LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 28 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 Progress Report
- Support the Mouse, Get Mouse Merchandise!
- TransVision 2004 In Toronto
- Moving to a Weekly Format
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
METHUSELAH MOUSE PRIZE PROGRESS REPORT
The Methuselah Mouse Prize is a contest designed to accelerate progress towards real longevity-enhancing medicine. You can find out how this works at the Methuselah Foundation website, and more about research prizes at the Longevity Meme:
In less than a year, the prize has accumulated more than $400,000 in cash and pledges - far outstripping the first year of public fundraising for the Ansari X Prize back in 1996-7. I think we can all agree that the X Prize has produced impressive results in a few short years: it has attracted more than $160 million in research funding with a $10 million purse, and reinvigorated the private aerospace industry.
The Methuselah Mouse Prize is one of the next generation of modern prizes, and it benefits from the lessons learned from prior successes. With your help, I expect it to produce the same spectacular results for serious anti-aging science as the X Prize has for space travel.
SUPPORT THE MOUSE, GET MOUSE MERCHANDISE!
I will be running a special offer for the next few weeks: if you donate to the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research, I'll send you Methuselah Mouse merchandise. You can view the goodies and terms at the Fight Aging! blog:
At the time of writing, I'm giving away "Support the Mouse!" bumper stickers, "real anti-aging science" mugs and "got rejuvenation?" shirts to new donors to the prize fund.
When you donate, be sure to include your e-mail address and I'll be in touch with you to organize the mailing of your Methuselah Mouse gear. Remember that by supporting the mouse, you are helping to bring real anti-aging therapies that much closer!
TRANSVISION 2004 IN TORONTO
The first half of this year has flown by, and the World Transhumanist Association's TransVision 2004 conference in Toronto is growing near:
Last year's TransVision 2003 was a big success. TransVision 2004 looks to be an equally interesting event for those interested in transhumanism, advancing technology, and related issues - such as the important topics of healthy life extension and real anti-aging medicine. You can find out more about transhumanism, and its importance to the healthy life extension movement, at the following location:
The presenters of note at TransVision 2004 include influential biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, who also works in the field of aging research. Both have contributed articles to the Longevity Meme:
Ronald Bailey (of Reason Online) will also be in attendance, so we should look forward to a repeat of his excellent report from last year.
There's still time to register before August rolls around, so get to it!
MOVING TO A WEEKLY FORMAT
As of next week, this newsletter will become a weekly event - a (hopefully welcome) departure from the current twice-a-month schedule. You'll still receive the same news and commentary, but in a more frequent and digestible format. No more monster e-mail messages to wade through!
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
Timeline For Tooth Regeneration (June 27 2004)
ScienceDaily reports on progress in tooth regeneration. Scientists - including this team from Brazil - are currently using adult stem cells to grow new teeth for rats and pigs. "Within a year, we expect to determine whether the methods we use to regrow animals' teeth will be useful in regenerating human teeth. If the methods prove effective, it will be at least seven years before they can be tested clinically in humans." Given that a number of groups working on tissue engineering for other organs have made similar progress, we should expect a wide range of "grown to order" replacement organs to be available by 2015 - assuming no ban on therapeutic cloning is enacted, of course.
No Louisiana Therapeutic Cloning Bill (June 27 2004)
(From KATC3). After all the light, noise and hot air from Lousiana politicians, the 2004 session wound up in that state with no bill passed on stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. In terms of the continuing damage to private funding in Louisiana, this is as bad as a ban - no-one will fund medical research into regenerative medicine that might still be criminalized in the next legislative session. This is a good reminder that politicians don't actually hold the key to creation and progress. All they can do is obstruct, delay and destroy. They should do us all a favor and keep their noses out of medical research that will lead to longer, healthier lives.
Growing Old Negligibly (June 26 2004)
A thought for the day from Glenn Reynolds at MSNBC: "Quacks and snake-oil salesmen have been peddling longevity and rejuvenation treatments forever, along with baldness cures and treatments for impotence. Of course, the latter two are real, now." Progress will happen on the longevity and rejuvenation front too - we can already see the signs of regenerative and real anti-aging medicine in the near future. Another good quote: "Extension of the average American lifespan by over two decades in the 20th Century coincided with one of the most dynamic periods in human history. I speculate that extending lifespans to, say, 140, might do the same."
Searching For Longevity Genes In China (June 26 2004)
Efforts to catalogue the genes responsible for natural longevity are starting up in China now (and reported at Betterhumans). You may recall that similar work has been underway in the US for a while, and the large Genetics of Healthy Aging study recently launched in Europe. Existing research into the genetics of longevity has dovetailed nicely with work on cancer mechanisms, heart conditions, and a number of other age-related disease: the more we learn, the easier it becomes to add new pieces to the puzzle that is human biochemistry. I am optimistic that we will continue to see useful results emerge from these research programs.
Public Policy And Aging Report (June 25 2004)
The latest Public Policy & Aging report is out, as reported by Medical News Today. It represents, for the most part, the views of the conversative side of biogerontology - those scientists and bioethicists who don't believe that radical life extension or interventions in the aging process are possible in the near future. The focus is on preventing age-related conditions and attacking the more dubious components of the "anti-aging" marketplace rather than extending the healthy human life span per se. Still, I think that we can take some items in the report as evidence that Aubrey de Grey is making progress in changing the minds of the biogerontological community.
A Cancer Genome Project? (June 25 2004)
A Life Extension Foundation News article reports on the prospects for mapping the genetic code of cancer: "National Institutes of Health leaders are debating the venture, which would be as ambitious as the Human Genome Project, and perhaps as costly. Labs would need many years and perhaps billions of dollars to decode the DNA of roughly 30,000 genes in each of many hundred tumors. Set mutations in certain of those genes can spur the out-of-control cell growth of cancer." You may recall that scientists recently proposed that only 67 genes played a part in turning normal cells into cancerous cells. Greater understanding of cancer mechanisms tends to lead to a greater understanding of aging.
Stem Cell Research Bills: Not This Year (June 24 2004)
It looks like any change in US administration policy on stem cell research will have to wait until 2005 (or at least until after the November presidential election). As noted at Boston.com, political obstacles are being thrown in the way of any formal house and senate debate on this issue. However, "the Reagan death really kind of catapulted the whole thing back into the spotlight. They're under tremendous pressure." A good thing too: blocking research and threatening criminalization of medicine is simply wrong. It is costing lives. If you support this research, now would be a good time to write to your representatives about stem cells and therapeutic cloning.
Japanese Panel Backs Therapeutic Cloning (June 24 2004)
Forbes reports that a previously divided Japanese government panel has recommended lifting the ban on therapeutic cloning in that country. Therapeutic cloning is a vital technology for much of stem cell based regenerative medicine. There are still a number of steps, committees and votes before this recommendation is enacted as law, so this is an early but promising step. The Japanese debate over therapeutic cloning and stem cell research is similar in many ways to the current furor in the US: the majority of the population backs this research, but decision makers and commentators are deeply divided. I am hopeful that desire for research and therapies will win through in the end - but the delays are costing lives.
Public Pressure For Stem Cell Research (June 23 2004)
More patient advocacy groups, universities and scientific societies are joining the call to remove US administration restrictions on stem cell research. This latest initiative was organized by the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research: you can read the full statement supported by 142 groups at their website. As I note at Fight Aging!, however, changing restrictions on federal funding doesn't address the bigger problem of legislative threats to therapeutic cloning. These threats are scaring away the vast potential of private funding for both adult and embryonic stem cell research. Therapeutic cloning is a vital technology, and banning it will block the most promising near term advances in regenerative medicine.
Genn Reynolds Interviews Aubrey De Grey (June 23 2004)
Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) has been thinking about serious anti-aging science of late. His column at Tech Central Station today is an interview with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, who is currently enjoying a deserved increase in the profile of his work. The money quote from the interview: "Q: What do you think is a reasonable expectation of progress in this department over the next 20-30 years? A: I think we have a 50/50 chance of effectively completely curing aging by then." Aubrey de Grey also expresses some interesting views on the role of government in the transition from aging society to ageless society, a period of time that could see great economic and social upheaval.
BeliefNet Discovers Healthy Life Extension (June 22 2004)
BeliefNet has posted a number of reprints and links on the topic of healthy life extension, transhumanism and the Immortality Institute. Their site has a good commentary system, so this should make for an interesting conversation. Go forth and comment! On that note, the soon to be released book "The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Life Spans" also examines the intersection between religious belief and serious anti-aging research. It's an interesting topic: as our ability to shape the world to our liking grows, will we make our most prized myths - such as the quest for immortality - real through technological means?
Progress Towards Organs Grown To Order (June 22 2004)
ScienceDaily reports on progress in growing functioning kidneys from specialized embryonic cell clusters. Researchers are still working on animal models, but this looks very much like the promising early work on heart transplants in the 1950s. The scientist in charge of this work predicts that "therapies based on growing new organs will be part of mainstream medical practice by the middle of the 21st century." This sort of therapy, if coupled with reliable approaches to curing cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, will enable medical science to greatly extend the healthy human life span. The body is simply a complex machine, and we need these better tools for repair and maintenance.
Economic Problems And Health Life Extension (June 21 2004)
As illustrated by this Seattle Times piece, more people are thinking about how best to deal with future economic problems arising from the collision of serious anti-aging science with our present culture of entitlement and retirement. Greatly extended healthy life spans will bring wonderful, positive changes, but the old pro-death institutions will have to go. In essence, social security systems are badly broken pyramid schemes; there must be a transformation in the nature of retirement or we will see a terrible economic crash as these pyramid schemes spiral out of control. Unfortunately, as this author points out, "Republicans and Democrats will gladly worsen tomorrow's problems to win more of today's votes."
New Stem Cell Center At Cambridge (June 21 2004)
The BBC notes that the University of Cambridge (which, coincidentally, is where Aubrey de Grey is based) is opening a new stem cell research center. "Stem cell research has a profound potential for treating currently debilitating diseases, such late-onset conditions as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancers, heart and blood diseases, and thus has the capacity to markedly improve the quality of life." Stem cell research in the UK is currently enjoying the benefits of a comparatively permissive and settled legislative environment. The damage done to scientific progress elsewhere is as much due to uncertainty over threatened legislation as any other cause.
Smoking Is Bad, Part II (June 20 2004)
Every now and then - usually following a discussion with an exercising, supplement-taking smoker - I feel compelled to point out the obvious. As noted in this Medical News Today article, smoking drastically reduces your life span: the typical smoker loses 25 years of healthy life. 25 years! Research groups are spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to figure out how to add even a decade to the healthy human life span, and you smokers throw away more than twice that time. Nothing available today can give you those years back ... other than to quit smoking. So if you are interested in living a longer, healther life, first things first!
TransVision 2004 In August (June 20 2004)
The first half of this year has flown by, and the TransVision 2004 conference is growing near. TransVision 2003 was a big success, and TV2004 looks to be an equally interesting event for transhumanists and those interested in transhumanism, advancing technology, and related issues. The presenters of interest this year include biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and Joao Pedro de Magalhaes. Both have articles here at the Longevity Meme. Ronald Bailey (of Reason Online) will also be in attendance, and so we should look forward to a repeat of his excellent report from last year. There's still time to register, so get to it!
Targetted Cancer Drug Delivery (June 19 2004)
As the BBC reports, progress is being made in precision delivery mechanisms for anti-cancer drugs. "If you put a drug into a tumour with BioSilicon there are no mice deaths in the lab. If you take the same amount of drug and inject it straight into the tumour, there are 100% mice deaths." This is a growth area in cancer research at the moment, and one that promises to make all cancer treatment a great deal more effective and less damaging to the patient. Real progress towards reliable cancer therapies is essential for healthy life extension - the extra years we could gain through regenerative medicine will be lost to cancer unless we can treat it.
Utilitarianism And Superlongevity (June 19 2004)
Something a little more eclectic for you today: a long essay by Michael Anissimov that examines utility arguments, happiness, science, altruism and existential risks relating to the topic of greatly extended healthy life spans. Articles of this sort are very useful for those of us who ponder how best to contribute to the creation of a worthwhile future. Everyone should, at some point in their lives, walk through this process of examining the likely course of large scale events, the risks and the rewards. We're a rational species, capable of planning, introspection and risk analysis - it really would be a crime to forge ahead in life with taking a little time to think about it first.
Review: Coping With Methuselah (June 18 2004)
Aubrey de Grey recently put together an excellent review of Coping With Methuselah: The Impact of Molecular Biology on Medicine and Society for PLoS Biology. The contributing authors of this book dramatically underestimate the potential for near term radical extension of the healthy human life span. This has serious consequences: underestimation by people who influence the funding of medical research is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aubrey de Grey is - as always - happy to explain in detail how this happens and how we can better move ahead in the field of serious anti-aging research. A future without frailty and death is a beautiful future indeed. We can and must work harder to achieve it.
Funding, Politics, Stem Cells (June 18 2004)
An article from Wired summarizes some of the recent moves towards public funding for stem cell research. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research appear to be sticking with cheap rhetorical tricks, suggesting that since there has been little progress in this field, it should be banned. This lack of progress, however, is entirely due to existing restrictions and uncertainty over far worse proposed legislation. As a result, public and private research funding has been very hard to come by in this field in past years. So shame on you people - if you are going to speak out against embryonic stem cell research, at least have the decency to be honest about your motivations and arguments.
Calorie Restriction, Sir2, SIRT1 (June 18 2004)
BioMed Central provides a good explanation of recent research into the underlying genetic and regulatory mechanisms of calorie restriction. "Caloric restriction and genetic manipulations that extend lifespan typically protect cells from death. We propose that one way calorie restriction extends lifespan is by increasing SIRT1 expression, thereby promoting the long-term survival of irreplaceable cells." Researchers are clearly very excited about progress made in the last year, and hope that this will lead to a "totally new class of drug that stimulates the body's own defenses and combats diseases of aging." Companies like BioMarker and Elixir are already working in this area.
Public Support For Stem Cell Research Rising (June 17 2004)
WebMD notes that public support for stem cell research is rising (and there's more on the same theme at the Fight Aging! blog). "When asked for their initial views on medical research using human embryos, a survey conducted in 2001 showed 48% of Americans supported it and 43% were opposed. This survey shows that margin has grown to 60% and 26%. When the potential benefits of stem cell research were explained in a separate question, overall support rose to 72% with 23% opposed." Research advocates have been working hard to educate people over the past few years. I think that increased public support stems from a greater understanding of what is actually involved in this research and the nature of the potential benefits.
Commenting On UK Embryonic Research (June 17 2004)
The Guardian comments on the first round of proposed embryonic stem cell research in the UK to make use of therapeutic cloning. This attempt to find an effective regenerative therapy for diabetes must be approved by a government body - the HFEA - but seems likely go ahead based on their stated guidelines. As expected, there is vocal outrage from anti-research groups; hopefully things will quiet down once this and a few other similar projects have moved ahead without the sky falling on our heads. Based on the similar response to in-vitro reproductive technologies when they were first introduced, I expect that support for stem cell based regenerative medicine will be near universal a decade from now.
Williams Cryonics Fight Over? (June 16 2004)
SFGate reports that Ted Williams' daughter has ended her series of attempts to have his body taken from Alcor facilities and cremated - thus removing any chance at a future through cryonics. It's been an unpleasant, very public family affair and was in many ways the principle cause of much of the legislative furor over cryonics during the last twelve months. As I've mentioned before, there is an important lesson to be learned here for those of us interested in cryonics as an insurance policy. Make sure that your relatives cannot - or preferably will not - legally interfere in your cryonic suspension.
Demolishing The Stagnation Argument (June 16 2004)
Glenn Reynolds' latest column at Tech Central Station takes on the stagnation argument - that greatly extended life spans will lead to a stagnant society, and that death of the old guard in any field is what really leads to progress. This argument, like most other pro-death rhetoric, is clearly nonsense. As Glenn Reynolds points out, "we've pretty much done that experiment already, and it hasn't worked out that way. Lifespans, after all, have been getting steadily longer since the turn of the twentieth century ... at the same time that lives have been lengthening, the past hundred years have also been the most creative and dynamic period in human history."
Bioinformatics Speeds Stem Cell Work (June 15 2004)
An article from Betterhumans takes a look at one way in which bioinformatics is speeding up embryonic stem cell research. As Randall Parker of FuturePundit has long been saying, bioinformatics and related technologies are making a big difference to the rate at which medical research is moving forward: "Enabling technologies that accelerate by orders of magnitude the search for compounds that change the internal regulatory state of cells is more important than any particular discovery made with the tools." In this case, it is allowing thousands or millions of experiments to occur in parallel, controlled by computer. Scientists are searching for chemicals that control the behavior of these cells, pathways that will allow therapies to be developed.
Discussing Supplements (June 15 2004)
The Arizona Republic discusses supplements, one of the thorny topics in healthy life extension. Yes, modest supplementation is definitely good for you - you should be doing it. Beyond that, it becomes quite hard to measure cost versus benefit in the noisy marketplace. Just take a look at the deluge of information at the Life Extension Foundation website, for example. You can spend as much time and money as you care to on supplements, but what exactly does it do for you and your healthy life span on a supplement by supplement basis? Before getting lost in endlessly tinkering with supplement mixes, it's worth remembering that diet and exercise are just as important to overall health and longevity.
Stem Cell Politics In Depth (June 14 2004)
MSNBC is running a three part piece from Newsweek on the politics, science, and recent history of embryonic and adult stem cell research. It is good that the fundamental technologies of future regenerative medicine are being given far more time in the press. Setting aside from the heated - and ultimately transient - political battles, science and funding follows the will of the people in the long term. This press coverage is a wonderful opportunity to educate many more people about the possibilities offered by medical science, healthy life extension, curing age-related conditions, and tackling the aging process itself. Greater education leads to public understanding, support, and demand for more research.
Stem Cells For Alzheimer's Or Not? (June 14 2004)
The Scientist is running a good commentary on the relevance of stem cell research to Alzheimer's. It's worth reading in light of press attention (and confusion) over Ronald Reagan's legacy. The digest version is that stem cell research is not the field producing the best results for Alzheimer's therapies right now, but is likely to lead to relevant results in the future - with some qualifications. Scientists tell us that it is too early to know, and if we'll certainly never know if the research is banned! Unfortunately, this distinction seems a little too complex for many journalists: they are attempting to conflate Alzheimer's, Reagan's legacy, US administration policy, and Nancy Reagan's views on embryonic stem cell research into one simple sound bite.