LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 17 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.
- Stem Cells, Stem Cells, Politics
- Shop at the Longevity Meme Store
- Registration Pages and the Stacks
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
STEM CELLS, STEM CELLS, POLITICS
It seems that we're in the midst of discovering the results of the last major funding season for stem cell research. Something new and interesting has cropped up in the news almost every day over the past few weeks. A roundup of some of the more interesting research work can be found at the following Fight Aging! post from earlier in the month:
It looks like scientists are getting closer to being able to answer fundamental questions regarding the effectiveness of adult stem cells versus embryonic stem cells - and why some adult stem cell treatments work, while others fail. It's still all somewhat confused, however, and there is a fair amount of work still to be done.
There are many different types of adult stem cell. A fair summary of what is known today would be that some adult stem cell types are useful in some therapies, although scientists are not sure how they are producing beneficial effects. Embryonic stem cells have been demonstrated to be useful in all circumstances in which they can be controlled - but getting them to do what you want to do is proving to be a hurdle. In both cases, some tests have shown undesirable side effects resulting from some therapies. Other studies have demonstrated very impressive positive results - including people who would otherwise be dead returning to an active life.
Overall, it is important to remember that stem cell researchers don't have the important answers yet. Amazing progress has been made, but more unbiased research is needed to understand how to best use stem cells to treat many currently incurable age-related conditions: Alzheimer's, nerve damage, Parkinson's, diabetes, bone loss, cancer, and many more.
Meanwhile, the political battle over embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning (which is required for many adult stem cell therapies as well) is heating up. You'll find any number of commentators - especially from the anti-research groups - willing to make pronouncements on the state of research and the superiority of one path over another. They are not scientists, and they are wrong. Until the research is done, no one knows the truth of the matter. Until the research is done, people will continue to die from conditions that could soon be curable if stem cell science (embryonic and otherwise) is aggressively funded.
It seems that stem cell medicine is, fortunately, going to be an issue in the run up to the US presidential election and the California ballot initiative. The long-term human costs of the anti-research politics of the current US administration are enormous:
Untold sums of money have been scared away from investment in medical biotechnology due to uncertainty over federal laws regarding therapeutic cloning and stem cell medicine:
Overall, the cause of medical progress has been set back years. Each of those years costs millions of lives - those who will die from preventable conditions because cures will now be developed too late. You can do something above this today! Tell your elected representatives to step aside and let the search for cures - and longer, healthier lives - continue unhindered and unmolested.
SHOP AT THE LONGEVITY MEME STORE
After many requests, and some not-so-subtle hints from fellow advocates, I have opened a small online storefront to sell Longevity Meme clothing and other wares:
I will change and add products every so often - so if you have ideas for things you'd like to buy, please do let me know and I'll do my best to accommodate requests. All profits from the store will go to the Methuselah Foundation in order to grow the Methuselah Mouse prize for anti-aging research.
As you probably all know by now, I consider the Methuselah Mouse prize to be a very worthwhile cause. If you haven't done so already, you should certainly visit their website and read about their goals.
REGISTRATION PAGES AND THE STACKS
A large part of the utility of this newsletter - and the Longevity Meme as a whole - is provided by the news service and commentary. It is increasingly the case, however, that the mainstream news websites require registration or move articles into the stacks (requiring paid membership) after a few days or weeks of open access. Additionally, articles reached via Google News or other large search engines can usually be freely read if accessed via the search engine - but the same article (and URL) might require registration or payment if accessed directly. This tends to foil my attempts to avoid registration-only articles.
These are problems, as they impede my ability to bring important, interesting news to you in a clear and useful manner. I certainly try to make reading this newsletter or browsing the Longevity Meme something other than a smorgasbord of registration pages and requests for money! So what to do? Large non-profits reprint articles in entirety on their website. This is almost always a breach of copyright, but is also something that a well-known non-profit can get away with if it isn't in the content distribution business itself. Unfortunately, that isn't a sensible option for the Longevity Meme.
Another option is to refrain from linking to websites that I catch playing sneaky registration games or are otherwise too hasty about moving articles into pay-only sections. This would mean that news would tend to show up on the Longevity Meme some days (or longer) after the first publication, when the article in question is reprinted in more open locations.
Please do let us know if you have been registration pages to be an annoyance. Suggestions on other options for dealing with the issue are always gladly received.
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
The Future Of Nanomedicine (May 16 2004)
A Backbone Magazine article looks at the future of nanomedicine and healthy life extension. The common estimate seems to be that we will see this field in full swing in 20 to 30 years. We expect nanomedicine to improve upon the ability of regenerative medicine to extend healthy life span - through vastly improved diagnostic and in-situ microrepair abilities. Nanomedicine will also bring with it the tools needed to directly intervene in the biochemical processes of aging. Scientists are not there yet, however. There is much to learn and a great deal of work to be done - so we must support medical research!
More Political Nonsense From The NIH (May 16 2004)
(From the Houston Chronicle). I am aquiring a very low opinion of Elias Zerhouni, the NIH director. You may recall his last excursion into bald-faced lying about the effects of US administration policy on stem cell research - well, here we go again. How can he say this stuff with a straight face? At least this time he follows up the outright lie with an arm-twisted semi-admission: "from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research." Hundreds or even thousands of stem cell lines are needed for serious research - and we still have government flunkies telling us that things are going swimmingly with the few we do have.
The Longevity Meme Store (May 15 2004)
After more than a year of requests and not so gentle hints by readers and other advocates, I have finally opened a CafePress store for the Longevity Meme. This venture is starting out small, but now you can show your support for the fight to cure aging by flaunting Longevity Meme and Fight Aging! clothing and wares. If you have suggestions for items or slogans you would like to see, then this would be a good time to let me know. All profits from the Longevity Meme store will go to the Methuselah Foundation to grow the Methuselah Mouse prize fund.
More On Heart Scaffolds, Embryonic Versus Adult Stem Cells (May 15 2004)
Betterhumans reports on another team working on scaffolds and tissue engineering for damaged hearts. As the team lead says, "through tissue engineering we could actually restore the function of the heart by replacing large portions of the damaged heart muscle by a bioartificial one." Interestingly, this work demonstrates that embryonic stem cells work where adult bone marrow stem cells do not. We need more studies like this to quiet the more sophisticated anti-research groups speaking out against embryonic stem cell research. This research also illustrates that work with scaffolding materials for regenerative medicine is advancing rapidly.
A Look At What The Opposition Is Saying (May 14 2004)
This article from the National Review is a good example of the more sophisticated arguments from groups opposed to embryonic stem cell research. The author cherry-picks medical successes using adult stem cells, fails to mention the many uncertainties and failures, and skips over noteworthy progress in embryonic stem cell work entirely. The fact of the matter is that regenerative medicine is a young field, and scientists still have a great deal to learn. We don't even know for sure how half of these therapies actually work! Any pronouncement on the efficacy of one branch of stem cell research over another is very premature - and usually ideologically motivated, as in this case.
Canadian Calorie Restriction (May 14 2004)
Michael Rae, who you can thank for pointing me to some of the items posted to the Longevity Meme, was on CBC yesterday. He is one of the participants in an ongoing study of the benefits of human calorie restriction, reducing calorie intake in order to live longer and suffer less of the degenerative effects of aging. Calorie restriction is the gold standard for currently available healthy life extension techniques - it is backed by decades of animal studies, and some impressive human data. If you want to be around and active to benefit from the regenerative medicine and nanomedicine of tomorrow, then you have to take care of yourself today!
How Anti-Aging Became Part Of The Problem (May 13 2004)
I think that this Arizona Republic article is a good illustration of the biggest problem caused by the commercial anti-aging industry. Through all the boosterism, you'll notice that what they are really selling is better motor oil for the human body. Sure, it helps, but it's no substitute for a good diet, supplementation and lifestyle. Like better motor oil in an engine, it can only improve matters by a small amount in the grand scheme of things - and all the light and noise surrounding "anti-aging" techniques means that serious attempts to greatly extend the healthy human life span go unnoticed and unfunded. This is a tragedy with terrible, terrible consequences.
Louisiana Politicians Still Fighting (May 13 2004)
2theadvocate.com reports on the legislative battle over stem cell research continuing in Louisiana. It looks like the anti-research politicians are not having as easy a time of it as they would like - and a good thing too. Louisiana may yet end up with somewhat rational, 21st-century laws on medical research, but there's a way to go yet. (Just think how far ahead researchers would be if politicians had just stood aside five years ago!) Meanwhile, in New Jersey, half a country and several worlds away, legislation was signed today to establish a state funded stem cell research center. The New Jersey governor said: "This isn't an abstract academic debate. People are suffering today, and what we offer them is hope."
The Proactionary Principle (May 13 2004)
The Proactionary Principle is an answer to abuse of the precautionary principle by anti-research, anti-science pressure groups. It was proposed and debated at the Extropy Institute Vital Progress Summit back in February, and is now making it into late draft form for comment. The freedom to responsibly innovate and develop new medical technologies is essential to healthy life extension - we must "assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception. Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone." Relinquishment - the path of the precautionary principle - leads to millions of avoidable deaths from disease and aging.
UN Therapeutic Cloning Ban Update (May 12 2004)
(From EurekAlert.) The Genetics Policy Insitute will be holding a science conference on therapeutic cloning and stem cell research for the UN in June. The aim is to educate delegates and thus help to prevent anti-research groups, led by the current US administration, from pushing through a worldwide ban on therapeutic cloning in October. This is a worthwhile project, and it means that it is increasingly important for you and I to contact our elected representatives to express your views on the issue. The threat of a UN ban is scaring away private funding for important research into regenerative medicine, much of which depends on therapeutic cloning techniques.
The Ways In Which Fat Kills You (May 11 2004)
Increasing knowledge of human biochemistry provides new insights into how obesity (or even simple excess weight) damages health and reduces life span. Wired notes that "experts have realized for decades that large people die young, and the explanation long seemed obvious. Carrying around all those extra pounds must put a deadly strain on the heart and other organs. Obvious but wrong, it turns out." The harm caused by fat is in fact due to imbalances in chemical signals that damage organs over years and decades. Even a modest amount of excess fat greatly increases the risk of suffering all the most common age-related conditions.
There Is A Lesson In Here Somewhere (May 11 2004)
You may recall the rather unpleasant and public family dispute over the Alcor cryopreservation of Ted Williams that took place in 2003. The Boston Herald reports that a new round has started, as Ted Williams' daughter is attempting to obtain his body for burial - which would of course remove any chance at a new life in the future. Alcor zealously protects client privacy and will not comment on these matters - so we wind up with the sort of one-sided nonsense spouted in this article. The lesson: when you sign up for cryopreservation, make every effort to ensure that your living relatives will not and cannot legally seize and destroy your cryopreserved body.
Healthy Life Extension At The Mirror (May 10 2004)
When the Mirror is printing pieces on healthy life extension and the medical technologies that will get us there, I think it's fair to say that we're in the mainstream. As the article notes, before going on to discuss nanomedicine, stem cells, and cancer cures, "there is a medical revolution just around the corner." As we all know, public understanding and support is vital to large scale research programs. Without this support, the necessary resources will not be assigned - whether through market forces or (democratic) government programs, both of which tend to follow the voice of the masses over long time periods and at the largest scales. So make sure your voice is heard!
Growing Replacement Organs When? (May 10 2004)
An article from Scientific American examines the timeline for growing replacement organs (the field of tissue engineering), concluding that this advance may still be a decade or more away from reliable, widespread use. Scientists are currently working - with modest success - on growing smaller pieces of tissue using scaffolds. This technique has been applied to bone and heart tissue, amongst others. Success with larger masses of tissue, and complex organs, is largely a matter of scaling up the process - which has a lot to do with how well researchers can grow blood vessels and manipulate different cell types in the same structure.
NIH And Nanomedicine (May 10 2004)
Small Times reported last week that the NIH has started a nanomedicine initiative. This would be the right time for it, if we are correct in assuming that advanced nanomedicine will be in full swing between 2020 and 2030. There is a great deal of work to be done in the years ahead, of course, but - as for regenerative medicine - scientists currently have a good basic grasp of the roadmap, the goals, and the requirements. Beyond that, it's all "just" getting the job done, finding funding, and passing the gauntlets of regulation and commercialization for any given therapy. Hopefully nanomedicine researchers will not have to go through years of their work being banned by decree...
Hollywood Gets In On The Act (May 09 2004)
Celebrities and Hollywood money are supporting stem cell research these days, as the campaign to remove federal anti-research legislation continues. The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative (looking set for the November ballot) also benefits from this sort of support. Almost everyone has a friend or relative who suffers from a condition (diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, nerve damage, heart disease, and many more) that stem cell therapies could one day cure - if research is allowed to continue at full pace. There is no excuse for sitting on the sidelines while special interest groups and politicians are destroying the possibility of a longer, healthier future for all of us.
Time Looks At Stem Cell Politics (May 09 2004)
The online edition of Time examines the current state of stem cell politics: "Today a brush-fire challenge to Bush's stem-cell policy is spreading across the U.S., fueled by the frustration of [families] who have allied themselves with patient activists for other diseases, major universities, several state legislatures and members of Congress." States and universities are forging ahead while efforts are underway to reverse the policies and threatened legislation that have blocked stem cell research for years. Anti-research legislation has to go and politicians must step aside if we are to see major progress towards curing most age-related conditions in the near future.
Just To Add A Little More Confusion... (May 08 2004)
Our understanding of adult stem cells is in a state of flux at the moment. This article from WCJB should add a little more confusion to the mix, reporting that adult blood stem cells could be capable of forming brain cells (or fusing with them, or performing some other action that produces the reported results). A number of researchers are currently claiming that adult stem cells cannot regenerate tissue outside their organ of origin - while others are demonstrating that adult stem cells can indeed do just this. These apparent contradictions are symptomatic of a young and complex field of research: we have a great deal yet to learn about stem cell types, biochemistry, and behavior.
Scaffolding For Heart Regeneration (May 08 2004)
Biodegradable scaffolds have featured prominently in recent work on tissue regeneration. Here, the Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli scientists are making progress in using scaffolds and injected cells to regrow heart tissue damaged by heart attacks. They ran a trial on pigs to demonstrate effectiveness, and "the 10 who suffered from congestive heart failure and were treated are all doing well, while there was a 40 percent mortality rate among the 10 pigs who were not treated." The researchers are now working towards human trials - probably in the US - and expanding their technique to other organs, such as the liver.
Summarizing Current Stem Cell Politics (May 07 2004)
The New York Times provides a summary of current initiatives and recent history in stem cell politics. It's a pro-government piece at heart, of course, conveniently forgetting that politicians are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place - and by "got us into this mess" I mean "are creating a future of millions of avoidable deaths by blocking medical progress." The terrible human cost of anti-research policies and restrictions on medicine - there are approximately 6000 deaths each day due to age-related conditions in the US alone - is somehow never quite as important as printing quotes like this: "You hear a lot of negatives about government, but if you go and talk to your congressman or senator, they listen."
Nancy Regan To Push Stem Cell Funding (May 07 2004)
The Washington Times reports that Nancy Regan will begin pushing for stem cell research funding in a much more public manner - this article being the start of that process, I imagine. The more celebrities advocating stem cell research the better, although I personally am not in favor of increased government funding (for anything). The scientific side of stem cell research is proceeding well; all the major problems are political - existing and threatened legislation has been scaring away private funding for years. Since this is a matter of shouting down special interest groups and pressuring politicians into stepping aside, more support from the general public and celebrities is vital.
The Same Tired Old Arguments (May 06 2004)
A Daily Reflector article summarizes the tired old arguments used by those opposed to longer, healthier lives: overpopulation, boredom, the fear of change, the ridiculous notion that longer lives would lack meaning, and socialist concepts of equality - never mind that all have been extensively debunked for decades. The hidden underlying agenda is a little more notable in this article: "Experts contend the government could pursue a number of policies toward life extension. Some options include hindering, delaying or providing no funding for research or banning it outright." There you have it: support for government-mandated upper limits to life span right out in the open.
How Do Adult Stem Cell Treatments Work? (May 06 2004)
(From EurekAlert). A Swedish study shows that adult blood stem cells used to treat heart damage do not build heart muscle cells. In general, recent work has shown that "while adult stem cells are very good at producing different types of cells in their own respective organs, they have little or no ability to form cells in other organs." Human trials have clearly demonstrated that adult stem cell therapies can repair heart damage, so scientists must now try to understand how these therapies work. Confirmation of adult stem cell limitations places greater emphasis on the need for embryonic stem cell research to further advance the capabilities of regenerative medicine.
Louisiana Moves Towards Banning Therapeutic Cloning (May 05 2004)
The Herald Tribune reports that Louisiana politicians are moving closer to criminalizing therapeutic cloning, a technology vital to the developing field of regenerative medicine. You will recall that a federal ban is still awaiting a senate vote, and that the current US administration is still attempting to obtain a global ban on therapeutic cloning at the UN. We live in strange times, when a small clump of a few dozen cells - like the ones you shed every day from your skin - is more highly valued than the lives of millions of suffering people. This anti-research political atmosphere scares away private funding, slows progress towards cures for many currently incurable age-related conditions, and thus costs lives - many, many lives.
Transhumanism At SAGE Crossroads (May 05 2004)
SAGE Crossroads discusses the machine path to healthy life extension this week, including a nod to the ideals of the transhumanist movement. As prosthesis technology improves, many new options will become available for repairing and preventing age-related damage in our bodies - nanomedicine to replace diseased blood with respirocytes, and artificial eyes for the blind, built piece by piece. As our grasp of materials science advances, prostheses will complement the regenerative medicine of the future. "Would you like to keep the original furnishings when we cure your heart disease, sir, or would you like something a little more ... impressive, shall we say?"
Spin-Offs From The Cryonics Industry (May 04 2004)
I've been saying for a while that the cryonics industry will benefit from mainstream medical adoption of spin-off technologies. Today, Wired is covering the work of BioTime, a company working on therapeutic hypothermia - cooling the body to allow major surgery with less trauma. A quote: "Right now, we can easily bring animals back from two hours of absolute clinical death. No pulse, no respiration, no measurable brain activity." These animals show no signs of physical or neurological damage - interesting stuff. BioTime is a company working on extending cryonics technology from the more accepted end of the business, but there are clearly strong synergies with cryopreservations at Alcor and other cryonics providers.
Calorie Restriction At MSNBC (May 04 2004)
The mainstream press has certainly become much more informed about calorie restriction (CR) over the last year, as illustrated by this positive and educational article at MSNBC. These days they get the science, facts and figures mostly correct, know that the CR Society exists (and who the president is), and have a set of favored CR practitioners for quotes and interviews. From my perspective, one of the most important things about raised awareness of CR is that more people are learning it is possible and desirable to extend the healthy human life span. Newcomers to calorie restriction often go on to become involved in other parts of the healthy life extension community.
Growing New Teeth From Stem Cells (May 03 2004)
The BBC is on the ball today, this time reporting on plans by a British company (Odontis Ltd) to grow replacement human teeth from stem cells. The necessary technology has already been demonstrated in mice, which means a commercial therapy could be five years away if all goes well. Despite the anti-research opposition, it seems that at least some fields of regenerative medicine are obtaining funding and moving ahead. The more demonstrated and effective stem cell therapies there are in the world, the better - greater public support will make it increasingly hard for politicians to ban medical research.
Progeria Mechanism Determined (May 03 2004)
Research aimed at curing Progeria, a rare and deadly premature aging condition, also sheds light on the normal aging process. The single genetic mutation responsible for Progeria was identified a year ago, and scientists have already determined the mechanism by which the condition operates. This BBC article explains that the mutated Lemin A gene causes cells to divide much more rapidly than normal, and thus die more quickly as they reach the normal limits for cell division. Progeria, then, does not just appear to be accelerated aging - it is accelerated aging. I elaborate a little on the meaning of this (and related) research in the latest Longevity Meme newsletter.