Theories

A month or so ago, I posted some of Robert Bradbury's thoughts on a grand unified theory of aging. A few days ago, Joao Magalhaes - a microbiologist and aging researcher - offered some comments:

My response time is a bit slower than usual but I thought I have a go at this nonetheless.
At 18:49 03-04-2004, you wrote:

First, lets assume the Free Radical theory of Aging which involves various aspects of Mitochondrial damage and aging are correct. [This explains why caloric restriction works.]

### Actually, I have a paragraph in a manuscript I'm working on that may interest you:

"Given the large number of age-related changes, it is crucial to evaluate the predictions of each theory and follow a system-level approach of which genetic manipulations in animal models are a crucial tool. The mechanisms of CR are a perfect example for the open-minded scepticism that should be implemented in ageing research. As mentioned earlier, both the GH/IGF-1 axis and ROS production appear to change in CR. Hypothesis aiming to explain CR based on either mechanism are theoretically sound. Yet while a clear cause-effect phenotype is witnessed when manipulating the components of the GH/IGF-1 axis, such is not the case for ROS. Therefore, the GH/IGF-1 axis, not oxidative damage, is the main candidate for explaining CR."

By manipulating the components I mean genetic manipulations in animal models, such as mice. If you genetically manipulate a number of components of the GH/IGF-1 axis you get a phenotype very similar to CR. If you manipulate ROS production or damage, you don't. So a clear cause-effect phenotype is witnessed suggesting the GH/IGF-1 axis is, at least partly, the mechanism involved in CR. No direct evidence exists that ROS are a cause of CR.

Second, lets assume you can't do too much about them because radicals and/or other pro-oxidants (e.g. nitric oxide) are being used as signal molecules (this may be somewhat controversial).

### I agree with the view that ROS are signalling molecules and there is good evidence supporting this view and supporting the idea that ROS are important in development.

Third, lets assume that the free radicals lead to DNA mutations (which is one way cancer develops) or worse leads to DNA double strand breaks. (Radiation and perhaps toxic substances in food or the environment might contribute to this as well).

### There isn't any direct evidence that free radical damage to the DNA causes ageing in mammals. Again, a paragraph from the same manuscript:

"One possibility is that ROS damage DNA and some evidence exists showing an increase in oxidative damage to DNA with age (Hamilton et al., 2001). Yet overexpression of catalase in the nucleus did not prevent oxidative damage to DNA (Schriner et al., 2000) and knocking out the gene responsible for 8-oxo-dGTPase failed to accelerate ageing (Tsuzuki et al., 2001). These results hint that the free radical and the DNA damage theories of ageing are not complementary."

BTW, 8-oxo-dGTPase repairs 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine, an abundant and mutagenic form of oxidative DNA damage.

What I'm saying is that although oxidative damage to the DNA accumulates with age in some tissues, it is not proven this is a cause rather an effect of ageing. And the cited experiments suggest this is an effect of ageing.


Hamilton, M.L., Van Remmen, H., Drake, J.A., Yang, H., Guo, Z.M., Kewitt, K., Walter, C.A., Richardson, A., 2001. Does oxidative damage to DNA increase with age? Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 98, 10469-10474.

Schriner, S.E., Ogburn, C.E., Smith, A.C., Newcomb, T.G., Ladiges, W.C., Dolle, M.E., Vijg, J., Fukuchi, K., Martin, G.M., 2000. Levels of dna damage are unaltered in mice overexpressing human catalase in nuclei. Free Radic Biol Med 29, 664-673.

Tsuzuki, T., Egashira, A., Igarashi, H., Iwakuma, T., Nakatsuru, Y., Tominaga, Y., Kawate, H., Nakao, K., Nakamura, K., Ide, F., Kura, S., Nakabeppu, Y., Katsuki, M., Ishikawa, T., Sekiguchi, M., 2001. Spontaneous tumorigenesis in mice defective in the MTH1 gene encoding 8-oxo-dGTPase. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 98, 11456-11461.

As for the rest of your theory, Robert, I agree with the view that changes in DNA over time play a role in ageing. This could even be the case in stem cell stocks, as suggested by Van Zant's work. Yet I have some reservations on the idea that only one type of DNA damage causes ageing. At a first glance, it just doesn't seem right. Like I wrote previously on the mechanisms of CR, your idea is theoretically sound but there is no direct evidence in support of it. Can you think of one or two experiments that can prove or disprove your theory?

Robert Bradbury replied with:

What I'm saying is that although oxidative damage to the DNA accumulates with age in some tissues, it is not proven this is a cause rather an effect of ageing. And the cited experiments suggest this is an effect of ageing.

Well (Van Remmen, 2003 [1]) is interesting in that free radicals seem to be contributing to cancer but not to ageing. Though the standard caveat should be added that this is research in mice and not in humans.

In this case the entire somatic mutation approach may need to be modified such that it is only involved in cancer -- which is the cause of death for ~30% of people.

As for the rest of your theory, Robert, I agree with the view that changes in DNA over time play a role in ageing. This could even be the case in stem cell stocks, as suggested by Van Zant's work. Yet I have some reservations on the idea that only one type of DNA damage causes ageing. At a first glance, it just doesn't seem right. Like I wrote previously on the mechanisms of CR, your idea is theoretically sound but there is no direct evidence in support of it. Can you think of one or two experiments that can prove or disprove your theory?

As Aubrey pointed out to me the theory as described ignores possible epigenetic changes. Which in light of the difference between the progeria gene and the W.S. gene functions may be of significant concern. [See [2] for example when causes/symptoms of the two may be difficult to separate.]

I'm perfectly willing to accept that stem cell depletion may play an important role in aging -- that would sound like one needs an experiment to measure apoptosis (human cells are very intolerant of double strand breaks and might undergo apoptosis at a higher rate than mice) and replacement by stem cells with age. The recent report by (Li, 2004 [3]) suggests that you cannot separate Werner's Syndrome type aging from a direct involvement with double strand breaks (which is what PARP is involved in dealing with). It sounds like we need some kind of complex pulse-chase experiment with long-lived radioisotopes to measure cell death and stem cell replacement rates.

Now, with regard to the double strand break problem itself -- the problem in my mind is *where* do the breaks occur? I think you can get at this problem with high amplification PCR. If you assume the breaks are taking place at random places in the genome (but perhaps with some bias with respect to junk DNA, regulatory DNA and expressed DNA) then if you have enough cells and simply amplify various regions of the genome you should be able to gather statistical evidence with respect to where breaks are taking place and how they may impact gene expression. This may feedback into the actual structure of DNA in the nucleus and the whole LAMIN/progeria/epigenetic story.

If the DSB somatic mutation theory is correct you should be able to pull out the locations where breaks (and microdeletions) have taken place by differences in the length of the PCR amplification products. Vijg's (and others) work suggests that the deletions are taking place but to the best of my knowledge nobody has tried to do a statistical analysis of where they occur directly.

Finally, one needs mutant mice knockouts in at least the W.S. gene as well as the Artemis gene (perhaps heterozygous) to see if that impacts the frequency of microdeletions significantly.

1. Van Remmen H, Ikeno Y, Hamilton M, Pahlavani M, Wolf N, Thorpe SR, Alderson NL, Baynes JW, Epstein CJ, Huang TT, Nelson J, Strong R, Richardson A.Physiol Genomics. 2003 Dec 16;16(1):29-37. Life-long reduction in MnSOD activity results in increased DNA damage and higher incidence of cancer but does not accelerate aging. mutations in atypical Werner's syndrome.

2. Chen L, Lee L, Kudlow BA, Dos Santos HG, Sletvold O, Shafeghati Y, Botha EG, Garg A, Hanson NB, Martin GM, Mian IS, Kennedy BK, Oshima J. LMNA mutations in atypical Werner's syndrome. Lancet. 2003 Aug 9;362(9382):440-5

3. Li B, Navarro S, Kasahara N, Comai L. J Biol Chem. 2004 Apr 2;279(14):13659-67. Epub 2004 Jan 20. Identification and biochemical characterization of a Werner's syndrome protein complex with Ku70/80 and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1.

Finally, Joao commented:

As with all theories of ageing, my major problem is how to prove that the mechanism you propose is a cause rather than an effect of ageing. For instance, you place a lot of weight on double strand breaks (DSB) as a causal factor in ageing. My advice would be for you to make a list of proteins involved in DSB repair and the phenotype witnessed in mice or humans when these proteins are mutated. At the IABG10 meeting in Cambridge last September, Vijg gave a talk along these lines in considering DSB repair mechanisms as critical in ageing but I was left mostly unconvinced. He did not show a clear trend in mutations affecting DSB influencing ageing. For instance, don't p53 mutations affect DSB? What about Pms2? Both these mutations decrease the lifespan of mammals but don't appear to change ageing. Nibrin also affects DSB in humans and yet mutations in NSB1 do not appear to accelerate ageing--at least not to me, though Vijg has argued it does.

The manuscript I'm working on deals exactly with the issue of segregating cause and effect of ageing. Animal models, such as mice, and human progeroid syndromes offer the best evidence of causal mechanisms in ageing. My opinion is that these are the best set of observations we have for understanding ageing and by fitting these observations together we may be able to develop an holistic view of the mechanisms of ageing. I'll warn you when I have a final version of the manuscript but it looks good.

Interesting stuff, isn't it? If you were subscribed to the Extropy-Chat mailing list, you'd see this sort of science discussed fairly often.

Extended Life Spans and Financial Planning

I've written here before on the topic of financial planning for the future in the context of plausible advances in healthy life extension science. A batch of other folks have been mulling that and related topics of late, it seems.

Kyle Markley uses Aubrey de Grey's life span goals to argue that Social Security is nonsense:

The real problem with Social Security is that it's utter nonsense. How can I say that? Because the fundamental assumptions underlying the system are false.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, biogerontologist at the University of Cambridge, believes that the first person to live to the age of 1,000 is already alive today - and is already 45 years old! Dr. de Grey argues that aging is a curable affliction and that extended lifespans would be filled with healthy, productive years - not centuries of frailty. Please visit his SENS website for more information.

Social Security's fundamental assumptions are that people will retire, and that retirement will be short and ended by death. An individual will contribute into the system for approximately 45 years, and collect benefits for about 15 years. (background on these figures)

It is obviously ridiculous for a person who lives to be 1,000 to spend less than 5% of those years contributing to Social Security, then retire and spend more than 95% of their lives collecting benefits. It could not work. It would be a society of parasites with too few victims to sustain itself. The same observation applies to any other system where benefits begin at a certain age and terminate at death: The time spent collecting benefits will balloon beyond all prior expectations. No, your 401(k) doesn't make much sense, either - forcing withdrawals when you're less than 100 is plainly silly when you'll live ten times that long!

Frankly, the social security system makes very little sense right now - it's a pyramid scheme that enriches people who are, on average, far better off than those who are paying.

Michael Friedman has a few comments on the subject too.

It might be a good idea to invest in an annuity now before insurance companies adjust to this new reality. Of course if the changes are too severe you may not be able to collect - your insurance company may go bust. If you pick one with a strong life insurance business you may be all right though.

From a stock point of view, consider adjusting your portfolio away from companies with exposure to defined benefit pension plans for younger workers - they may end up paying out far more than they plan. Also avoid companies that sell annuities. On the other hand, life insurance companies may do very well.

Change is certainly in the air.

Responsible Comments On HGH

As I remarked in a Fight Aging! post a few days ago, it's hard to find unbiased information about human growth hormone (HGH). Salesmen from the "anti-aging" marketplace and people with agendas have crowded out the few qualified, responsible voices. That said, I'm happy to see a sane, balanced article on HGH by Judith Reichman at MSNBC. It gives a good overview of the science, the uncertainties, hazards, and possible benefits. Her conclusion is the same as mine: "Until we get more scientific information, I do not recommend that HGH be used for women who are healthy, but just getting older (and heavier). If you want to spend that kind of money, invest in better researched paths to better looks and longevity."

Link: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4773567/

Max Plank Institute To Research Biology Of Aging

The Max Planck Society has announced it will open a new institute for research into the biology of aging: "The biology of ageing is an upcoming and rapidly expanding area of research that is currently not being adequately covered at German universities or private research institutes." It will be modelled on the Buck Institute in the US, an organization noted for good work on aging science. Long term trends in science and research funding are marked by new buildings and organizations, so this announcement is a good sign. As noted in this Cordis article, however, financing has yet to be determined ... so "long term" may mean a few years before things get underway.

Link: http://dbs.cordis.lu/cgi-bin/srchidadb?CALLER=NHP_EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=EN_RCN_ID:21902

Impressive Calorie Restriction Statistics

(Reported by The Herald). The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published an impressive set of statistics on the effects of calorie restriction (CR) in humans, based on ongoing US research. It makes for compelling reading: "It's very clear from these findings that calorie restriction has a powerful protective effect against diseases associated with ageing. [Practitioners will] certainly have a much longer life expectancy than average because they're most likely not going to die from a heart attack, stroke or diabetes." The study subjects, with an average age of 50, had blood pressure readings akin to those of a 10 year old! If you can't sell calorie restriction with a statistic like that, then you can't sell calorie restriction.

Link: http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/14316-print.shtml

More On Stem Cell Heart Disease Therapy

The Genome News Network reports on the state of a stem cell therapy for heart disease. Scientists are as yet unsure how this transfusion-like therapy works, but human trials over the past two years have demonstrated that it does work. The most recent work had to be performed outside the US because the FDA - in its normal obstructionist way - was blocking human trials up until very recently. As the scientist leading the latest trial says: "We have a lot of patients that are marching on towards end-stage heart failure. Are we going to wait around, sitting on our hands while we try to figure out what is happening in mice? Or do we move forward and try to see if this treatment can help?"

Link: http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/2004/04/16/stem_cell_trial.php

Michael J. Fox On Stem Cell Research

(From the Calgary Herald). Michael J. Fox, the celebrity face of Parkinson's disease, is a strong advocate for stem cell research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised and channelled $35 million toward Parkinson's research in the past four years, making it the second-largest funding source after the US government. Studies have shown that stem cell based therapies have the potential to provide treatment and a cure for Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative conditions. Speaking about anti-research legislation, existing and planned, Fox says "to limit or disallow that avenue of research is fundamentally wrong."

Link: http://www.canada.com/calgary/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=7d9f1520-0d2a-4459-b73d-48806c79e044

Shameless Name Dropping

After a year or so of collaboration on Methuselah Foundation agenda items and technology work, I had the chance to meet Aubrey de Grey in person. He was briefly in town between flights and lunching with biotech writer Gina Smith - a scarily well-connected person if there ever was one. I tagged along, and we had a rousing conversation on the state of healthy life extension in the media, the history of the non-academic parts of the community, and the need for far greater funding in aging and serious anti-aging research.

I'm always pleased to see journalistic enthusiastic on the topics of healthy life extension and prospects for near term gains in medical science. This enthusiasm propagates through the media to help build the widespread public support and understanding that is necessary for high levels of research funding. (Devon Fowler and I touch on this issue in "Activism for Healthy Life Extension" over at the Longevity Meme).

Cryonics In Australia

news.com.au is carrying a pleasant human interest article on cryonicists in Australia who make use of US cryopreservation services (such as Alcor or the Cryonics Institute). The sixth Australian to be cryopreserved was apparently frozen earlier this month. As the main subject of the article says: "Death seems like a big nothing and I want to see what humans get up to over the coming centuries. That would be fascinating." Those of us who see cryonics as a backup plan are placing at least some of our near-term hopes for healthy life extension in medical advances relating to regenerative medicine.

Link: http://news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,9305496%255E2765,00.html

More Than One Million Signatures

(From the Mercury News). The well-funded California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative has gathered more than one million signatures and the organizers seem confident of a place in the November state ballot. The proposal would direct $3 billion in state funding over the next 10 years towards regulated stem cell research at California universities. Given the timing of the US presidential elections, and the candidate positions on stem cell medicine, this may become an important referendum. It isn't on the ballot yet, however, and the Initiative organizers continue to need your support and assistance.

Link: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/health/8454341.htm?1c

Progress Towards Alzheimer's Vaccine

Canada.com reports on progress towards a functional vaccine for Alzheimer's. A promising candidate - one that attacks the brain-damaging plaques called beta amyloid - is entering phase II trials. A quote: "I think the total data is very encouraging, but we still have clinical development to go. I feel bullish about it ultimately working and I'm hopeful that it will." A cure for Alzheimer's - and other inevitable age-related degenerative brain conditions - is vital to healthy life extension efforts. With continuing support and funding, we can hope to see breakthroughs in this and many other fields of medicine in years to come.

Link: http://www.canada.com/health/story.html?id=1ADE4B62-E49F-4040-B971-7B1F0788D78F

Over 1,000,000 Signatures for the California Stem Cell Initiative

The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative has submitted more than 1,000,000 signatures to the Secretary of State. The organizers seem confident of obtaining a place on the November ballot, which raises some interesting possibilities given the timing of the US presidential election this year and the candidate positions on stem cell research. From the website:

Dear Friends and Supporters ,

We are pleased to announce the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative took an important step forward today, submitting MORE THAN 1,000,000 SIGNATURES to the Secretary of State. After gathering nearly twice as many signatures as needed, our campaign is absolutely confident the stem cell initiative will qualify for the November 2004 ballot.

As many of you know, this important initiative will provide $295 million a year over ten years in critically needed funding to support life-saving stem cell research. The initiative will provide California the necessary financing to develop life-saving cures and treatments for debilitating diseases and injuries, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's, ALS, osteoporosis and spinal cord injuries.

The promise of stem cell research and cures is a step closer today, largely made possible by a grassroots movement of California residents, disease and patient advocacy groups, doctors, nurses, renown scientists and medical researchers, including prominent Nobel Prize winners, who overwhelmingly support this desperately needed effort. Thank you for your dedication and hard work in making today's announcement possible.

The campaign moves into a new phase today and our supporters' involvement becomes even more critical...building an effective coalition of statewide supporters and helping carry our message to every corner of California.

Please Forward this Announcement to your friends, family and colleagues and ask them to join our coalition today. Given the large number of initiatives that will appear on the November ballot, this support will become even more critical in helping communicate our message.

Thank you, and onward to November.

You'll recall that I, being libertarian by inclination, don't personally support this initiative or indeed any such symptom of large government. I believe that this package of money and regulation, like all packages of money and legislation, will do more harm than good in the long run - but that's my opinion. You, of course, should make your own decisions on these matters: visit the initiative web site to see what they have planned.

That Human Dignity Thing

"Human dignity" is an amorphous, poorly defined concept. It is held up by anti-research advocates - such as Leon Kass or Francis Fukuyama - as a valuable and irreplaceable commodity that is destroyed by such things as extending the healthy human life span or assisted reproduction technologies. Needless to say, this is all nonsense. "Human dignity" seems to be some form of shorthand for "things the way they are and the way I am comfortable with" for these folks.

Fortunately, sharp forward-looking philosophers like Russell Blackford exist. He does a good job of dissecting flawed human dignity claims in an article posted today at Betterhumans.

Claims about the violation of human dignity are the stock in trade of politicians, bioethicists, clergymen, newspaper columnists and many others who wish to argue that such-and-such technology must be stopped.

However, it is often not clear what this argument amounts to. If human dignity is "violated," the means by which it happens often seem obscure. How, exactly, would my dignity be violated if I made a free, well-informed decision to clone myself? Worse, it is difficult even to find a cogent and agreed upon definition of what "human dignity" is.

If we cut through the verbiage, it eventually becomes clear that what is being relied upon is the idea that human beings, as such, are especially worthy of moral respect and consideration. In this context, "dignity" is best understood as "moral worth"; accordingly, the expression "human dignity" refers to a special moral worth that is supposed to attach to us simply because we are human.

But while you wouldn't know it from many bioethical debates, "human dignity" is a flawed ethical concept - one that we should stop relying upon for making decisions.

It's a very good piece, well worth your time and consideration. His comments on embryonic rights are worth following up on:

A human zygote or embryo is biologically of the species Homo sapiens, as I am, and as I can assume all my readers are. Does that give a zygote, or an early embryo, the same moral worth as an adult human being or a human child?

No. An early embryo is a tiny blob of cells that bears no resemblance to an adult or infant human being, except insofar as its DNA contains certain species-specific sequences of base pairs of nucleotides. An early embryo lacks such characteristics as sentience, awareness or rationality, or any of the other psychological or social characteristics that give adult or infant human beings their moral worth.

Nor is it a good argument to suggest that an embryo has the potential to develop these characteristics if it grows into a fully formed human being. The short answer is that the potential to develop morally significant characteristics is just not the same as actually having those characteristics right now. (But there is more to be said here; I have discussed this in comprehensive detail in my article "The Supposed Rights of the Fetus.")

This leaves open the possibility that some abortions - for frivolous reasons or at an unnecessarily late stage - might turn out to be morally wrong. As for infanticide, I cannot put the point more plainly than Francis Fukuyama (in his Our Posthuman Future), who states that, "It is the violation of the natural and very powerful bonding that takes place between parent and infant.that makes infanticide such a heinous crime in most societies." However, invoking the supposed human dignity of a zygote or an early embryo borders on irrationality or superstition.

Exactly. With regard to embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, pressure groups and politicians currently place the value of small collections of unthinking, unfeeling tissue ahead of the death and suffering of tens of millions of people every year. This is simply irrational, and those of us who want to see a longer, healthier future must make our voices heard as well.

A Look At Aging Research

The Rocky Mountain News article opens an article on aging science with an noteworthy factoid: every seven seconds, a baby boomer turns 50. That's a lot of buying power potentially interested in healthy life extension. The article looks at the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging and other research aimed at understanding how the aging process works. It is possible that there is no unified aging process at all, i.e. aging is a collection of as yet unidentified degenerative conditions. Calorie restriction as a tool for extending the healthy human life span gets a good mention or two before the author closes with a look at the noisy "anti-aging" marketplace and opinions from the gerontology community. All in all, the article is an interesting read.

Link: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/health_and_fitness/article/0,1299,DRMN_26_2801012,00.html

Creating Very Old People

An interesting symposium is taking place at the end of the month in New Jersey. A number of scientists and speakers are gathering to discuss the possibilities of longevity research and the implications for "society." As I see it, people who live much longer, much healthier lives will just adapt, make new customs, and throw out bad old rules from the bad old times of age-related disease and decrepitude. The concept of "society" being an entity somehow separate from the well-being of individuals who make it up has always struck me as strange - especially when it is used to justify harming those individuals by withholding medicine or banning research.

Link: http://healthfullife.umdnj.edu/index2.htm

Leon Kass, Mystic

SAGE Crossroads posted the transcript of Monday's Leon Kass interview today. I didn't have a chance to listen to the original broadcast, alas, which means I also missed the chance to send pointed questions to the moderator by e-mail.

If you want to take the interview at face value, Leon Kass is a mystic. He is a modern alchemist. The alchemists of old stood atop what little knowledge of chemistry they had and built a speculative religion of hermetic magic, transient wishes, celestial signs and hidden gold. Leon Kass stands atop what little biotechnology we have today (and seems to have a good grasp thereof), building his own structures of fanciful thought, equally disconnected from the real world.

All of Kass' arguments against longer, healthier lives are essentially mystical and devoid of real substance. This, for example, is a fully formed argument for forcing people to die through blocks on medical research or bans on anti-aging therapies:

Time is a gift, but the perception of endless time or of time without bound in fact has the possibility of undermining the degree to which we take time seriously and make it count.

Is that really enough to condemn tens of millions of people to death each and every year? How about this:

Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey presents human beings who he names as mortals. That is their definition in contrast to the immortals. And the immortals for their agelessness and their beauty live sort of shallow and frivolous lives. Indeed, they depend for their entertainment on watching the mortals who, precisely because they know that their time is limited, and that they go around only once, are inclined to make time matter and to aspire to something great for themselves.

And so the question would be, we are not really talking about immortality, but if it - is there some connection between the limits that we face and the desire for greatness that comes from recognition that we are only here for a short time.

If you push those limits back, if those limits become out of sight, we are not inclined to build cathedrals or write the B Minor Mass, or write Shakespeare's sonnets and things of that sort.

Or this:

Here, I think, I am in a kind of uncomfortable position of saying, look, this is research of enormous promise and considerable danger, not in the way in which bacteriological weaponry is dangerous, but this is dangerous the way Midas' wish is dangerous. It gets you exactly what you want, and you might discover only too late that what you wanted was not exactly what you really needed or desired. What you wished for is not really what you wanted.

You'll notice that, much like the alchemists, Kass' view of reality comes from ancient texts and his own feelings - as opposed to studying the world around him. This, in essence, is the difference between the mystic and scientist. The mystic is immune to the inconveniences of facts, consequences and reality. These sort of airy opinions continue throughout the interview, invoking Seinfeld one minute and making speculative contortions regarding family structure the next. In the Kass worldview, supporters of healthy life extension are apparently "shallow utopians:"

Well, a lot of idealists are shallow. I somehow thought that - that is to say there is a certain - there is a certain utopianism that is based upon the belief that if you somehow remove various kinds of limits, you will be producing simply good things. And not to simply make Huxley's novel the - the Bible of this discussion - by the way, there they didn't have longevity research. They hadn't gotten around to it. So what they had were, in effect, hospices and crematorium in which they recovered the body phosphorous and various sorts of things so there would be no waste. People died in a certain - I don't remember what it was - 60, 70 years.

But Huxley, in a way, shows you what it would look like if you took the modern humanitarian compassionate project to do battle with poverty, war, guilt, anxiety, disease, and realized it. And what you'd get are people of human shape and of stunted humanity. No science. No art. No self- governance. No friendship. No love. No family. It is an exaggeration, but at least raises the question of whether those limits, which come with sorrow, whether those limits are somehow necessary for all the great human things.

And the people who think that you can just tinker with the life span and not worry about its implications for the kinds of beings who will live, I think - they may be right by the way, but it seems to me that to simply say life is good and more is therefore better - if that's as far as your thinking goes, then I would say it's shallow.

Kass' explanation for his position on healthy life extension is an interesting one. In his eyes, he is the balancer, calling for death on a massive scale because no-one else is advocating this position.

No, look. I - this gives me an opportunity to stay I am not a Luddite, I am not a hater of science. I esteem modern science and I regard it as really one of the great monuments to the human intellect, even as I worry about some of the uses of some of the technologies that science is bringing forth.

And if everybody else was worried about it, you would find me as one of its defenders. I am taking up the side that is weaker here, that needs articulation.

I'm dubious with regard to this last claim. Leon Kass is clearly a man who doesn't like the idea of people living longer and healthier lives, even if he can't come up with a coherent factual argument against it. There is nothing wrong with holding that opinion: everyone should have the right to live and think as they choose. These opinions would be fine and well if Leon Kass were someone's dotty old uncle in a small town in middle America. Unfortunately, he is instead the man appointed to build and lead a commission used to justify restrictive US administration policy on medical research. His opinions and pronouncements help to restrict research, ban medicine and, by extension, cost lives - many, many lives. How, we might ask, did this ever come to pass?

I think it is unfortunate that Morton Kondrake let Kass slide on the ugly consequences of his positions, and whether he would support the enforcement of aging and death through legislation and force. At no point was Kass successfully cornered this issue, nor did he give straight answer on that and related topics.

KONDRACKE: So you are not against using the power of the government to stop something that you find odious. But in this case, you would - you would let it go forward or you would encourage it? You would increase funding for it? What - what would you do as to aging research?

KASS: Well, to use the arm of government and its power to proscribe, that's a very crude instrument. I think it's useful in only a couple of areas. I am in favor of legislating against assisted suicide and euthanasia, for example, so that we set certain kinds of boundaries within which then prudence and judgment can proceed.

I am also in favor of setting certain kinds of limits against certain outlying reproductive practices - cloning would be the primary one amongst them - partly because I want to shift the burden of persuasion to those innovators who would like to violate certain normal human taboos and boundaries in this area.

For the most part, though, this is an area where bans are too crude. Where the beneficial uses and the dangerous uses are sort of so intertwined that the best you can hope for is something like some mixture of professional self regulation, some ways of - some possibly government regulatory activities that say, for example, with respect to sex selection technologies, yes, it's okay to use those when you are selecting for sex-linked genetic diseases, but no, it's not a good idea to use them for ordinary sex preferences, even for family balancing.


And we are still early enough in the game, I think, that at least a certain amount of public discussion might be in order. And we might try to hope to separate those interventions that deal with the degenerations that are not necessarily life prolonging. I mean, if one could do something about Alzheimer's, if one could do something about chronic arthritis, if one could do something about general muscular weakness and not, somehow, increase the life expectancy to 150 years, I would be delighted.

By my reading of that exchange, Kass would - if he personally had the power - cheerfully ban research and medicine that extended the healthy life span. There was no talk of the millions of avoidable, preventable deaths that would result from the enforcement of such a policy, however. I think that this is a problem both here and in the wider conversation over bioethics, stem cell medicine, therapeutic cloning and healthy life extension. People talk about restricting research and banning fields of medicine, their conversations untouched by the terrible human costs of the policies under discussion.

Leon Kass, Mystic

I have posted my comments on the recent SAGE Crossroads interview with Leon Kass of the President's Council on Bioethics to the Fight Aging! blog. I think it's a pity that Morton Kondrake didn't pin Kass down on the consequences and costs of the policies he supports, nor did he chase up the hints of support for government-mandated upper limits on life span. It's very worrying to see these sorts of ideas being tossed around by someone in this position - the head of a deliberative body that issues reports used by the US administration as justification for restrictive anti-research legislation.

Link: https://www.fightaging.org/archives/000084.php

More On Yoda

Betterhumans has more on Yoda, the world's oldest living mouse, and the breeding experiment conducted by Richard Miller. Aubrey de Grey, cofounder of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, adds his comments on Yoda. This work isn't as directly relevant to healthy life extension as we'd like: we are in greater need of ways to reverse aging rather than ways to genetically alter future generations to age more slowly. Professor Miller's research program will provide important information on the way in which hormones interact with the aging process and age-related conditions - in many ways we are still very much in the dark regarding important human biochemistry.

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/News/news.aspx?articleID=2004-04-14-3

Antiaging in the News

World’s oldest mouse reaches milestone birthday U-M’s geriatric mouse colony helps scientists learn about human aging

Gastric Bypass May Lengthen Lifespan Recent research has shown that gastric bypass not only helps patients take excess weight off and keep it off, it may also increase life expectancy by three years or more.

More Intimations of a Human Longevity Dependence on Atmospheric CO2 Concentration If we are right on this point, this phenomenon should have had a major impact on human health and, consequently, life span over the past two centuries; and when we look at the data pertaining to this subject, we see that something has definitely done so.

Bioethical demand and supply The reading-collection, Being Human, is a big hit, but they won't print any more copies.

Methuselah Man
Biologist Aubrey de Grey is convinced that mice—and people—should be able to live for a very long time.

Estrogen No Overall Benefit in Disease Prevention The latest analysis of data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows that estrogen replacement therapy after menopause doesn't improve long-term health. While it decreases the risk of fractures, it increases the risk of stroke.

New study looks for ways to delay disability in older adults People over age 70 represent the fastest growing segment of the United States population. Learning how to prevent or delay age-related disability in this age group is the focus of a National Institute on Aging study being led by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Attack of the Movie Clones In an upcoming movie, a child who dies at 8 is cloned for the grieving couple. But once the child reaches the age of 8 (again), he becomes evil . Something about the way Wells programmed the boy makes Adam a bad clone once he reaches the age at which he died.

Putting Professors Out to Pasture But as human life spans continue to rise, researchers say that the rules regarding retirement must keep pace.

Drug Raises Good Cholesterol 100% Mimics genetic mutation linked to exceptional longevity

World's Oldest Worker Quits at 104

In France, where nurseries and retirement homes are in short supply, two institutions have combined

Automation could solve the huge and growing need for human labor to take care of growing elderly populations.Advocates see robots serving not just as helpers - carrying out simple chores and reminding patients to take their medication - but also as companions, even if the machines can carry on only a semblance of a real dialogue.

Sandel, Pinker Debate Genetics Michael Sandel and Steven Pinker went head to head last night debating the ethics of designer genes, free-market eugenics and hyper-parenting.

Adult Stem Cell Progress

(From the New Scientist). A California researcher has demonstrated that adult stem cells obtained from body fat can grow new tissue as well as bone marrow stem cells, at least in mice. This is the first time that fat stem cells have been demonstrated to heal an injury. In this case they were used to grow new bone, although other studies have indicated that these adult stem cells could be used to grow other forms of tissue as well. Fat is considerably easier to harvest than bone marrow, raising the possibility of "therapeutic liposuction" as a precursor to regenerative therapies. Difficult bone marrow transplants may be a thing of the past in years to come.

Link: http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994873

Innovation On PBS

The sixth episode of the PBS science series "Innovation" will discuss stem cell research and some of the strides in treatment for nerve and heart damage that have been made already outside the US. As one doctor says: "I've never seen recovery like this in 25 years of practice ... I can tell my patients they may walk again, rather than saying life from a wheel chair can be good." Meanwhile, inside the US, a still-pending senate bill threatens to criminalize research essential to stem cell medicine, and private funding has been scared away by legislative uncertainty. If we want to see better medicine and longer, healthier lives, we must support researchers and fight bad legislation.

Link: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/innovation/about_episode6.html

Longevity And Enforced Retirement

Compulsory retirement laws are an obnoxious practice - one has to wonder just when it was that personal choice in life and work became so disreputable. This SAGE Crossroads article examines retirement laws from the point of view of aging researchers and the future of human longevity: "As human life spans continue to rise, researchers say that the rules regarding retirement must keep pace." I have a better idea ... why not just throw out the rules and let people work if they want to? After all, the sort of healthy, long-lived future envisaged by biogerontologists like Aubrey de Grey would make retirement laws look quaint and useless.

Link: http://www.sagecrossroads.net/public/news/show_article.cfm?articleID=57

The Drugs Are Getting Better

Betterhumans notes that Pfizer is already developing a drug to mimic the effects of a known longevity gene on high density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good" cholesterol). You may recall news items from last year on that topic. Of course it remains to be seen as to whether this new drug has the desired effect on longevity and resistance to heart disease. Still, it's a sign that greater understanding and new technology across the research spectrum is leading to better drug development. It is becoming easier with each passing year to identify beneficial effects and more rapidly find drug candidates that will cause those effects. We are - slowly - moving out of the era of pulling levers in the dark, and into an era of acting on knowledge.

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/News/news.aspx?articleID=2004-04-12-3

Working On Advanced Regeneration

The Scotsman reports on a DARPA project to investigate regeneration of major organs and body parts. Lizards and many other animals can regenerate in this way, but humans have more limited capabilities (although even we can regenerate a 90% damaged liver). As one scientist says: "This is doable - I believe it is inevitable that we will regenerate an entire human limb." Whether or not it will happen through this methodology of investigating and replicating regeneration mechanisms in animals - rather than branches of regenerative medicine relating to stem cells or tissue engineering - remains to be seen.

Link: http://news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=412012004

FuturePundit on Aubrey de Grey

Randall Parker comments again on Aubrey de Grey's vision for the future of serious anti-aging research.

It is very unfortunate that more money is not flowing into rejuvenatiion therapy development. With a level of funding for rejuvenation therapy develop which is less than 3% of the current yearly NIH budget tens or hunfreds of millions more of us would have a chance to eventually become young again.

I certainly agree with this, even if I personally feel that we would be better served with less government and more private research. More than a few noted gerontologists have called for increased funding in this area (as in this friendly debate between Art Caplan and Rick Moody, in which everyone seems to be having far too much fun). Aubrey de Grey has a lot of support for his views in the gerontological community, but making progress against the most conservative viewpoints on aging takes time.

It is obvious - even to those of us outside the research community - that scientists are attaining a new level of understanding of the human body, and a new sort of medicine will be built atop this knowledge. Progress requires money, however, as well as a government willing to stand aside and cease restrictive legislation. Our future is at stake, and we should all do more to support the advance of medical science.

More Calorie Restriction In The News

A positive, realistic article on calorie restriction (or CR) has been showing up in local news outlets over the past few days. Nice to see the topic getting more airtime of late. An enthusiastic run on sentence from the article: "The baby boom generation wants it all so we want to live longer than our parents' generation and if calorie restriction will do it, I think that people will try calorie restriction." While science is still working on determining whether CR does extend the human life span in the same way that it does in other mammals, there is ample evidence proving its health benefits - including improved resistance to age-related disease.

Link: http://rdu.news14.com/content/headlines/?ArID=45615&SecID=2

The Oldest Mouse

The world's oldest mouse - called Yoda - is four years old and still going, the equivalent of about about 136 years in a human. Yoda is a part of a breeding experiment carried out to study the way in which genes and hormones affect the rate of human aging and risks of disease late in life. As the founders of the Methuselah Mouse prize realized, healthy life extension in mice is a yardstick by which the public measures possibilities for the future of human health and longevity. Long-lived mice will mean that long-lived people are not too far off. Aubrey de Grey thinks that we could largely defeat aging in mice in a decade, given the right level of funding - certainly food for thought.

Link: http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2004/yoda.htm

Commenting On The Leon Kass Webcast

SAGE Crossroads interviewed Leon Kass today, chair of the President's Council on Bioethics and a man who strongly opposes any attempt to lengthen the healthy human life span. I didn't have a chance to listen to the live webcast, but will link to the transcript when it is posted.

In the meanwhile, Stephen Gorden has posted his thoughts on the webcast and Leon Kass at the Speculist.

He said, in essence that there is no question that longer life would be fulfilling for many. But this may be a situation where society as a whole suffers more than individuals benefit.

In other words, because society might be inconvenienced if our lives are prolonged, we should all accept our fate and die with a little dignity for crying out loud! I find this point of view to be abhorrent - particularly in a public servant who is responsible for setting policy.

Our country is set up to protect the individual (who has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) from undue demands from society. We in this country have never concerned ourselves with protecting society from individuals. If the U.S. is pulled from the life extension race, it will postpone the arrival of life extension, but it will come. And when it does it could end up being controlled by elites. If THEY can decide we shouldn't have it, by the same logic why shouldn't THEY decide who can have it when it gets here?

Morton asked whether he, Kass, would eliminate life extension research if he could. Kass began by saying he couldn't eliminate this research even if he wanted to. This is no lie. He can't eliminate it. But he can retard its development and drive some of this research overseas. If life extension is possible, delay could kill millions.

As I've said before, Kass' positions are ugly and very unethical. He wants to cause death and suffering for billions by halting the advance of medical science - and this is the person the current US administration put in charge of their bioethics council! These attitudes towards life, medicine and science are a sickness in our society, and we must fight them. There is nothing wrong with choosing not to use healthy life extension science yourself - but there is everything wrong with restricting access to life-saving medicine for everyone else.

Some Sunday Reading Material

A little reading from the blogosphere for you, as I was browsing this weekend. "Aging as exile?" is an interesting blog. It's a good reminder that we younger folk don't fully understand just how much damage - in many different ways - aging does to our lives. I think that this is one of the reasons that it's hard to convince people to look ahead to a time when their life will be much worse, and take action now. I am reminded of the value of ideas like the Aging Explorer Suit, a simulator that enables to you experience life with age-related limitations and conditions.

Ten minutes spent in the Age Explorer is enough to imbue instant sympathy with the elderly even in the most adamant ageist. "Younger people who try on the suit say, finally, I understand why older people act the way they do," said Hanne Meyer-Hentschel, the suit's creator.

Hopefully, with our greater powers of communication in this modern age, we can also convince younger people to help support medical research to prevent aging and age-related conditions.

On that note, science isn't all a bed of roses for even the most enthusiastic researchers - it's generally a lot harder than good scientists make it look. You won't hear about the ten failures in the science papers ... just the final success. It does become much less frustrating when you've graduated from the initial university rat race, however, and are somewhat more free to work towards your goals (rather than your academic credentials).

Olshansky And De Grey On Life Expectancy

The Contra Costa Times presents a summary of the opposing views on lengthening life expectancy in modern gerontology. In the conservative camp is Jay Olshansky, who believes that extending the healthy human life span is not a near-future possibility. On the other side is Aubrey de Grey, who has developed a plan for radical life extension in our lifetimes. Olshansky's viewpoint is used to justify the lack of funding for serious anti-aging research - thus it is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. De Grey's science is sound: if we don't do the research, how will we know for sure what is possible?

Link: http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/nation/8407367.htm

Knowledge Is Power In Medicine

Scientists are closer to fully understanding the mechanisms of cell death in the body, an important development for researchers working on therapies for a range of diseases and conditions, including cancer and Parkinson's. This BBC article is an interesting read, and a reminder that we are still a long way from an understanding of human biochemistry sufficient for all we would like to accomplish in medicine. Knowledge is power; with knowledge, we can craft therapies and defeat disease. This research is early stage work, but it is in an area of great relevance for those of us interested in healthy life extension and better medicine.

Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3610677.stm

The Merits of Being a Conservative Late Adopter

I am a conservative late adopter. By conservative, I mean "marked by moderation or caution" as opposed to the other political and change-related meanings of the word. I don't start in on the use of any particular healthy life extension technique or technology unless there is a real weight of science to support it.

Science is a debate aimed at discovering the truth, supported by tested methodologies for determining, reviewing, interpreting and predicting facts. Important questions, especially those related to medicine and statistics, are not answered with a single study. Each study, and the resulting debate, can take years. Building - or changing - even a preliminary scientific consensus on any position is a process that spans decades.

People are hungry for definitive answers. Nobody likes an unanswered or partially answered question, but unanswered questions are the essence of science. All "answers" provided by science are theories, possibly wrong in as-yet undetermined ways, and subject to replacement when a better theory emerges.

The human hunger for answers translates to a willingness to accept bad answers - and to pay for answers - if that means getting the answer now. This is especially true when the questions relate to methods to slow or prevent the symptoms and conditions of aging. This facet of human nature allows dubious "anti-aging" products to do well in the marketplace on the basis of limited, poor or outright fraudulent science. Human growth hormone (HGH) is a good example of this beast in the wild. You won't find - or be able to identify - a straight answer on the science of HGH if you go searching online. The merchants, and people who don't sell but are looking for a definitive answer today, have crowded them out.

For me, HGH just doesn't pass the weight of science test. There are good studies, bad studies, and a lot of anecdotal reports and opinions on both sides. This is characteristic of an area in science where more study is needed. It could turn out that HGH is good for some people but very bad for others. It could turn out to extend life span for everyone, but different doses or delivery methods are required depending on your genes. It could turn out that it raises the risk of serious disease. All the indications are that we should hold off and wait for researchers to better understand human biochemistry and hormones. Until then, using HGH is somewhat akin to pulling a big red lever on the side of a complex machine with no operating instructions attached. Quackwatch has some information regarding the history of HGH.

What does pass the weight of science test for me? Calorie restriction, exercise, modest supplementation, a good relationship with a responsible physician, and very little else that is available for use right now. Scientists are, however, on the verge of producing new medicines and technologies that will have great impact on the healthy human life span. The next few decades will see great strides in regenerative medicine, and the first steps towards nanomedicine. With the right levels of funding, and freedom from restrictive legislation, healthy life extension medicine could become an undisputed reality.

This means that activism and advocacy - working to support medical reseach and better medicine - will have a far greater positive effect on your own health and life span than giving in to the desire for (bad) answers to the problem of aging now.

Materials Science And Artificial Body Parts

AZoNano notes that nanoscale materials science is helping to produce better implants and artificial replacements for body parts. The field of prosthetics competes with regenerative medicine to better repair age-related damage. Here, we see advances in developing materials that will better integrate with tissue in the body. If you can get an artificial hip that is stronger than titanium, bonds more completely with surrounding tissue, and never wears out, why would you want to just regenerate the old bone structures? New materials like these raise interesting possibilities for ways in which we can extend the durability and age-resistance of our bodies.

Link: http://www.azonano.com/news.asp?newsID=107

Illinois Legislators Debating Stem Cells

The Miami Herald reports that Illinois politicians are debating stem cell research. This growing field of medicine shows great promise for healthy life extension by allowing repair of the damage caused by aging and age-related conditions. Bad legislation causes great harm to public and private research. For example: "There is now an inability in the state of Iowa to recruit scientists who want to do human therapeutic cloning, and economic development in this field has been completely compromised." While progress towards cures is held back by legislators and special interest groups, tens of millions continue to suffer and die.

Link: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/business/national/8368974.htm?1c

Nanomedicine When?

The world of nanotechnology research can be broadly - and crudely - divided into "wet" and "dry" areas. Dry nanotechnology focuses on manufacturing methods, while wet nanotechnology has to do with medicine - everything from improved diagnostics to artificial blood cells. (I've mentioned nanomedicine before here on Fight Aging!)

When do we expect to see nanotechnology taking off? The folks at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology keep their finger on the pulse and are of the opinion that a major initiative could produce the first essential components for a molecular manufacturing industry (dry nanotechnology) in five years. Since that seems unlikely to come to pass, the 11 year estimate from the NNI is more realistic, although still optimistic in my eyes. Nanotechnology is far further along than anti-aging research, but it is still subject to the same real world constraints that determine how fast you can bring technology to the marketplace.

The conventional wisdom is that the futuristic-sounding plans laid out in works like Nanomedicine by Robert Freitas will become commercially available after dry nanotechnology is established. Twenty to thirty years seems reasonable, assuming that suitable funding is put into research between now and then.

Early diagnostic advances due to improved nanoscale manufacturing (not the same as molecular manufacturing) for silicon chips and small mechanical or fluid flow devices are already arriving, and will continue over the next five years.

Replacing Bone Marrow Donors

As Betterhumans explains, embryonic stem cell medicine has now shown the potential to eliminate the need for genetically matched bone marrow donors. This would be a tremendous advance in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, lukemia, and similar disorders. We can hope that as more advances like this are demonstrated, politicians will find it increasingly hard to ban the technologies required for stem cell research. Regenerative medicine based on stem cells is a vital step in the process of bootstrapping towards radical life extension, and we shouldn't stand by while it is under attack. The future of our health and longevity depends on this research.

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/News/news.aspx?articleID=2004-04-05-3

An Interview With Aubrey De Grey

The Technology Review is running an interview with Aubrey de Grey, biogerontologist and cofounder of the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. In addition to some interesting comments on potential life spans in an ageless world, the conversation touches on the importance of attaining impressive results in radical life extension for mice. These demonstrations of practical life extension technologies will lead to widespread support and understanding - and thus open the funding floodgates. Will this all happen in time for those of us reading this today? I'll be the first to admit that, unlike Aubrey de Grey, I'm very driven by my own personal stake in the matter. The sooner the better!

Link: http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_appell040904.asp?trk=nl

Looking at an Anti-Aging Conference

The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) organizes a number of conferences worldwide on the topic of "anti-aging medicine." As I've remarked on before, there is something of a war on over the use of "anti-aging" in business and scientific circles. The definition used by A4M is explained on the website for their upcoming Singapore conference. This is what you might look at as a doctor-centric view of modern healthy life extension: how, today, to best apply new medical technologies to reduce suffering, cure age-related conditions, and thus extend healthy life span in individuals.

In my previous piece, I pointed out that differences in meaning lie at the heart of arguments over "anti-aging." What is healthy life span? How do you tell if it's being increased? Can we even talk sensibly about anti-aging in the absence of accurate biomarkers for aging? Is curing a fatal age-related disease for a given person "anti-aging" because they will now live longer and in better health? Or does "anti-aging" only refer to treatments for the aging process itself?

The scientific position is that there is no such thing as anti-aging medicine (yet) because anti-aging medicine has to slow or reverse the aging process - and even the measurement of that is up for debate. The pure marketing position is that "anti-aging" is a wonderful brand that makes you money, so it should be added to every possible product. Obviously, there is a fair distance between those two positions! The A4M position would seem to be that preventing and curing age-related degenerative conditions is "anti-aging."

The interconnected nature of modern society, business, and scientific funding makes it harder for everyone to live and let live with their own professional meanings for words; vast sums of money can be invested in brands, trust and reputations related to these words. From the scientific point of view, legitimate research is being belittled by adventurous marketing in the business world. On one of the other sides of the fence, organizations like A4M see legitimate medical work being belittled by conservative scientists.

A little bit of background: A4M and the Life Extension Foundation (LEF) have something of a shared early history, and diverged in their own directions from old school efforts in life extension. Both groups support their forward-looking work with business attachments to older technologies or less relevant businesses, and could be viewed as different paths to the same end. From the 20,000 foot level, A4M is a physicians association and advocacy group that runs conferences, while the LEF is a supplement business and research organization. Both, of course, publish, and I've skipped over many subtleties with that single sentence overview.

Both A4M and the LEF are looked on unfavorably by portions of the health establishment - the FDA has created a history of conflict with the LEF, while mainstream gerontologists fight battles over legitimacy and the meaning of terms with A4M. Within the healthy life extension community, there is a certain amount of partisanship over past history, events, divisions and politics. This is all par for the course, and A4M and the LEF have their share to be going along with.

But back to conferences. A fair number of folks in the scientific aging research community don't like A4M. If you ask them why, the A4M conferences are singled out as a cause. Scientists don't like the fact that the less reputable "anti-aging" business community - i.e. pills, potions, and adventurous marketing alongside potentially serious ventures - attend these conferences. It's taint by association. If you look at the structure of the 2004 Singapore conference, it's divided between the scientific or medical speakers and workshops and the wider community of exhibitors from the "anti-aging" marketplace.

So why hurt your scientific credibility by inviting the more dubious business community at all? Why not run a purely scientific and medical conference like the recent one in Sydney? The short answer is that conferences are enormously expensive; the Sydney International Conference on Longevity was paid for by two philanthropists, and it cost them more than a million dollars. From my limited interactions with folks at A4M, I think they see the open nature of vendor exhibitions as something of a necessary evil. Some of these vendors have good, useful products but many of them don't. They do, however, support the cost of the conference.

As a last note, contributer and Methuselah Foundation co-founder Aubrey de Grey - a biogerontologist with some interesting plans for real scientific anti-aging medicine - will be speaking at this Singapore conference. Hopefully we'll have a chance to see some of his presentation in print later in the year.

Another General Interest Article

Here's another general interest article from a mainstream news outlet (WSOCTV.com in this case). It briefly covers increasing life spans, healthy life extension science, calorie restriction and why excess weight is bad for you. As the author notes: "While many people have searched for the fountain of youth, significant life extension continues to be an elusive goal." All it will take is the right (high) level of funding, widespread support and the will to succeed. I am always heartened to see media outlets treating the topic of healthy life extension seriously. It indicates that we're making progress.

Link: http://www.wsoctv.com/health/2985516/detail.html

CBS On Calorie Restriction

A short piece on calorie restriction from CBS went out on the air yesterday. It's good to see more positive mainstream articles appearing this year. Realizing that the healthy human life span can be extended at all is a large step for many people, and this sort of media coverage is very helpful in that respect. Learning about calorie restriction can be a good gateway into the wider healthy life extension community - not to mention being demonstrably good for your health. Getting more people to think seriously about these ideas is a vital step on the way to funding, researching and developing real anti-aging medicine.

Link: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/07/eveningnews/main610778.shtml

Cracking The Genetic Code Of Aging

The BBC reports on a new study into the genetics of natural longevity. This Italian team says that "once they have found the genes which govern ageing, they hope to develop medicines which allow people to stay healthy for longer." Genetic studies of long-lived people are already producing results in the US, and should continue to shed light on new directions for research. Effective therapies result from an understanding the condition under treatment, and advances in medical research technology are proving their worth in this respect. Scientists today have a vastly greater understanding of genetics and cellular biochemistry than they did just five years ago. We live in interesting times!

Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3607855.stm

Anti-aging in the news

Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies The latest report from the bioethics commission

Attempt to crack the ageing code Scientists are trying to find out which genes govern whether or not people live long lives.

The Quest to Forget Scientists are defending and developing a new science that can be called therapeutic forgetting. They are bucking the current trend in memory research, which is to find a drug or a gene that will help people remember. They are, instead, trying to help people forget.

Older people recover from disabling events at higher rate than previously thought Approximately four out of every five newly-disabled older people regain the ability to live independently within 6 months of their disability episode, a higher recovery rate than previously reported

Chasing the Youth Pill Drugs that might extend human life are one of the hottest topics in biotech. Some of them are already here.

Cheating nature? The Bush administration has been accused of manipulating science. It is now fighting back

Panel limits use of embryos US President's Council restricts study of embryos past 14 days, silent on work before that.

The Doctor Is In Kass, the head of the president’s bioethics commission on assisted reproduction, cloning, council critics & more

Sweet Banquet of the Mind Turns Sour If any place should be an enclave of polite discourse, you would think it would be those advisory councils that exist at the discretion of the White House and Congress to give advice on scientific matters. But apparently, that would be expecting too much for the President's Council on Bioethics.

The Altered Human Is Already Here In popular imagination, the technologically altered human being is a cross between RoboCop and the Borg.The hardware that would make such a mating of humans, silicon chips and assorted weaponry a reality is, unfortunately, still on back order.Many people, however, have already made a different kind of leap into the posthuman future

Study identifies predictors of Alzheimer's disease longevity Scientists are trying to find out which genes govern whether or not people live long lives.

Gene May Link Aging and Cancer Mice without it are unable to develop liver tumors

Ageless Bodies and Happy Souls: The Future of Aging in a Biotech Era This Monday, an Interview with Leon Kass, MD, Chairman, President's Council on Bioethics

Brain Stem Cell "Fountain of Youth" Discovered Growth factors could allow the use of neural stem cells for treating such diseases as Parkinson's

Turning back time Dr. Michael Fossel will have his second book, "Cells, Aging, and Human Disease" released in June. The academic text is target toward undergraduate upperclassmen and graduate students and addresses ideas about living longer lives.

Gene Links Cancer And Aging

Betterhumans reports on recent research that provides another insight into the genetic links between cancer and aging. A longevity gene essential for tissue repair is also essential to cancer, or so it seems. This initial study suggests that removing the gene in mice prevents tumors from developing (but no doubt has undesirable effects on healthy life span). That should get you all thinking, but here's some speculation from the scientist involved: "Perhaps aging is just an unintended byproduct of an adaptive mechanism to stave off cancer and certain death. Perhaps aging is just nature's way of attacking cancer."

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/News/news.aspx?articleID=2004-04-06-2

Continuing to Think About Speed and Bioinformatics

Continuing the topic of bioinformatics, speed of research and how it impacts medical research (and thus the future of health and longevity), here's an interesting piece that pulls in personalized medicine and genetics. The punchline:

Personalized medicine - in the sense of matching patients and therapies via genomic technology - is going to emerge as a powerful concept in healthcare. The Moore's Law effect in biotech is driving down the cost, which is going to allow us to do more, just like in the computer industry. Ultimately, we'll all benefit.

But read the rest of it as well. Personalized medicine is important - a great deal of current scientific uncertainty regarding such things as hormone therapy stems from the fact that different people respond in very different ways (all governed, at root, by genetic differences and the resulting biochemistry). This shouldn't be surprising. The body is a very, very complex machine, and performing the medical equivalent of pulling some likely-looking levers and hoping for the best is a strategy that needs to be consigned to the past.

Understanding the biochemistry and cellular mechanics of the human body will lead to powerful therapies and ways to intervene in the aging process. It will also lead to a jump in effectiveness of all therapies, as they can be tailored to individuals. With more funding and more widespread support, we could see major breakthroughs within our lifetime.

Rampant Enthusiasm

It has to be said, it's hard not to be enthused by the speed of scientific progress over the past few years. Bioinformatics and its offshoots, coupled with rapidly increasing and ever cheaper processing power, have made an enormous difference to the medical research landscape. Experiments that would have taken years for an entire team of scientists can now be done in days by a single researcher. Tens of thousands of tests can be run in parallel in simulation, looking for interesting clues. The time between breakthroughs is decreasing, and our map of human biochemistry and cellular mechanisms is becoming more clear with each passing month.

Stephen Gorden has caught some of the spirit at the Speculist in the process of reading The Immortal Cell:

Michael West's book, The Immortal Cell, gives me reason to hope for some form of life extension - something less than escape velocity - within the next ten years.

As I have noted before, however, rapid research is one thing (a good thing!). Getting the results turned into a product that is available to you and I is, however, still constrained by regulation, legislation, business cycles and the slow speed of human interaction.

While I think it's possible that we will see the first signs of real anti-aging medicine a decade from now, I don't think that's enough time for anything to become commercially available. Twenty years is a much more realistic timeframe for such items as organs grown to order, reliable stem cell therapies for neurodegenerative disorders, or some form of therapy that improves upon the natural process of calorie restriction.

There is also the matter of a threatened worldwide ban on the technologies that will make this sort of medicine possible. If a hostile, anti-research political environment prevails, we could see research set back by decades. Five years of damage has already been done thanks to US and European politicians.

My general point here is that we cannot get all fired up and assume that these medical wonders will fall in our laps in the near future. It takes hard work and a great deal of money to make these things happen, a truth that is often glossed over. The medicine of the future will only be developed in an environment of widespread public support and high levels of funding. While we are on the way to achieving both for regenerative medicine, we have neither for serious, dedicated anti-aging research.

Dr. Fossel On Reversing Aging

A piece from the State News reminds us that Dr. Michael Fossel (a proponent of telomere theories of aging) has a new book coming out this June. He is an advocate of research into cellular processes, aimed at slowing and reversing the aging process. Remember: there is no way to reverse aging or greatly extend the healthy human life span at this time, although scientific studies strongly support calorie restriction as a path to more healthy years. This is why we must advocate and support serious medical research in the fight to cure aging. More scientists are starting to look seriously at healthy life extension these days; if funding and public support come through, then it becomes only a matter of time.

Link: http://www.statenews.com/article.phtml?pk=23413

Swiss Anti-Research Referendum To Be Held

The Washington Times notes that opponents of embryonic stem cell research in Switzerland have gathered enough signatures for a national referendum aimed at banning this medical science. The continuing attempts to halt research that promises near-term cures for all the most common age-related conditions, as well as a host of other currently incurable diseases, is saddening. How is it that people can put small unthinking, unfeeling collections of less than a hundred cells ahead of the terrible suffering of hundreds of millions worldwide? Anti-research groups are well organized and have been winning great victories in the US and Europe - our side must do better if we want to see a longer, healthier future thanks to regenerative medicine.

Link: http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20040406-101659-7077r.htm

The Libertarian-Socialist Divide

James Hughes - who has little patience for libertarianism - has a few choice comments regarding a recent post of mine on the virtues of small government.

This is a central conflict in transhumanist discussion circles, or at least one on which a lot of ink is spilled. In terms of the way in which transhumanist organizations present themselves to the world, it's something of a moot point. The biggest transhumanist media outlets (like Betterhumans, a sterling site that should be on your favorites list) are fairly middle of the road from the point of view of someone like myself (or James, from the opposite end of the spectrum).

My own personal arguments for small government stem from efficiency concerns, a desire for responsibility and accountability, and an Austrian view of economics and human psychology. I won't ramble on the topic here, but will point you to a good start for further reading on the topic.

Latest on the Arizona Cryonics Legislation

The latest on the cryonics legislation in Arizona is covered in Monday's Longevity Meme newsletter. It looks like this problem is going away for moment, but we should remember that the last round of celebrations proved to be premature...

I see this successful community action as a model (in miniature) for the way in which we need to deal with anti-research legislation targetting regenerative medicine and stem cell research.

Smoking Isn't A Smart Idea Either

While we're on the subject of taking care of the basics, here's a study (reported in the Contra Costa Times) showing that smoking accelerates age-related mental decline - in addition to all the other ways in which it damages you. From the article: "The most likely explanation of why smoking causes cognitive decline is its effect on blood vessels in the brain. It is believed that smoking causes vascular damage, which, in turn, leads to the death of brain cells." Most people wouldn't treat a car as badly as they treat their own bodies ... but staying in shape is vital if you want to be alive and healthy enough to take advantage of the future of medical science.

Link: http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/8358259.htm

Obesity, Exercise, Diet and Cancer

(From the LEF News). This is something that is worth repeating, it seems: the combination of excess weight, poor diet and lack of exercise is the leading cause of cancer in the US. If you are overweight, the best thing you can do for your natural longevity (and future health, not to mention cutting your healthcare expenditures) is to change your lifestyle to lose weight. For the vast majority of people, this is as simple as eating a sensible diet that is lower in calories and getting enough exercise. If you want to be around to benefit from the anti-aging medicine of the future, you have to take care of the basics now!

Link: http://newsite.lef.org/news/disease/2004/04/05/eng-2dayuk/eng-2dayuk_080137_1171895096844251094.html

Stem Cells From Baby Teeth?

As reported by news.com.au, Australian scientists are in the early stages of exploring discarded baby teeth as a source of useful stem cells. The article is short on details regarding the type of stem cells used, but the researchers expect to be able to culture tissue from them. From the article: "Stem cells from teeth can be influenced to grow into tissue other than teeth. We have some evidence that some cells may have the potential to develop into neural cells. We now have a project injecting human cells into the brains of rats in the hope they can replace networks damaged by stroke or degenerative neural diseases."

Link: http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,9186247%255E13762,00.html

More On Withdrawn Cryonics Legislation

The East Valley Tribune has more on the demise of bill HB2637, including the promise that it will likely be back in 2005. It's hard to say why Representative Stump withdrew the bill for the moment; there are a lot of conflicting stories and no-one has much in the way of motivation to provide an accurate insider viewpoint at this time. One possibility for the future is that the bill - in its current disagreeable form - will be quietly attached to some other well-backed legislation in order to push it through while nobody is looking. Politics, as a rule, isn't pretty or fair. The power in the hands of legislators is easily abused or misdirected by special interests, and there are few checks on the system these days.

Link: http://www.aztrib.com/index.php?sty=19562

Robert Bradbury's Grand Unified Theory of Aging

Robert Bradbury of the Aeiveos Research Library has been working on a grand unified theory of aging of late. He was kind enough to post a summary to the extropy-chat list, which is reproduced here with permission:

I've been working on this theory for the past year or so and thought I would present it to the list so it gets into general circulation. You could call this either "A Grand Unified Theory of Aging" or "The Mutation-Energy Catastrophe Theory of Aging." In it, I try to bring together a number of elements from a number of other aging theories to see if we can begin to reach a greater understanding.

First, lets assume the Free Radical theory of Aging which involves various aspects of Mitochondrial damage and aging are correct. This explains why caloric restriction works.

Second, lets assume you can't do too much about them because radicals and/or other pro-oxidants (e.g. nitric oxide) are being used as signal molecules. This assumption may be somewhat controversial.

Third, lets assume that the free radicals lead to DNA mutations (which is one way cancer develops) or worse leads to DNA double strand breaks. Radiation and perhaps toxic substances in food or the environment might contribute to this as well.

DNA double strand breaks are bad. There are 3 possible results:

(a) Repair the break via the homologus recombination pathway. This can lead to "gene conversion" where a masked defective gene gets copied such that it becomes dominant. So for example you may have a cell that can function well with one good and one bad p53 gene, if the bad p53 gene gets copied to where the good p53 gene once was you are in big trouble. The net result is an increased risk of cancer.

(b) Repair the break via the non-homologus end-joining pathway. This appears to involve perhaps the Artemis protein and/or the Werner's Syndrome protein both of which seem to be exonucleases. Bottom line your DNA gets chewed up and you get a microdeletion during the repair. Alternatively if you happen to have two double strand breaks at the same time the two chromosomes can get mispaired with the wrong chromosome. This leads to several types of cancer.

(a) and (b) are aspects of various "mutation" theories of aging.

(c) Avoid repair by the cell committing apoptosis. In this case you lose cells and if the cells are not replaced by stem cells - which may themselves have damage from (a) or (b) - then you suffer a gradual loss of function.

The above seems to explain much of aging and cancer, but now the problem gets worse. If (b) goes on for long enough you will gradually accumulate mutations in various (most probably different) genes in *ALL* cells. i.e. the genomic "program" that the cells require to operate properly is gradually corrupted in random ways.

So gene expression may become defective in many various ways in many cells. This incorporates the dysdifferentiation theory of aging and perhaps aspects of the neuroendocrine theory of aging. However if the mutations occur within genes rather than say regulatory regions now you will probably have a protein that will not fold properly. This will probably be detected and the protein will be degraded. But the lack of a sufficient quantity of these proteins will probably result in cellular signals to make more of them. But they or at least half of them will not fold properly either. Now both protein manufacture and many types of protein degradation require energy (ATP). So when the cells detect a decline in ATP (due to futile synthesis and degradation of proteins) they may attempt to increase energy production. This might be through making the mitochondria work harder or making more mitochondria. In either case the result of this will most probably be more free radicals which feeds back into the start of this whole process. So over time cells will "age" increasingly faster.

The net result is that you get an exponential decline in function (i.e. aging). So far I've only managed to imagine two solutions for this.

1. Develop better DNA repair processes that do not allow the genome to become corrupted.

2. Shift things to allow more apoptosis when DNA double strand breaks are detected but also increase the replacement rate by stem cells.

(1) is a reason to support the sequencing of the genomes of other long lived species -- to see if they have figured out better solutions to the problems outlined. (For example we know that Deinococcus radiodurans has better double strand break repair but we do not fully understand this yet or know if it can be applied to humans).

(2) is a reason to be very supportive of stem cell research.

As Robert Bradbury mentioned to me, there is a lot of background information behind this summary, unfortunately still in the rough notes stage. His attempt to shift genome sequencing priorities is related to this theory and its implications for research.

End The Stem Cell Research Ban

Simon Smith at Betterhumans tells us that "Bush's flimsy funding policy is hurting promising research and real people. All the ban has really done is slowed research, reduced government oversight, given private companies a nice gift, diminished information sharing and transparency and all but guaranteed that the US won't be a leader in stem cell treatments." While Simon is mostly right, I have to disagree with his anti-corporate sentiments: most research is not publicly funded. Private sector research has suffered greatly, as uncertainty and threatened criminalization have scared away investors and philanthropists. This is what is truly holding back stem cell medicine.

Link: http://www.betterhumans.com/Features/Columns/Forward_Thinking/column.aspx?articleID=2004-04-02-4

Interesting Snippit On Calorie Restriction

(From Newswise). A recent study demonstrates that calorie restriction (CR) improves longevity in ways unrelated to accompanying weight loss. This is not unexpected, as CR causes gene expression changes, but some scientists have assumed beneficial effects stem only from weight loss. You will recall that excess weight is reliably linked to a greatly increased risk of just about every horrible age-related condition known to man. Extra weight means a shorter, less healthy life - it's as simple as that. This study means that groups like BioMarker will probably turn up more interesting CR science in the near future.

Link: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/504065/

Transhumanity Relaunched

Transhumanity has relaunched in a more weblog-like format. You'll see healthy life extension items there from time to time, but the focus is more on cutting-edge technological advancement and the philosophical underpinnings of transhumanism.

The editor is a balanced fellow in a community that varies all the way from minarchism to redistributive socialism (transhumanist debates on economics and politics are usually interesting affairs, to say the least) and does a good work. I helped with out a little with the last Transhumanity site design, but the new one is far better for today's online content community. Change is good, and you have to move with the times!

You'll find a short piece at the Longevity Meme that will bring you up to speed on the relevance of the transhumanist movement to healthy life extension and the fight to cure aging.

What is "Natural?"

Following on from Roselle's post yesterday, here's a little lightweight Friday philosophy for you: Technology Versus Nature: What is Natural? It's an interesting piece and worth reading as a backdrop to many of the debates over scientific advances.

Very little of the world we live in is natural in the strict sense of the word, and our lives would be short, brutish and ugly if we relinquished the "unnatural" fruits of human ingenuity - such as houses, clothes, medicine and tools. Almost all people who campaign against therapeutic cloning, gene engineering and other progress towards better medicine and longer, healthier lives seem to be perfectly happy with equally complex and unnatural portions of their day to day experiences.

Personally, I think these sorts of arguments stem from partially from fear of change and partially from a fear of the unknown, of the other. People should be free to live their lives as they choose and relinquish the use of new technology if they so desire ... but they should not force their ways on others. The Amish, for example, are respected for their stance on modern technology. Imagine, for a moment, a missionary Amish, complete with aggressive fund raisers and lobbyists, turning the US into an agrarian nation at the expense of millions who have worked hard to attain far more than that. Not a pleasant thought, right?

There is nothing wrong with an individual choosing not to participate in the future, but there is everything wrong with trying to close the door for everyone else. Our health and longevity depend on the future of medical research; we cannot afford to let that be taken away, suppressed or criminalized.

Towards Cultured Blood Vessels

The Daily Yomiuri reports that Japanese researchers have succeeded in growing correctly-structured capillary blood vessels from embryonic stem cells. All advances in the techniques of tissue engineering relating to growing blood vessels are important at this time, as they are required for efforts to grow large scale tissue structures - like replacement organs - on demand. When matched with existing tissue engineering techniques involving scaffolds, it's clear that we should be seeing rapid advances in this field in the next year or two. Few advances will happen in the US while politicians are trying to ban this form of medical research, however.

Link: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/newse/20040331wo71.htm

...And There Was Much Rejoicing

Alcor, the leading US cryonics provider has announced that the "solution without a problem" regulatory bill is now withdrawn. This is great news, and shows that the healthy life extension community is now sizeable and organized to the point of being able to win legislative battles at the state level. As Joe Waynick puts it: "Any organization with such a vocal and active membership is worthy of serious consideration by government." It's a pity that we have to be loud and vocal to prevent damaging legislation from being passed at the behest of special interests by politicians unfamiliar with the topics under consideration, but that's part and parcel of living in an age of big government.

Link: http://alcor.org/Library/html/legislation20040401.html

The Importance of Saving Money

This post to Fight Aging! is worth reading. We all have certain expectations regarding financial plans for later life, but do plans based on the experience of past generations serve us well? How should we plan for a future that involves greatly extended healthy life spans and expenses related to regenerative medicine? Predicting the future is a mug's game, but I do my best to provide some guidance, guesstimates and ideas. The winds of change are gusting, and people who don't take note will be in for a series of rude awakenings down the line. You might also be interested to read related posts on the ubiquity of the Tithonus Error and why longer lives won't be boring.

Link: https://www.fightaging.org/archives/000057.php

Kass To Be Interviewed At SAGE Crossroads

The next SAGE Crossroads webcast, scheduled for April 12th, is to be an interview with Leon Kass, chair of the President's Council on Bioethics. Given that most webcasts to date have been debates, it's a shame that this one is just an interview. Leon Kass holds a set of highly unethical views on medicine and I'd like to see them challenged more often. Kass is openly in favor of banning attempts to increase the healthy human life span, and in favor of blocking stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. In other words, he would cheerfully enforce suffering and death on all the rest of us if given the chance. Given his position as a human rubber stamp for US administration policies, Kass' views should give us all pause for thought.

Link: http://www.sagecrossroads.net/public/webcasts/next.cfm

Aging as "Natural"

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at Case Western Reserve University given by Baroness Mary Warnock. The eminant philosopher, known for her influential work on reproductive ethics, was also a keynote speaker for the University's Medical Humanities week.

She was an absolutely delightful speaker: erudite, clear, and open to questions. In this seminar, she focused on the use of the terms "natural" and "unnatural" in critiques against biotechnological interventions such as cloning and genetic engineering. "The natural," she argued, was a broad and imprecise term that was frequently used as a stand-in for "the good" and for religious conviction, particularly in the United States. However, using the concept of the natural is problematic, because humans already use a number of technologies and tools to improve society and life in general. Many things which are made by humans rather than nature (such as purebred sheepdogs) are considered good; while other things which are not man-made (such as disease-causing bacteria) are considered man. In effect, Warnock argues that an "unnatural" aspect is not an effective, logical, or clear reasoning behind the movements to ban certain biotechnological interventions.

That is not to say, however, that Baroness Warnock endorsed technological attempts to dramatically extend life. Rather, she expressed hesistation and doubt about what such extended lives might do to our understanding of the life course, to families, and to the community.

In contrast, many who oppose anti-aging efforts have as their first or primary argument the conviction that extending life is "unnatural" or "going against God." Kass, for example, has often portrayed aging as a "natural" part of the life course. The absence of aging, as a result, would mean the absence of something that makes us essentially human. Popular images of life-extended individuals, such as vampires, play into this view.

A different view is present in the new (and highly entertaining) book by Armand Marie Leroi, "Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body." The book charts the variety, history, and causes of human genetic mutations and what such mutations tell us about embryonic development and the genetics of human formation. In the last chapter, which addresses aging, Leroi presents a view of aging devoid of inherent meaning: unlike theories which present aging as a period of life review, here simply an accumulation of many mutations whose deleterious effects occur after the reproductive period (thus avoiding selective pressure) or may provide reproductive benef effects early in life. Thus, aging itself serves no specific purpose, but is an amalgamation of many mutations that contribute to the increase in mortality as one ages. As life expectancy continues to move ever upward, aging is increasing being "cured" (if the aging is understood to be the increased likelihood of death as one gets older).

A Short Sidebar on Politics

I read a good article by J.D. Tuccille over at LewRockwell.com just the other day. The author manages to concisely cut to the core of why small government is good and large government is bad. I spend a fair amount of time talking about, watching and writing about the consequences of a winner-takes-all political system on the future of medical research, human life span and health. These battles are so ugly and wasteful precisely because our governments have grown bloated, invasive and powerful.

However many camps there are, it's apparent that Americans nurse bitter disagreements and increasingly see political battles in terms of good vs. evil. In truth, despite Mr. Weiner's rosy outlook, government has so intruded into every nook and cranny of modern life that Americans have real reason to fear the outcome when their opponents control the levers of political power.

Take the controversy over gay marriage as an example. Politicians debate the merits of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but there's no real reason that marriage of any sort should be a public policy issue. New York didn't require marriage licenses until 1908 and many states that required licenses earlier provided for private alternatives, such as publishing banns.

Likewise, private ownership of firearms and personal use of marijuana were regulated by states and localities, if at all, into the 1930s. Entangled in federal law in 2004, guns and dope now serve as defining issues for many Americans, and can decide the outcome of elections.

Even Americans' mealtimes are subject to official scrutiny. The federal government is rolling out an advertising campaign to nag people about their eating habits, and some public health groups want to impose high taxes on so-called "junk food" to discourage its consumption.

Who can blame Americans for being at-daggers-drawn when marital arrangements and lunch menus are at the mercy of the victors in the next election?

Not to mention the medical research that will determine how long and healthy our lives will be. Big government means that multiple solutions to any given problem - and multiple answers to any given social question - can no longer coexist. One group wins an election and proceeds to force their rules, answers and solutions on everyone. There are real winners and losers, and the losers are increasingly unable to find alternative places in which to live their lives the way they want.

In many ways, we are suffering from global cabin fever: an ever-smaller world, coupled with a lack of new frontiers for expansion. In past centuries, those people who desired less government in their lives had workable options on the table. That is no longer the case (although groups like the Free State Project are doing their best to make a better world). As J.D. Tuccille puts it:

If high stakes explain the growing bitterness between America's political factions, the solution is clear: lower the stakes. Get government out of any area of human life where its presence isn't essential. Why wage electoral campaigns over the definition of marriage when you can get politicians out of the marriage business entirely and leave relations between consenting adults to the people involved?

There are enough divisive issues in which government can't help but be involved - such as defending the country against terrorism and invading countries that have nothing to do with terrorism - that we don't need to seek out new grounds for domestic conflict.

Shrinking the role of government won't make people stop arguing, but it will improve the chances that they can afford to lose an occasional argument.

Smart, and to the point.