LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 14 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.
- Methuselah Mouse Prize In Fortune Magazine
- Rejuvenation Research Relaunched
- Ronald Reagan's Legacy and Stem Cell Research
- The Scary Future of Pro-Death Bioethics
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
METHUSELAH MOUSE PRIZE IN FORTUNE MAGAZINE
The big news for today is that Aubrey de Grey's work in biogerontology and the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research were featured in Fortune Magazine this month (and mentioned on Slashdot):
This is exactly the sort of media attention that is needed in order to further the goals of the Methuselah Foundation and advance the fight to cure aging. Positive media coverage leads to greater public understanding and support, which leads to greater opportunities for research funding. We are looking forward to seeing more good press as the year progresses.
The prize itself has now topped $56,000 in cash, with a further $350,000 in pledges stemming from The Three Hundred Initiative.
The Methuselah Foundation volunteers, myself included, are working eagerly on various projects - you should start to see some of the results fairly soon. In the meanwhile, remember that we can all help to make serious anti-aging research a reality by donating a few dollars to the prize fund:
REJUVENATION RESEARCH RELAUNCHED
In related news, the old Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine has re-launched as "Rejuvenation Research" with Aubrey de Grey as editor-in-chief. Aubrey was kind enough to post his vision for the journal to the Fight Aging! blog:
"Rejuvenation Research is a relaunch of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, coinciding with my taking over as Editor-in-Chief from Michael Fossel. It will publish the highest-quality research in all areas of biology relevant to expediting the development of a real cure for human aging, including stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, gene therapy and many other areas not conventionally covered by biogerontology journals, as well as areas that are more conventionally classified as biogerontology. It will also feature extensive analysis of the social context of such work."
I can say with a fair degree of confidence that we'll look back on this as an important step forward for the field in years to come. If you haven't taken a look at Aubrey de Grey's SENS website yet, you certainly should. A fair amount of new introductory material has been added in past weeks:
RONALD REAGAN'S LEGACY AND STEM CELL RESEARCH
Looking at the copious news coverage of Ronald Reagan's passing, it appears that his legacy means all things to all people. One supposes that this is how myths spring free from the inconveniences of fact and reality.
A movement is underway to make Ronald Reagan's legacy one of embryonic stem cell research. This ties in with the current round of political pressure on the US administration to remove restrictive anti-research legislation, and Nancy Reagan's now open support for this research:
Ironically, Reagan opposed similar research while in office, and stem cell research is unlikely to provide therapies for Alzheimer's in the near future - other research efforts are proving much more fruitful at the moment. However, Alzheimer's is one of the few age-related conditions we can say this for. Almost every other common age-related condition has a stem cell based therapy in the works.
It is hard to say whether or not stem cell research will provide Alzheimer's therapies in the future, but it certainly won't if scientists are prevented from working on it. A disturbingly common tactic amongst advocates opposed to embryonic stem cell research is to cite a lack of progress in this field as evidence that it should be abandoned:
Of course there has been little progress - due to years of political obstruction that has blocked public funding and scared away private funding. This is an obnoxious tactic: if you are going to oppose embryonic stem cell research, be honest about your motivations.
As a final note, two US senators have proposed a "Living Memorial" in the form of doubling Alzheimer's research funding at the National Institute of Aging, from $700 million to $1.4 billion:
THE SCARY FUTURE OF PRO-DEATH BIOETHICS
Of late, I have started to explore the idea that present day opposition to serious anti-aging research (as led by Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, and others) will lead to legislation blocking or limiting our access to healthy life extension technologies.
Politicians - even in comparatively free countries like the US - already exert a great deal of control over access to medicine, what you can and can't do with your body, and which medical research is permitted. Unfortunately, this power is already abused in many areas - as power always is - including stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. It is a small leap from the present day functions of the FDA to a body that sets maximum life spans by enforcing restrictions on new anti-aging medical technologies.
George Dvorksy, in his latest column at Betterhumans, has taken a much closer look at the issue. It's an excellent article and well worth reading:
This is an issue that we should pay attention to now, before it turns into a problem requiring serious effort to rectify.
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 Gerontology Research Group (June 13 2004)
The Daily Bruin takes a look at the work of the Gerontology Research Group at UCLA. Quoting Dr. Karlis Ullis, "The longest living person is 122, and if we can get all people to live to 125 in a healthy way, that would be better than going to Mars. I would say I am part of that conceptual thinking – to live longer is better. That is what we are about." While the GRG focuses on gathering and verifying longevity information, most of the members are involved in aging research. For example, "studying similarities and differences between the lives of centenarians and supercentenarians, people who are 100 years or older."
Bringing Medical Biotech To Market (June 13 2004)
SFGate is running a rare article on the challenges of transforming medical research into commercially successful therapies. This part of the overall development process is poorly understood - and unappreciated - by most people, which is a pity. The article examines the the development and future prospects of stem cell medicine: "Stem cells, the all-purpose starting material that gives rise to the myriad cell types of the body, are widely assumed to be the basic building blocks of 21st century medicine. Stem cells, whether they are derived from embryos or adult tissues, are perhaps the single most important factor shaping biomedicine today." Industry observers expect to see the first widespread stem cell applications within ten years.
Kerry Reaffirms Stem Cell Support (June 12 2004)
The Kerry campaign is taking advantage of current pressure on stem cell legislation to reaffirm their candidate's support for stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. "John Kerry supports lifting the ban on stem cell research. As president, he will overturn the ban on federal funding of research on new stem cell lines, and he will allow doctors and scientists to explore their full potential with the appropriate ethical oversight." Given the tenuous relationship between campaign promises and acts in office, we'll see how this all turns out. Restrictive legislation, no matter how stupid or loathed, has a way of hanging around for decades.
Genetics Of Healthy Aging Study (June 12 2004)
An article from the Mature Market discusses a new aging research initiative in Europe, the Genetics of Healthy Aging (GEHA) study. "There's an economic incentive, as well as a humanitarian one, for trying to break the link between old age and ill health." This is a large project, looking at nearly 5000 long-lived siblings in an attempt to further pin down genetic and lifestyle causes of healthy longevity. "It will have a tremendous impact on medicine because the genes that allow you to live longer and in good [health] are those that protect [you] from the major killers, such as cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes."
A Living Memorial Proposed For Reagan (June 11 2004)
There have been rumblings in past days - especially in the blogosphere - on how to link a legacy for Ronald Reagan to stem cell or Alzheimer's research. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's is one of the few age-related conditions for which stem cell research does not offer potential therapies in the near future. However, senators introduced a bill today to double NIA Alzheimer's funding in memory of Ronald Reagan: "We should honor his life with new research and new initiatives on how to prevent Alzheimer's, how to care for those who have it, how to support those who are caregivers, and how to find a cure."
The Scary Future Of Pro-Death Bioethics (June 11 2004)
George Dvorsky has written an excellent article for Betterhumans on the future of anti-research legislation and pro-death advocacy. This is a topic I've been giving some thought to at Fight Aging! in past months. Could the present day pro-death rhetoric of Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama grow to produce legislative restrictions on serious anti-aging medicine to rival the current War on Drugs? Like George Dvorsky, I think that this is a disturbingly plausible future. Politicians have certainly done far worse in past decades, and present day government - even in the US - exercises considerable power over access to medicine, medical research, and our supposedly private lives.
The Genostem Project (June 10 2004)
CORDIS reports on a new integrated European science project aimed at bringing regenerative medicine (based on adult stem cells) for bones, cartilage, and ligaments from basic research all the way to clinical applications. "Over 50 million European citizens suffer from some form of connective tissue disorder. Age-related degenerative disorders (such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis) are among the diseases with the highest socio-economic impact, requiring hospitalisation, rehabilitation and home care." Projects like this demonstrate that real progress has been made in stem cell basics. The scientific and business communities see a clear path forward, and are starting to move more rapidly.
Arab States To Ban Therapeutic Cloning (June 10 2004)
(From SciDev.net). Arab League states are moving towards a ban on therapeutic cloning, a necessary technology for most developing stem cell medicine. This is very disappointing, as the still-pending global United Nations ban was averted the first time with the help of representatives from these same nations. An Arab League ban would make a UN ban later this year much more likely - an event with grave consequences for our future. Stem cell based regenerative medicine is a vital stepping stone on the way to greatly increased healthy life spans, not to mention the source of therapies for Parkinson's, diabetes, nerve damage, muscle and bone loss, and many other degenerative conditions of aging.
Not Many Cancer Genes (June 10 2004)
Betterhumans notes that scientists have determined only 67 genes (out of the total of 30,000 or so) play a role in changing normal human cells into cancerous ones. This is the sort of research that has only recently been made possible by advances in bioinformatics and new diagnostic equipment like microarrays. This small set of genes is a clear target for new research, as well as for the next generation of cancer diagnostics, prevention, and therapies. That so few genes are implicated makes genetic therapy for all cancers a much more promising line of research than I would have expected.
No Surprise: Bush Still Anti-Research (June 09 2004)
No big surprises today in the ongoing political battle over stem cell research, reported by MSNBC. The US administration is standing firm on its damaging, anti-research policies: "Ronald Reagan’s death from complications of Alzheimer's disease has not changed President Bush's stand against using embryos for stem cell research, Laura Bush said Wednesday." In the wake of Nancy Reagan's public declaration of support for embryonic stem cell research, bloggers like Kos and HipperCritical have found some smart things to say about current events, commentators, and stem cell politics.
Genetic Damage And The Aging Brain (June 09 2004)
The Life Extension Foundation News discusses research into genetic damage and aging in the brain. "Genes that play a role in learning and memory were among those most significantly reduced in the aging human cortex. These include genes that are required for communication between neurons. These genes are unusually vulnerable to damage from agents such as free radicals and toxins in the environment. The brain's ability to cope with these toxic insults and repair these genes declines with age, leading to their reduced expression." Where aging is directly associated with genetic changes, as here, scientists see the possibility of working towards regenerative gene therapies.
Tax Dollars, Politics, And Aging Research (June 09 2004)
Glenn Harlan Reynolds opines on serious anti-aging research, the work of Aubrey de Grey, government funding, and anti-research sentiments at Tech Central Station today. "I've watched people I love age and die, and it wasn't 'beautiful and natural.' It sucked. Aging is a disease. Cataracts and liver spots don't bring moral enlightenment or spiritual transcendence. Death may be natural -- but so are smallpox, rape, and athlete's foot. 'Natural' isn't the same as 'good.' As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather see my tax dollars spent on longevity research than, well, most of the other things they're spent on. I wonder how many other people feel that way."
Diabetes Linked To Alzheimer's (June 08 2004)
(From USA Today). A large study has confirmed the link between age-related diabetes and Alzheimer's: suffering from diabetes gives you a 65% greater chance of developing Alzheimer's. Given that obesity is the major cause of diabetes, it seems more likely that changes in biochemistry caused by excess hody fat greatly increase the risk of suffering Alzheimer's as well as most other horrible age-related conditions. Adopting a better diet and lifestyle will extend healthy life span more effectively than any drug or pill you're likely to see in the next couple of years.
ISSCR Growing, Doing Well (June 08 2004)
The International Society For Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) is an organization of scientists founded in 2002 to promote, encourage, and assist stem cell research. As reported in PNNOnline, the society has recently passed the 1000 member mark - a promising sign of increased growth in this important field of medicine. Science advances more rapidly when there is greater coordination, discussion, and exchange of information between researchers. Faster science means less time to wait for new regenerative therapies to become available to the public. The ISSCR website is informative and well worth a look. The FAQ list in particular is a good introduction to stem cell basics for newcomers to the topic.
Next News On Healthy Life Extension (June 07 2004)
James Pethokoukis of Next News has been talking about healthy life extension of late, under topic headings like "Is extending the human life span a no-brainer?" It is very pleasing to see more people talking sensibly about this topic, not to mention referencing the work of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey. The more of us there are talking about these topics, the easier it becomes to educate the public (and the rest of the media) about healthy life extension and the need to support more serious anti-aging research. The future doesn't make itself, and - just as for cancer, Alzheimer's, and other medical research - our support helps to determine how soon we can win the fight to cure aging.
Pressure For Better Stem Cell Legislation (June 07 2004)
Reuters reports that a (slim) bipartisan majority of the US senate have signed a letter requesting changes in current anti-research stem cell policy. So the pressure continues, but we shouldn't forget that the folks crying crocodile tears now are the same ones who signed this legislation into effect in the first place. Politicians are very good at creating problems and roadblocks - the best thing they could all do in the long run is to get out of the way and stop interfering with medical research. An avalanche of private funding for stem cell research awaits greater certainty about future legislation. Delay means ever more avoidable suffering and death in the near future.
The Catatonic Biogerontologists (June 06 2004)
Aubrey de Grey has been putting up new introductory material at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) website in recent weeks. Given his schedule, I've no idea where he finds the time. I recommend that you all read "The Curious Case of the Catatonic Biogerontologists," a clear and concise explanation of problems within the scientific community that are slowing down attempts to understand, prevent, and cure aging. A few other important items are mentioned at the Fight Aging! blog - take a look and see if you can answer the hard questions directed at you, as well as those aimed at biogerontologists.
Looking Back At Alzheimer's Progress (June 06 2004)
A Newsday.com article looks back at the progress made in the fight to cure Alzheimer's over the past decade. Although too late to help people like Ronald Reagan, ten years of heavily funded research have resulted in the first treatments and a growing understanding of the genetics and biochemistry of the condition. Scientists are confident that effective preventative therapies and a cure will be found in the years ahead - essential progress for all of us interested in healthy life extension. Age-related conditions like Alzheimer's (horrible and inevitable for all of us) must be cured as part and parcel of any effort to greatly extend the healthy human life span.
Rejuvenation Research Launched (June 05 2004)
This is worth mentioning here as well as at the Fight Aging! blog: Rejuvenation Research is a relaunch of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, coinciding with Aubrey de Grey taking over as Editor-in-Chief from Michael Fossel. It will publish the highest-quality research in all areas of biology relevant to expediting the development of a real cure for human aging, including stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, gene therapy and many other areas not conventionally covered by biogerontology journals, as well as areas that are more conventionally classified as biogerontology. It will also feature extensive analysis of the social context of such work.
A Look At The Buck Institute (June 05 2004)
A short piece from Metroactive News takes a look in from the outside at the the Buck Institute. The researchers of the institute are turning out good work on aging, calorie restriction, and serious anti-aging science, but - as the article points out - there is still a great deal of public misunderstanding on this topic. This confusion is fueled by the irresponsible, fraudulent portions of the "anti-aging" marketplace: "Currently, of course, there is no single drug compound proven to lengthen the human lifespan, even though the average spam-filled e-mail box may seem to say otherwise. Every day, someone new seems to be offering a new magic cure to slow aging."
More On Calorie Restriction Mechanism (June 04 2004)
The Financial Times is carrying a better article about recent research into calorie restriction (CR). It is looking ever more likely that the mechanism responsible for the beneficial effects of CR has actually been pinned down, and researchers are well on their way to a complete understanding. The first products resulting from this knowledge are likely to be anti-obesity therapies, commercialized by Elixir Pharmaceuticals. As Leonard Guarente says, however, "it would be interesting to see what would happen if an anti-obesity drug is out there that is known to extend life. Would people use it only to fight fat?" I think we all know the answer to that question.
Adult Stem Cell Progress (June 04 2004)
Betterhumans reports on a successful attempt to get bone marrow stem cells to form liver cells. Scientists are making progress in understanding how to use various types of adult stem cell to promote regeneration, but it is clear from the number of contradictory studies that we do not yet understand all the mechanisms and limitations involved. Other, related progress in this field has been noted at Fight Aging! and by Randall Parker at FuturePundit. With greater funding and more research, all that is currently mysterious will become known in the years ahead. Understanding human biochemistry is the path to ever better medicine - and thus longer, healthier lives.
Calorie Restriction Mechanism Uncovered? (June 03 2004)
EurekAlert notes that MIT researchers are claiming the first molecular link between eating and aging. Professor Leonard Guarente says that "for the first time, this study gives us a glimpse of how calorie restriction works at the molecular level. And it will ultimately lead to health benefits in people." This stems from a greater understanding of the mechanisms associated with a single protein, Sirt1, that controls fat storage and release in the body. The eventual goal of this and similar research is to produce therapies that replicate the health and life-extending benefits of calorie restriction without the need for dieting.
Insulin And Aging (June 03 2004)
A new study on fruit flies from Brown University researchers illuminates more of the role of insulin in the aging process. "Think of the body like a car. We knew insulin controlled the car's speed by regulating things like the gas pedal and the fuel injectors. Now we know that insulin is also the fuel that makes the engine go. So the research fits some key puzzle pieces together. And it should change the way we think about aging." Past research into calorie restriction has also pointed at insulin as part of a key regulatory mechanism for the aging process. The more we learn, the more we can learn - and the closer we come to effectively intervening in the aging process.
A Long Rhetorical Question (June 02 2004)
SAGE Crossroads has finally put up the transcript for their last webcast, entitled "Is Biomedical Research the Right Road to Healthy Aging?" From where I stand, this well-mannered debate is a rhetorical question made possible by considering a false choice: is it better to extend healthy life span through basic healthcare improvements or spending more on medical research? The right - and obvious - answer is that we can and should do both. As I often point out, you have to take care of your health if you want to live long enough to benefit from the future of anti-aging medicine. Equally, this medicine must be researched and developed: that takes support, resources, and hard work.
Mentioned On Slashdot (June 02 2004)
Well, it looks like my submission to Slashdot regarding the Aubrey de Grey / Methuselah Mouse Prize article in Fortune was accepted. Thank you Slashdot editors, and a warm welcome to new visitors! This is, I think, the third or fourth post at Slashdot in the last year on the topic of healthy life extension and related medical science. The tone of comments is much better this time around - many more people are thinking positively about living longer, healthier lives. This indicates to me that advocates are making progress in educating the public about real anti-aging science and extending the healthy human life span.
Fortune On Aubrey De Grey (June 01 2004)
Fortune is taking a sober look at the work of Aubrey de Grey, the biogerontologist behind the SENS initiative and co-founder (with Dave Gobel) of the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. Some of the most important steps in the fight to cure aging involve generating widespread public understanding of - and desire for - the necessary medical research. As the article puts it, "Solving the remaining scientific puzzles to achieve [radical healthy life extension in mice] would require $100 million per year of focused research funding over the next decade. A high-profile campaign to arrest aging in mice would rivet public attention on the huge promise of anti-aging research, making it politically tenable to put in serious money."
Progress In Viral Anti-Cancer Research (June 01 2004)
Killing cancer cells is easy. Killing them without killing healthy cells is the hard part, so much of modern cancer research is focused on finding reliable ways to target cancers. As reported by Medical News Today, scientists are making headway in the use of viruses to achieve this aim. Viral mechanisms can be tailored to exploit differences between cancerous and healthy cells, as demonstrated in this research work. Reliable ways to prevent, diagnose, and cure cancer are essential to healthy life extension. We will soon be using regenerative medicine to repair age-worn organs, but this alone will not protect us from increasing risk of cancer as the years pass.
Next Steps In The UN Cloning Fight (June 01 2004)
The US is still pushing for a United Nations ban on therapeutic cloning, an essential technology for progress in stem cell based regenerative medicine. Influential scientists are currently campaigning for a limited ban on human reproductive cloning only - as opposed to the blanket criminalization of vital medical research that US politicians are seeking. From the article: "Because it represents a significant proportion of the world's research, the US administration is slowing the development of a range of new treatments for heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses." This is a good time to contact your elected representatives and ask them why they are letting this debacle take place.
Calorie Restriction In The Local Press (May 31 2004)
Local news outlets in the US are tending to put out better pieces on calorie restriction these days. This one from News 24 Houston is a fair example; it's to the point, respectful, and sensible about the science. There is a refreshing absence of hysteria and exaggeration - it seems that the mainstream media now understands the basics of calorie restriction. Getting to this stage took a few years of savvy legwork and press relations by scientists and the folks at the CR Society, but they managed it. My hope is that we can teach the media establishment about serious anti-aging research in the same relatively rapid fashion.
More On Mitochondria And Aging (May 31 2004)
Betterhumans follows up on the recent work that demonstrates mitochondrial damage to be a cause of aging. The article quotes the lead scientist for this impressive piece of research: "It seems to be a universal phenomenon in mammals that you have this damage to mitochondrial DNA as you get older. But I and many others thought this was just a secondary phenomenon. I think the importance of our paper is that we actually show these mutations can indeed cause several changes associated with aging." The significance of this finding is discussed at Fight Aging!, FuturePundit, and the most recent Longevity Meme newsletter.