LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 19 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.
- Journalists For Longer Healthier Lives
- Do We Sit On Our Hands, or Do We Move Forward?
- Latest Healthy Life Extension News Headlines
JOURNALISTS FOR LONGER, HEALTHIER LIVES
Journalists - in the olden-times media establishment sense of the word - have an important part to play in bringing greater understanding of healthy life extension to the public. As a practical matter, public support is vital for large scale medical research funding. It took activism and a groundswell of public enthusiasm to set priorities like fighting cancer in the 70s or AIDS and Alzheimer's in the 90s. The same process must occur to make the fight against aging a modern research priority. If we wait rather than acting, many more people will suffer and die from conditions that funded researchers might have learned to cure.
Few journalists make healthy life extension a priority in their work right now, sad to say, although many biotech writers are enthused by the clear potential for science to deliver longer, healthier lives. I list a few noteworthy writers at the end of the press page at the Longevity Meme:
At the moment, mainstream journalistic writing on healthy life extension is sparse. There's a lot more of it than there used to be - which is a wonderful thing - but far less than there should be. We all suffer from the degenerative effects of the aging process, and we should all be interested in doing something about that.
I've been spending more time of late chatting to journalists: we have reaching a tipping point in the perception of serious anti-aging research in biotech media circles, and I can make a difference by reaching out. You can do this too: journalists write more on a topic when then they know it is a hot item that interests readers. When you see a good article in the press, send the author a polite note to thank them for talking seriously about issues that are important to you. Offer constructive criticism and point the author to more resources (like the Longevity Meme, modesty aside). Feedback is a powerful tool when talking to the press. It doesn't take many letters to get a journalist to pay attention to an issue; we can all do our part to bring more of the press into the healthy life extension fold.
DO WE SIT ON OUR HANDS, OR DO WE MOVE FORWARD?
I just today noticed a follow-up article at GNN News Network on human trials for the latest stem cell heart disease therapy. It has performed well in a previous trial in Brazil - a trial that had to be held in Brazil because the FDA had refused to let human trials move forward in the US up until last month. As one of the earliest working stem cell therapies, this is more akin to a blood transfusion than anything else. Bone marrow stem cells are extracted from the patient and injected back into damaged heart tissue, where they are left to do whatever it is they do to heal and restore function. As of the moment, there is some uncertainty over the mechanism whereby this therapy works, but work it does.
The article ends with a quote from Emerson C. Perin, who took part in the Brazilian trial and will be leading this latest US trial: "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?"
I think that this comment is very relevant for the time we live in. People around the world are suffering and dying from disease and age-related conditions in numbers that beggar the imagination: 150,000 deaths each and every day, 55 million each and every year. Yet medical research funding is still a drop in the bucket, and politicians still try to ban the most promising medical technologies.
A question for all of us, then: do we sit on our hands, or do we move forward?
That is 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
Michael J. Fox On Stem Cell Research (April 18 2004)
(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."
Cryonics In Australia (April 18 2004)
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 artilce 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.
More Than One Million Signatures (April 17 2004)
(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.
Progress Towards Alzheimer's Vaccine (April 17 2004)
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.
A Look At Aging Research (April 16 2004)
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.
Creating Very Old People (April 16 2004)
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.
Leon Kass, Mystic (April 15 2004)
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.
More On Yoda (April 15 2004)
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.
Adult Stem Cell Progress (April 14 2004)
(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.
Innovation On PBS (April 14 2004)
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.
Longevity And Enforced Retirement (April 14 2004)
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.
The Drugs Are Getting Better (April 13 2004)
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.
Working On Advanced Regeneration (April 13 2004)
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.
More Calorie Restriction In The News (April 12 2004)
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.
The Oldest Mouse (April 12 2004)
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.
Olshansky And De Grey On Life Expectancy (April 11 2004)
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?
Knowledge Is Power In Medicine (April 11 2004)
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.
Materials Science And Artificial Body Parts (April 10 2004)
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.
Illinois Legislators Debating Stem Cells (April 10 2004)
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.
Replacing Bone Marrow Donors (April 09 2004)
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.
An Interview With Aubrey De Grey (April 09 2004)
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!
Another General Interest Article (April 08 2004)
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.
CBS On Calorie Restriction (April 08 2004)
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.
Cracking The Genetic Code Of Aging (April 07 2004)
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!
Gene Links Cancer And Aging (April 07 2004)
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."
Dr. Fossel On Reversing Aging (April 06 2004)
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.
Swiss Anti-Research Referendum To Be Held (April 06 2004)
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.
Smoking Isn't A Smart Idea Either (April 05 2004)
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.
Obesity, Exercise, Diet and Cancer (April 05 2004)
(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!