Longevity Meme Newsletter, August 23 2004

August 23 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.



- A Milestone for Calorie Restriction
- Demonstrating Embryonic Stem Cell Therapies
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Researchers have published the results of the first study to link calorie restriction with extended life span in humans.


This was accomplished through data analysis and following up on participants in a large 40-year-old study - now that one group has obtained promising results using this methodology, I'm sure that we will see more similar work in the future. This is a significant milestone for calorie restriction, despite the fact that it was expected, as previous studies on life span had only been performed in animals.

You might recall the first set of impressive human results - from the CALERIE study and focusing on basic health and health risks - earlier this year:


If this inspires you to look into calorie restriction - and you certainly should give it a try - then you can find more information at the Longevity Meme and the website of the Calorie Restriction Society:


Speaking of the CR Society, their annual conference is coming up in November this year. With all the current interest in developing drugs to mimic the beneficial effects of the calorie restriction diet, this promises to be an interesting, science-focused event.



The one thing that will likely make the current political nonsense surrounding embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning go away is a demonstrated therapy. Developing therapies under threat of bans and restrictive legislation is tough - not because of the Federal funding issue, but because these threats scare away both private funding and career scientists. We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, however, as illustrated by an embryonic stem cell therapy for heart damage in rats:


This therapy looks to be an improvement over the (nonetheless still impressive) adult stem cell therapies for heart disease that have been in trials over the past few years. Adult stem cells fuse with heart cells, promoting limited growth and regeneration in ways that are not yet fully understood. Embryonic stem cells transform into new heart tissue with the correct structure and behavior - a clear sign that further research on embryonic stem cells will improve our ability to regenerate the damage caused by age-related and other conditions.


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 it 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



Embryonic Stem Cells Hold More Promise (August 22 2004)
(From STLtoday.com). Scientists back embryonic stem cell research because it appears to give a greater chance of developing regenerative therapies for common age-related conditions. "Stem cells taken from a
patient's own muscle or blood failed to make functioning heart cells. Those adult stem cells homed in on damaged heart tissue and latched on, but never got the rhythm the rest of the heart ticked to ... Some of the patients in the study did improve after the therapy .. the [adult] cells may have recruited new blood vessels to the injured area and helped speed the healing." By way of comparison, "the embryonic cells did not just latch onto the wounded heart ... they actually became heart muscle cells that beat in time with the rest of the organ."

Werner's Syndrome, Cancer, Aging (August 21 2004)
(From EurekAlert). Modern investigations into accelerated aging disorders (Progeria and Werner's syndrome) are teaching scientists a great deal about the way in which the aging process works. The links between aging, telomeres - the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that get shorter with each cell division - and cancer have been receiving a lot of attention in recent years. The hurdles overcome during the development of a mouse model for Werner's syndrome demonstrate how far we've come in our ability to manipulate genes and telomeres in living organisms. This field of study is an important one - it could eventually yield therapies to prevent both cancer and aging.

Study Backs Human Calorie Restriction (August 21 2004)
The Honolulu Advertiser notes that analysis of a large study performed a few decades ago convincingly links calorie restriction with extended longevity in humans. "There are a lot of people that change eating habits over time. The fact you can see a difference, almost 40 years later, despite the weakness of the measurement tool, suggests this must be a fairly powerful effect." This is as we would expect from the many animal studies, and we will no doubt hear more about this work: "[the link between diet and life span] is one of the great unanswered questions in biogerontology studies and aging research. A study like this just hasn't been done before. And the fact that it supports what we see in the animal studies is important."

Embryonic Stem Cell Heart Therapy (August 20 2004)
Betterhumans reports on a new study in rats that shows "embryonic stem cells can repair heart tissue and speed recovery after heart attack." This is not too surprising, since effective adult stem cell heart therapies have already been demonstrated. The embryonic stem cell therapy would seem to be superior, however: "The stem cells transformed into heart cells and integrated with the surrounding muscle. Within three weeks, the researchers saw improved heart function and reduced scarring compared to a control group of animals that didn't receive the stem cells. Moreover, the response to stress was superior in the stem cell-treated hearts, and there were no deaths or evidence of abnormal heart rhythms."

SAGE Crossroads on Osteoporosis (August 20 2004)
Here is a frightening statistic from SAGE Crossroads: "Thanks to thinning skeletons, half of all postmenopausal women and a quarter of men over 50 will fracture a bone." This, like many other unpleasant future realities, is something that we don't like to think about - but sticking our heads in the sand is a bad strategy. It is far better to actively support scientists who are working on therapies for osteoporosis. "One recent study found a gene that controls whether cells grow into fat or bone-building cells, whereas another study found a gene that caused both weight gain and bone-thinning in mice. Although the work is in its early stages, drugs aimed at such genes might encourage the maintenance of healthy bones in older people."

Dwarf Mice, Growth Hormones, Aging (August 19 2004)
An interesting piece at the International Herald Tribune discusses the effects of growth hormone and body size on longevity. For example, there are "mice that produce growth hormone but cannot respond to it. Called Laron dwarfs, they are fertile and live as much as 50 percent longer than normal mice. The oldest mouse on record, which lived nearly five years, was a Laron dwarf." The science is somewhat up in the air at the moment. Researchers do not yet fully understand how all the hormonal pieces fit together in mice, let alone humans, and a healthy debate is under way. Human hormone therapies are an uncertain proposition at this time, no matter what promoters in the anti-aging marketplace have to say on the matter.

Another New Way Of Looking At Aging (August 19 2004)
A press release Yahoo! News described some new aging science. Andrzej Bartke, respected in the field, says, "The theory of aging developed by Drs. Bowen and Atwood is striking in its novelty ... The authors use this new and different way of looking at endocrine changes that accompany aging to suggest novel therapeutic interventions." This work is apparently in the context of Alzheimer's treatment and early drug trials at Voyager Pharmaceuticals - we shall see where it all goes in due course. An outgrowth in the number of theories of aging (such as the reliability theory of Leonid Gavrilov) is fine in my book: It shows that scientists are working on the problem.

The Adonis Effect (August 18 2004)
As reported at ScienceDaily, researchers have uncovered the genetic basis for age-related bone thinning and weight gain. Their work shows that "laboratory mice without this gene function have 70 percent less body fat and exhibit the dense bones and lean bodies of young mice." Osteoporosis - age-related bone loss - is a concern for many people in the healthy life extension community, especially those practicing calorie restriction. The prospect of a genetic therapy for this condition - at some point in the future, past many more experimental, regulatory and commercial hurdles - is an exciting one. Controlling the amount of body fat should also greatly reduce the risk of suffering other age-related conditions.

Ronald Bailey On The Methuselah Mouse Prize (August 18 2004)
Ronald Bailey comments on the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research over at Reason Online. "The aim of the Methuselah Mouse Prize is not just to tempt scientists to get involved with anti-aging research. It's also a public relations stunt aiming to capture the public's imagination. De Grey believes that the public will demand more research into finding effective anti-aging treatments once they are convinced that it's possible to significantly retard aging in a mammal." As regular readers know by now, I see the Methuselah Mouse Prize as one of the most important initiatives currently underway - if you donate today you'll still be in time to get free promotional Mouse gear!

On Calorie Restriction (August 17 2004)
The International Herald Tribune has published a good article on calorie restriction, a diet demonstrated to extend life span in mammals and at the very least produce impressive health benefits in humans. "Scientists, who are still uncovering exactly how the process works, believe the effects of caloric restriction are an evolutionary response to allow creatures to survive during adversity and live long enough to reproduce when conditions improve. Guarente recently reported that caloric restriction triggers a release of stored fat, which may tell the body 'it's time to hunker down for survival.' In addition, he suggests that caloric restriction may spur the body to become more efficient at using nutrients." We should be seeing more results from the CALERIE study next year - hopefully as good as the first set.

Germans Call For Therapeutic Cloning Ban (August 17 2004)
CORDIS reports on calls from German politicians for an European Union wide ban on therapeutic cloning, a technology vital to the most promising branches of stem cell research. Criminalization of this research - threatened and actual - has caused great harm to progress towards cures for age-related and other degenerative conditions. Private funding is scared away and scientists move into other areas of research rather than risk their careers. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people die each and every day precisely because we have not yet developed a regenerative toolkit for common medical conditions. How long will you allow this state of affairs to continue? You have a voice: use it.

NASA To Fund Regenerative Research (August 16 2004)
Wired reports on NASA plans to invest in cutting edge medical research. Methods of preventing cancer come first, and "if the astronauts' immunity to radiation cannot be significantly enhanced, then the next step, according to the team, is to grow replacement tissue. They'll begin their research by combining umbilical blood and bone-marrow stem cells with tissues from adults to grow new body tissue in a zero-microgravity environment that mimics conditions in the womb." The article speculates on whether microgravity offers a better environment for tissue engineering of replacement organs - although I should note that work with biodegradable scaffolds here at the bottom of the gravity well has been proceeding apace.

The Secret Life Of Fat (August 16 2004)
MSNBC is carrying a three part article on fat and its influence on long term health and longevity. In a nutshell, fat turns out to be a surprisingly complex part of the body: "Increasingly, researchers believe that the biochemistry of fat holds clues both to its tenacity and to the diseases associated with obesity, including heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers." The weight of scientific evidence strongly links excess weight (and thus excess fat) to all of the most common - and terrible - age-related conditions. If you are even modestly overweight younger in life, you are significantly raising your risk of suffering cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and other degenerative conditions as you age.



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