LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
August 16 2004
The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly 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.
- Reporting On Aging Research at TransVision 2004
- Mitochondria, Metabolism, Calorie Restriction
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
REPORTING ON AGING RESEARCH AT TRANSVISION 2004
As promised, here are links to a few reports on the interesting parts of TransVision 2004 - those involving healthy life extension or serious anti-aging research:
I stayed in the same auditorium for the discussion on aging. This began with Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, from Harvard Medical School, giving his presentation titled "The genetic network of human ageing: a system-level approach." ... Magalhaes also presented his online genetic database of genes related to human aging. He linked each of these genes together in an impressive graphic according to how they influence each other ... Next, Rafal Smigrodski, from the underrepresented private sector, gave his presentation titled "How to buy new mitochondria for your old body." Smigrodski described how his company is preparing a treatment to repair broken mitochondria.
Ronald Bailey at Reason Online
For example, one of the chief causes of aging is mutations in mitochondrial genes. The mutations are a byproduct of the energy-producing activities of these cellular organelles that damages their own small genomes consisting of only 13 genes ... Consequently, De Grey argues that mitochondrial genes would be safer and less subject to mutation if they were engineered into the nuclear genes. And this is not an impossible goal, since a number of researchers have already managed to do just that for a variety of organisms.
Perhaps the most major theme of the conference (in the sense of reporting real progress) was fixing ageing. Aubrey de Grey's initial speech laid out the plan and showed some recent progress on fixing mitochondrial mutations by moving the genes to the nucleus. That was followed by another talks sketching a possible way of finding enzymes that break down lysozomal gunk using bioremediation as an inspiration: since graveyards are not overflowing with the substances the body cannot break down, there must be bacteria that can do it. These can be isolated, and the relevant enzymes gathered. Very elegant, but rather early to tell how useful it will be.
MITOCHONDRIA, METABOLISM, CALORIE RESTRICTION
Mitochondria, our cellular power generators, are a hot topic in aging research circles at the moment. They are clearly implicated in the aging process - through ongoing genetic damage that reduces energy production, or production of free radicals that cause damage elsewhere, or both - and a number of plausible interventions are currently in the very early stages of development.
Metabolism is getting more attention these days too - metabolic rate has a strong correlation with life span. The rapidly increasing efficiency of genetic screening and other bioinformatic tools is generating a wealth of new information in this field and upsetting old theories. Scientists are starting to see how the genetics and biochemical processes of living beings - that have long been well studied in isolation from one another - dynamically interact:
Researchers working on metabolism are bumping elbows with scientists who use genetic screening to uncover calorie restriction mimetic drugs. Calorie restriction - proven to extend healthy life span in mammals and to confer impressive health benefits in humans - has interesting effects on metabolism and some of its regulatory genes. It turns out that there are a number of compounds that may allow us to obtain at least some of the same effects without the dieting (but don't rush out to buy them yet - there is much more testing to be done):
Here we come full circle, as scientists theorize that some of the benefits of calorie restriction - or an active metabolism - result from changes in mitochrondrial behavior. Perhaps they run more efficiently, producing fewer damaging free radicals. More likely, the actual process will be shown to be much more complex.
Whatever the answers turn out to be, knowledge is power in medical research. As scientists come to understand the biochemistry and genetics of metabolism, this knowledge can be used to extend our healthy life spans.
That is all for this issue of the newsletter. The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.
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Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Visit The Immortality Institute (August 15 2004)
If you haven't yet taken a look at the non-profit Immortality Institute, you certainly should do so. The forums have become something of a watering hole for many of the volunteers and younger organizations relating to healthy life extension - you'll find conversations about starting a Methuselah Fly Prize to complement the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research, or TransVision 2004, for example. Go and browse - it's a friendly community and you'll find useful information and many points of view. As a reminder, the community-created book, "The Scientific Conquest of Death," is due out later this year. The last of the editing is wrapped up and it should be on the way to the printers at this time.
FuturePundit On CR Mimetics (August 15 2004)
Randall Parker comments on the use of genetic screening to uncover compounds that affect longevity via the metabolism. "Some researchers have been comparing the pattern of gene expression found in mice on CR diets with the patterns of gene expression found in mice given a variety of drugs. Some already used drugs may induce a metabolic state that will extend life expectancy by the same mechanism that CR diets extend life expectancy." Several threads of research underway at the moment are extending our knowledge of the ways in which metabolism and the aging process interact and are controlled. This can only be a good thing - it brings us closer to early therapies that can effectively extend healthy life spans.
Spotting Anti-Aging Scams (August 14 2004)
WebMD aptly illustrates the problems facing newcomers to the field of healthy life extension: faced with the noise generated by the anti-aging marketplace, how do you find out which claims are legitimate and which of the legitimate claims are useful? How can you distinguish reputable scientists and doctors from the quacks and adventurous marketeers? It took me several years of being a customer and advocate to sort it all out in my own mind - it certainly isn't as easy as counting red flags, but that can help you avoid the worst traps. Be skeptical, do your research, and remember that there are no simple solutions. Hopefully the materials at the Longevity Meme will give you a head start on the process.
Working On Regenerative Medicine (August 14 2004)
The New Zealand Herald reports on genetic research that lays the groundwork for ambitious future medicine - regrowing lost limbs, suppressing cancers, repairing the damage caused by neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's, and increasing resistance to common diseases. "Starfish can regenerate limbs. We are highly similar to starfish [compared to flies or plants]. We will come to understand aging, cancer and the regeneration of limbs." Knowledge is at the root of all modern medical progress - especially in areas like regenerative medicine, where we seek to manipulate existing cellular processes. The more we learn, the closer we come to cures for age-related conditions and the aging process itself.
Chris Mooney On Stem Cell Politics (August 13 2004)
Chris Mooney's latest article (in PDF format here) is an overview of stem cell research and politics, including Proposition 71 and "scientific secession" in California. "This November, Californians will vote on a stem-cell ballot initiative that could trigger a far bigger influx of scientific talent while simultaneously providing the closest thing to a popular referendum on the Bush policy." It's a good read, especially if you want to catch up on how this whole situation came about, but falls into the same trap as most other political analysis at the moment - it focuses on the comparatively minor issue of Federal funding while ignoring the impact of threatened criminalization of therapeutic cloning and hostile legislation at the state level.
Gerontologists On Anti-Aging Medicine (August 13 2004)
Medical News Today notes that the second issue of the Journal of Gerontology dedicated to anti-aging medicine is out. As I've noted before, mainstream gerontologists are not happy with the anti-aging marketplace. I see fault in both sides: the major players in the marketplace need to stop associating with fraudulent and borderline fraudulent ventures, while conservative gerontologists need to wake up and see that an effective therapy for aging could be developed in a matter of decades with the right level of funding. Claiming that real anti-aging medicine is impossible or far in the future is a self-fulfilling prophecy - one that we do not want to see come to pass.
Commenting On UK Therapeutic Cloning (August 12 2004)
The Canadian Globe and Mail is running a piece by Peter Singer and Abdallah Daar on the recent approval of regulated embryonic stem cell research in the UK. Canada currently forbids this research, as do many other countries worldwide: "We think research using adult stem cells should be encouraged, but it's too early to know whether human adult or embryonic cells will prove superior for treating patients ... Although Canadians support therapeutic cloning, Ottawa won't likely reopen its new reproductive law. Then, when patients elsewhere are successfully treated using therapeutic cloning, Canadians will beg Parliament to change our law -- too late." The enforced slow speed of progress has terrible consequences.
SIRT1 Can Delay Neural Degeneration (August 12 2004)
EurekAlert reports that SIRT1, a protein linked to the mechanism by which calorie restriction extends healthy life span, can also delay degeneration of neural tissue. This presents a range of future options: "Scientists report in the Aug. 13 issue of Science that their findings might open the door to new ways to treat a wide range of neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), various kinds of neuropathy, and multiple sclerosis ... Scientists previously found evidence that this process of axonal degeneration may be an active self-destructive process that the neuron activates under certain conditions. Increased activation of SIRT1 appears to block some or all of those self-destructive processes."
Reporting On TransVision 2004 (August 11 2004)
Ronald Bailey of Reason Online reports on his time at TransVision 2004: "[TransVision 2004] attracted some 125 philosophers, scientific researchers, and techno-visionaries to Toronto last weekend to think about, discuss, and promote the ways in which technology will transform human lives ... Probably the most immediate goal of these transhumanists is promoting research that will radically increase healthy human lifespans." The scientific focus at the cutting edge these days seems to be on mitochondrial damage and what to do about it. From the sounds of it, we should be hearing much more about new techniques for repairing, moving or replacing mitochondrial DNA - with the aim of slowing the aging process - within a few years.
Identifying Calorie Restriction Mimetics (August 11 2004)
Another way in which modern bioinformatics speeds useful research: A map of the genetic changes caused by calorie restriction is allowing researchers to screen for candidate drugs that will reproduce the beneficial effects of CR without the dieting. Many research groups, public and private, are working to develop meaningful calorie restriction mimetics. The increased healthy life span and resistance to age-related diseases observed in animal studies - and the impressive human studies to date - are very compelling. It is increasingly the case that genetic knowledge can be quickly turned into trial therapies - this research work is now far faster than the process of satisfying organizational and regulatory requirements.
Debating Embryonic Stem Cell Research (August 10 2004)
One of my roundup posts on the politics of stem cell research over at Fight Aging! has generated a fair number of posts. It's a reproduction in miniature of the larger abortion-tinged embryonic stem cell research debate as visitors from Instapundit interact with the regular Fight Aging! crowd. While experience teaches us that people are not going to see eye to eye on these issues, it is always helpful and instructive to see where the other guy is coming from. From where I stand, the moral value of a hundred cell embryo - a tiny sphere with no capacity to feel or think - is no different from that of any other clump of a hundred cells, but many people feel otherwise. So jump on in and have your say.
Stress Tests For Longevity Genes (August 10 2004)
How do scientists discover longevity-related genes? An article from Betterhumans explains how looking for genes affected by environmental stress can uncover mechanisms relating to longevity. "Using a gene-screening technique to find genes regulated by heat, oxidants and starvation, researcher Seymour Benzer and colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California found 13 candidate longevity genes and tweaked two to increase the lifespan of fruit flies." This sort of work probably has similar potential to that on calorie restriction mimetic drugs. Even if it doesn't, there is no such thing as useless knowledge in biochemistry - everything we learn helps to illuminate other parts of the puzzle.
Anti-Aging Lawsuits (August 09 2004)
The battle between mainstream gerontologists and the anti-aging marketplace has escalated into lawsuits for defamation, it seems. This may mean all sorts of things - a higher profile for anti-aging science and medicine in the public eye or possibly an admission from both sides that anti-aging science (intervening in the aging process) and anti-aging medicine (treating age-related conditions) are two different things nowadays. Perhaps conservative gerontologists will stop issuing self-fulfilling pessimistic prophecies on the likelihood of a cure for aging, and perhaps organizations like A4M will stop encouraging the fraudulent fringe in the marketplace. We can hope. It seems to me that both sides could stand to improve on their methodologies.
On Stem Cell Research Funding (August 09 2004)
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research reprints an overview of the funding and legislative situation for embryonic stem cell research. It reinforces some of my own points: it is the threat of criminalization at the state and Federal level that is damaging research, not limitations on public funding. "Drs. Bob and Larry Goldstein both said uncertainty surrounding the politics of stem cell research is making young scientists wary about entering the field ... It shouldn't be a surprise that there are so few applications, because people are nervous about pursuing this. What if they make this illegal next year?" If you support regenerative medicine, now is certainly the time to stand up and say so.