LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 05 2004
The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a biweekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.
- Update on the Alcor Cryonics Legislation
- Interesting Items From Fight Aging!
- Help To Make Your Future Healthier and Longer
- Latest Healthy Life Extension News Headlines
UPDATE ON THE ALCOR CRYONICS LEGISLATION
It seems that victory was declared a little prematurely in the matter of cryonics legislation in Arizona. As you will recall from a few newsletters back, this bill would have forced Alcor out of their business, but community support made all the difference:
Why is cryonics important to a healthy life extension community that is primarily focused on the future of regenerative medicine? The short answer is that cryonics is a form of insurance against your health giving out before medical progress can save your life. Cryonics is also an ethical necessity. No matter how fast medical science advances towards longer, healthier lives, there will always be some people who will not make it. We should not leave them behind:
The Arizona cryonics bill - a "solution without a problem" - was abruptly put up to vote by the sponsor despite assurances that this would not happen, and despite agreement by all the stakeholders as to the undesirable nature of this legislation (including the funeral directors who supposedly called for it in the first place!) Considerable - and justified - outrage was heard from the community, followed by public and private discussions on the part of Alcor, the Funeral Directors Association, Organ Procurement organizations, their lobbyists and Arizona politicians. The organ procurement folks were dragged into this because the legislation as written would cause chaos in their medical circles. Speed in politics tends to cause collateral damage due to poorly worded or poorly thought out laws.
Fortunately, the bill has now been withdrawn - without much in the way of useful explanation from its sponsor. This local media article gives a few clues as to what the various parties are thinking:
You can read the timeline of events and an explanation by Alcor CEO Joe Waynick at the following pages:
The motivations behind this unfortunate bill are unclear for those of us on the outside, so it is hard to predict where this matter will go from here. It is possible that the bill will resurface as an attachment to some popular item of legislation in an attempt to pass it by stealth. I suspect that the Funeral Directors Association is starting to realize that bringing the government into your house in order to get your own way is not the smartest of ideas.
As a last note on the topic, your voices did make a difference. This story would have had an unpleasant ending if not for the outpouring of community support. We should get up and apply the same treatment to the next anti-research bill that tries to curb stem cell research and regenerative medicine!
INTERESTING ITEMS FROM FIGHT AGING!
We haven't been idle since I last mentioned our new weblog. If you enjoy this newsletter, you should also enjoy the daily updates over at Fight Aging! Here are a few samples that you might find interesting:
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.
Healthy Life Extension and Boredom
The world seems divided into two camps on this topic. For one side, it seems self-evident that longer life means boredom. To the other side - my side - this is a very strange attitude indeed.
The Ubiquity of the Tithonus Error
This is an interesting experiment: find any random person you know and ask them what the downside would be to using better medicine to live for 150 years.
The Wave Is Rising
Events and news of the past year have left me convinced that now is a good time to set forth on ventures related to healthy life extension, be they volunteer, individual, profit or non-profit. A wave is slowly rising and gaining strength: efforts by diverse groups to advocate, promote and educate are beginning to noticeably influence mainstream culture and media. This in turn leads to more such efforts.
The Meaning of Anti-Aging
There is a war being fought over the meaning of "anti-aging" and (to a lesser extent) "life extension." It's fought with words and funding between and within a number of different factions within the business and scientific community.
HELP TO MAKE YOUR FUTURE HEALTHIER AND LONGER
As Gandhi said, "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." If you like our efforts, add us to your favorites or link to us from your sites or blogs. Tell a friend. Every little action like this helps to spread the concepts of healthy life extension, making them more widely known, accepted, and supported. More support ultimately means more research funding for advanced medicine and a less anti-research legislation.
Keep up to date with our action items at the Longevity Meme and see how you can take a few minutes to help:
That would be all for this issue of the newsletter. The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.
Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward the newsletter on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!
Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Stem Cells From Baby Teeth? (April 04 2004)
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."
More On Withdrawn Cryonics Legislation (April 04 2004)
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.
End The Stem Cell Research Ban (April 03 2004)
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.
Interesting Snippit On Calorie Restriction (April 03 2004)
(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.
Towards Cultured Blood Vessels (April 02 2004)
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.
...And There Was Much Rejoicing (April 02 2004)
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.
The Importance of Saving Money (April 01 2004)
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.
Kass To Be Interviewed At SAGE Crossroads (April 01 2004)
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.
Sweden To Half-Way Back Stem Cell Research (March 31 2004)
As reported by Yahoo! News, the Swedish government is poised to permit embryonic stem cell research, but ban any medical applications of this research. This is the sort of nonsense compromise that we humans produce in our attempts at politics, but I suppose that this is still far better than the alternatives. This legislation, unlike that passed by many European governments, at least allows research to proceed. As the benefits of stem cell medicine become tangible in years to come, it will be increasingly hard for politicians to ban progress towards better therapies and cures for the incurable.
Separation Of Church And Bioethics (March 31 2004)
George Dvorsky expresses strong opinions on the influence of certain religious views on bioethics and politics in his latest column at Betterhumans. Research towards cures and life-saving therapies are being held back and banned in countries around the world, including the US. Technologies necessary for regenerative medicine, such as therapeutic cloning, are treated as targets rather than the vital medical advances they are. If we want a future of better medicine and longer, healthier lives, then we must support researchers and speak out against anti-research legislation.
How Investors Think About Stem Cell Science (March 30 2004)
Contining the money theme for the day, here is a piece from the Miami Herald. It provides a good insight into the way in which venture capitalists and other investors currently look at stem cell science. Stem cell research is a gold mine in waiting, but legislative uncertainty and the nature of early stage medical research is scaring investors away. "Investors in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries aren't committing billions of dollars, largely because society hasn't clearly decided whether the research is moral." In other words, we won't see major progress until politicians stop trying to ban this research. I, for one, think that deliberately blocking research into cures that will save millions of lives is a terrible, terrible act.
Philanthropic Funding Turns The Wheels Of Progress (March 30 2004)
An article by Mary Beckman at SAGE Crossroads examines the way in which scientific progress in medicine is enabled by philanthropy. Funding that would otherwise be unavailable is sometimes provided by determined private groups and individuals. John Sperling, for example, or the Methuselah Foundation. If you look back at times of great change in science, you'll see that the early funding often comes from wealthy visionaries, advocates, and the organizations they create. The mainstream funding establishment - private and public - is necessarily risk-averse, yet making advances in medical science towards real anti-aging therapies requires risk and uncertainty.
Read The Longevity Meme For The Articles (March 29 2004)
If you're one of our newer readers, or reading our news through an aggregator, you should certainly take the time to look through the Longevity Meme articles. We reprint helpful introductions, explanations and companion pieces to healthy life extension: all the better to help you get started on a longer life and make the most of the community. You might want to take a look at "Winning the War Against Aging" by Joao Magalhaes and "Death is an Outrage" by Robert Freitas, excellent essays that tackle some of the core issues in healthy life extension. If you like what we have to say, by all means read more.
Stem Cell Based Cancer Cure In The Works (March 29 2004)
EurekAlert reports on a novel way of combining gene therapy with stem cells to cure cancer. Tissue repair stem cells (mesenchymal progenitor cells or MSC) migrate to tumors in the body in order to build tissue, but researchers altered them to attack cancerous cells instead. In effect, stem cells become the delivery mechanism for the gene therapy. From the article: "Andreeff will present animal data suggesting that gene modified MSC can inhibit the growth of leukemias, lung metastases of melanomas and breast cancer, ovarian and brain tumors. For example, MSC gene therapy cured 70 percent of mice implanted with one kind of human ovarian cancer."
Bioinformatics Will Help Us Live Longer (March 28 2004)
Randall Parker at FuturePundit offers a good example of the way in which progress in bioinformatics is making medical science faster and better. If computer simulations allow us to understand proteins a thousand times faster, then progress towards real anti-aging therapies (and cures for many currently incurable conditions) based on this knowledge will be correspondingly faster. We will see new and exciting medicine technology in a decade rather than never. I have opined at Fight Aging! on the relationship between speed of research and the time it takes to make new medicine available - you should take a look.
How Much Money To Save? (March 28 2004)
A EurekAlert article on saving for retirement - and the economic pressures on retirement and social security system in most countries - reminds me that we have to plan for a future in which real anti-aging medicine exists. I examined how much money we should look at saving in a post at the Fight Aging! blog, and conclude that your plans should be very different from those of your parents. The difference between a good plan and a bad plan is an early death, because you can't afford to pay for healthy life extension medicine and government programs have broken down. Have you thought about the future of your health and life span today?
OSHU To Open Stem Cell Research Center (March 27 2004)
The Daily News reports that the Oregon Health and Science University will be opening a stem cell research center with a mix of state and private funding from The Oregon Opportunity. The director of the new center notes that "one of the things we have to be aware of in the stem cell field is to avoid promising too much. My prediction is it will be, not five, but 10 years before this is going to pay off." For my part, I think five years is long enough for us to see the first widespread application of comparatively simple treatments for heart disease - assuming that US politicians stop trying to halt this research.
It's Not Rocket Science (March 27 2004)
Making the best of your natural longevity isn't rocket science, despite the many people who are happy to take your money to tell you otherwise. As this Charleston Daily Mail article points out, the benefits of exercise, supplementation and a good relationship with your physician are well known and well documented. The detrimental effects of smoking and being overweight are similarly well known. You can't yet do anything about the effect your genes have on your longevity, but you certainly can work on the rest of it! Stay healthy and you'll live longer. Live longer, and you'll be around to benefit from the real anti-aging medicine of the future.
Put Your Name To "Facing Cryonics" (March 26 2004)
In response to recent legislative attacks on cryonics, the Immortality Institute is managing an initiative called "Facing Cryonics." By associating individual names, faces and messages with the cryonics industry, we are better able to communicate with legislators. It is far easier for politicians to pass bad laws when they are not being engaged on a person-to-person basis. The Facing Cryonics initiative is a great way for you to show solidarity with cryonics supporters and advocates in the healthy life extension community. This sort of program will also serve well for other causes as it is expanded, such as the political battle over regenerative medicine and vital stem cell research.
Biotech Will Bring Great Benefits (March 26 2004)
Michael Fumento examines the promise of biotech - including cures for the incurable and greatly extended healthy life spans - at Tech Central Station. Relieving suffering, saving lives and fixing flaws in the human condition are just a fraction of what could be achieved in the near future with the right level of funding and public support. The naysayers and the anti-biotech crowd (like Leon Kass, for example) ignore these benefits in their attempts to block change and progress. To my mind, it is deeply immoral to hold back the development of new cures and better medicine. To do so costs lives and creates suffering.
Elsewhere In South America... (March 25 2004)
This press release notes success in a human trial of a heart therapy that "involves taking the patient's own bone marrow and purifying it to obtain the type of stem cells which will hopefully give rise to new blood vessels and muscle so the heart can get more oxygen and function better." The trial took place in Uruguay and was administered by a team of Argentinian researchers. Meanwhile, the FDA has been preventing US researchers from performing this sort of trial until very recently. Approximately 50,000 people worldwide die every day due to some form of heart disease. Political delays in research have horrific human consequences.
Brazilian Government To Ban Therapeutic Cloning (March 25 2004)
SciDev.net reports that the Brazilian government is poised to pass a broad biotechnology bill that will prohibit therapeutic cloning, and thus also ban most promising stem cell research. There seems to be some hope that pro-research groups will have that part of the bill removed, but religious lobbying organizations are fighting hard to keep it in. A good quote: "The total prohibition [of research on human embryos] is reminiscent of the age of Gailileo, and could delay research that may lead to an improvement in the quality of human life." This is almost certainly understated.
Thou Shalt Not Make Scientific Progress (March 25 2004)
Salon.com is running a good article that examines US administration policy on stem cell research. The author covers a fair amount of ground, including the recent Bioethics Council controversy, but doesn't make the real human costs of these policies clear. Delays in regenerative medicine and stem cell research will produce a future that includes tens or hundreds of millions of deaths that could have been prevented. Years of delay have already happened. We all need to speak out and make our voices heard in order to bring about a better future for health, advanced medicine and longevity.
FDA Relents, Allows Heart Stem Cell Trials (March 24 2004)
We have been castigating the FDA for blocking an effective stem cell therapy for heart disease. As reported in the Houston Chronicle, the FDA has relented. Recent studies have raised questions about this type of therapy, but it seems that there are several similar types of therapy under discussion. From the article: "All of the 14 Brazilian patients showed some sign of improvement in their heart function after receiving stem cell injections, researchers said, including the ability of the heart muscle to pump blood. Several have even begun jogging. Although it is a very small sample of patients, just two have died in the nearly two years of monitoring, when, without treatment, half or more might have died."
US Government Blocking Stem Cell Research (March 24 2004)
Articles examining the detrimental effects of US government policy - legislation both enacted and threatened - on stem cell research have been cropping up more often of late, and a good thing too. When considering the cost in death and suffering, medical reseach policy is clearly far more important than most issues reporters and politicians spend time on. Bad legislation has a way of hanging around for decades, and decades of delay in developing regenerative medicine will impose great suffering and death on hundreds of millions worldwide. This article from the Mercury News also mentions the ongoing California Stem Cell Research and Cures initiative, which aims to put $3 billion dollars in state funding towards stem cell research.
Science is Hard and Fraught With Setbacks (March 23 2004)
Biomedical research isn't easy, even though the current rate of progress often makes it seem so. This article from SFGate reminds us that for every success we read about, there are a dozen failures lurking in the wings. I don't think that the author's conclusions are necessarily valid - stem cells are notoriously hard to work with at this point in time. Reports earlier in the month indicated other side effects and difficulties in trials using stem cells to repair heart disease. This is all part of the learning process. You don't abandon scientific research because you aren't getting perfect results right now.
Start Calorie Restriction At Any Age (March 23 2004)
Reuters reports on a study confirming that calorie restriction can extend healthy life span in mice even if started in old age. Most scientists expect calorie restriction results in animals to translate well to humans, based on work done to date. This study was funded by BioMarker Pharmaceuticals, a company working on medicine to reproduce that beneficial effects of calorie restriction without the dieting. Scientists understand far more about the way in which calorie restriction works these days, so we should start to see results in a few years. In particular, the work on changes in gene expression that occur with calorie restriction is interesting and promising.
On Healthy Life Extension (March 22 2004)
(From SFGate). David Ewing Duncan writes a good article on the state of healthy life extension, covering a fair slice of what's hot right now in related genetic and animal studies. Cynthia Kenyon gets good mention of course, as does Elixir Pharmaceuticals. Demonstrations of radical life extension in animals are very encouraging to the public and lead to greater support for research into human medicine, as realized by the folks running the Methuselah Mouse Prize. This said, it is important to note that humans are not like worms, and translating successes in mice into successes in humans is not always straightforward either.
Potentially Limitless T Cells (March 22 2004)
Nature tells us of yet another reason to be pushing ahead with stem cell research. Scientists have demonstrated that "potentially limitless" numbers of T cells, a vital part of the immune system, can be created in the laboratory using stem cells. A quote: "In theory, the lab-made immune cells could be used for any patient, because they lack surface molecules that trigger rejection." We can now add immune system deficiencies to the long list of medical conditions open to stem cell based therapies. How much longer can European and US governments continue to block and criminalize this vital research?