LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 03 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.
- Closing In On the Mechanisms of Aging
- Science Makes Science Faster
- Dr. Roy Walford, 1924-2004
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
CLOSING IN ON THE MECHANISMS OF AGING
Two very exciting advances in our understanding of biochemistry and cellular processes related to aging have been discussed in the press in the last few days. Firstly, a new molecule (called RAD51D) has been identified as affecting the behavior of telomeres - protective caps on chromosomes that play an important part in aging and cancer.
Telomeres are a form of protection and timer. They prevent genetic damage, but are progressively worn away with each cell division. After a certain number of divisions, a cell starts to accumulate damage and dies. This is an important mechanism for bodily integrity and repair - certain cells need to have a faster turnover. You can find out more about telomeres and their role in cellular life span at InfoAging:
Differences in the activity of RAD51D may cause normal cells to become immortal cancer cells by protecting or regenerating telomeres. This molecule may also play a part in the aging process. This discovery opens the door on a whole new set of inquiries relating to this part of cellular biochemistry, cancer, and aging.
On to the second advance: just yesterday, the BBC reported that the mechanism causing Progeria (or Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome), a rare and deadly premature aging condition, has been identified.
Despite the rarity of the condition, Progeria studies are very important - they are a kind of laboratory in which the process of searching for a cure illuminates the normal aging process. As Dr Ian Kill says in the BBC article, "we study Progeria to understand the biological basis of normal ageing. People with Progeria die from disease that old people suffer, primarily heart disease and stroke."
The underlying mechanism that causes Progeria produces an accelerated division of cells throughout the body; a flaw in the normal process that is caused by a mutation of the Lemin A gene. This increased rate of division causes cells to die more quickly - due to all the normal mechanisms limiting the number of times a cell can divide (such as telomeres). At the most fundamental level, Progeria sufferers really are aging much more rapidly.
Interestingly, if we look at another premature aging condition called Werner's syndrome, we see exactly the opposite happening. Cells divide more slowly - but they still die more rapidly due to other biochemistry peculiar to Werner's syndrome. As another piece of the puzzle, a certain type of mutant mouse (the p66 gene variant) lives 30% longer than its unmutated counterparts ... and has a lower rate of cell death.
Taken together, this all underlines the importance of overall cellular death rates to the aging process - and that scientists understand a lot more about how these rates are regulated than they did five years ago. Fifteen years ago it would have been heretical to suggest that one gene, or even a small number of genes, could have a large impact on healthy life span. That is certainly food for thought, especially given the way the list of these single longevity genes has been growing:
SCIENCE MAKES SCIENCE FASTER
One of the most striking things about this recent Progeria research is the speed with which scientists have moved from identifying the gene responsible to a complete understanding of the effects of that gene. The identification of mutant Lamin A as the culprit was announced in April 2003, just over a year ago. It is truly amazing to think that we live in an age in which modest resources and a single year are sufficient to completely unravel the biochemistry of a genetic disease.
A great deal of this progress stems from advances in bioinformatics, the use of software and ever-faster computers to solve problems in biology. A single researcher can now do in a few months what would have once taken ten years in a major laboratory.
If this field interests you, you should make a point of reading Randall Parker's FuturePundit. He keeps a keen eye on these trends in biotechnology.
DR. ROY WALFORD, 1924-2004
I am saddened to report that Dr. Roy Walford, in many ways the father of the modern calorie restriction movement, died last week from complications related to ALS - a rare muscle-wasting disease with no well-established modifiable risk factors.
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. His work on calorie restriction has made and will continue to make a great difference to my health and the health of many thousands of others.
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 memoriam 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.
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
More On RAD51D, Aging And Cancer (May 02 2004)
This article from the Scotsman is a little more clear about the implications of the recent RAD51D discoveries. Many news outlets have been reporting this as a major breakthrough in the fight against aging, which isn't the case. It is an important step, and opens up new avenues for cancer and aging research, "but to imply that it might lead to a way of keeping people forever young was completely misleading. Halting the ageing process of cells would run the risk of leaving people ravaged with cancer." Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey suggests that tackling cancer will be the hardest part of his proposed plan to defeat aging.
Nanomedicine Volume IIA Now Online (May 02 2004)
The second volume in the Nanomedicine book series by Robert Freitas, entitled "Nanomedicine, Vol. IIA: Biocompatibility," is now freely available online. First published in hardcopy in 2003, this book describes the many possible responses of the human body to the
introduction of medical nanodevices, especially medical nanorobots (such as respirocytes, or artificial blood cells). Researchers like Robert Freitas are documenting a detailed, plausible framework for medical nanotechnology as it will be practiced in the 2020s and 2030s - and hopefully earlier. If you are looking for insight into future medical technologies, Nanomedicine is a good starting point.
Dr. Roy Walford, 1924-2004 (May 01 2004)
Dr. Roy Walford, in many ways the father of the modern calorie restriction movement, has died from complications relating to ALS (or Lou Gehrig's disease, a rare muscle wasting disease with no well-established modifiable risk factors). His wake is to be held today, and a section of his website has been opened for those who wish to leave tributes. Roy Walford's books were a great help to me, personally, in my investigations of calorie restriction. His scientific work on calorie restriction has made a great difference to many people's lives - this work continues in the scientific and business communities.
Thoughts On Radical Future Medicine (May 01 2004)
In 2030, when we have perfected DNA computers and nanomedicine as envisaged by Robert Freitas is in full swing, what will we do for an encore? Futurist Ray Kurzweil proposes replacing DNA inside human cells with nanomachinery that does the same job - but better. This would be a radical break with the past, but would offer new ways to block disease, prevent aging and otherwise upgrade the human body. I'm skeptical that the necessary understanding of our genetic code and all its inferences will be gathered quite this quickly - 50 years sounds more reasonable than 25 to get to this point. We'll see how long it takes to develop nanotech blood cell replacements first...
New Brain Cells From Bone Marrow? (April 30 2004)
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.
Aha! Another Piece Of The Puzzle (April 30 2004)
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.
Meanwhile, On The Front Lines... (April 29 2004)
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.
The Importance Of Exercise (April 29 2004)
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.
Bipartisan Rumblings Over Stem Cell Policy (April 28 2004)
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.
The GenAge Database (April 28 2004)
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!
What Is Anti-Aging? (April 28 2004)
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.
How Obesity Happens (April 27 2004)
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.
More On PASG And Premature Aging (April 27 2004)
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.
Ben Bova On Therapeutic Cloning (April 26 2004)
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.
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute (April 26 2004)
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.
Another Step Forward For Stem Cell Science (April 25 2004)
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.
Varied Foolishness From The Naysayers (April 25 2004)
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.
Change To RSS News Feed Structure (April 25 2004)
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.
Skin Elasticity And "What We All Know" (April 24 2004)
(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.
No Genetic Link Between Longevity And Alzheimer's? (April 24 2004)
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.
Illinois To Vote On Stem Cell Bill (April 23 2004)
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.
Genetic Integrity And Aging (April 23 2004)
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.
The Stem Cell Debate In The US (April 22 2004)
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.
What Aging Problem? (April 22 2004)
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.
An Interesting Semi-Objection (April 21 2004)
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."
The Fable Of The Dragon-Tyrant (April 21 2004)
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.
A New Alzheimer's Hypothesis (April 20 2004)
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.
Washington Post On Calorie Restriction (April 20 2004)
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.
REMOVED ARTICLE (April 19 2004)
The article that was here had to be cut out in order for this e-mail newsletter to pass the most common spam filters - an unfortunate consequence of the prevalence of certain products in spam e-mail. You can read the original at the link above.
Max Plank Institute To Research Biology Of Aging (April 19 2004)
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.
Impressive Calorie Restriction Statistics (April 19 2004)
(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.
More On Stem Cell Heart Disease Therapy (April 19 2004)
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?"