Longevity Meme Newsletter, September 06 2004

September 06 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.



- Predictions of the Reliability Theory of Aging
- It Is Time To Speak Out Once More
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova have seen some positive press for their research on the reliability theory of aging in recent weeks:


These two researchers have been working in this field for a while, and the end result to date seems eminently sensible. Reliability theory originally grew out of a need to explain and predict the behavior of complex electronic devices over time. Extending the theory to the aging human body (a much more complex set of apparatus) seems obvious in hindsight.

Reliability theory, at root, predicts life span and mean time to failure for a machine composed of a number of redundant components with given failure rates. You can find more a succinct explanation of the theory and its application to aging in an article by Leonid Gavrilov at the Longevity Meme:


To my mind, the most interesting results of this research are the following two predictions: Firstly, that there is no set maximum human life span. In the late stages of life, death rates level out - it's a high rate with each year of life, but there is no set upper limit to life span. Your chance of living another year at 106 is much the same as at 102. The observed limit to human life span - 120 years or so - corresponds to a very high cumulative chance of death due to "component failure" rather than some other process at work. This means that - just as for electronic devices - there is no theoretical obstacle to greatly extending healthy life span by repairing or preventing age-related damage.

The second, less intuitive prediction is that we are born with a high level of damage in important redundant component parts (possibly chromosomes, stem cells or mitochondria). This means that - if this is indeed the case and this class of damage can be identified - life span could be greatly extended through medical interventions performed very early in life.


It is time to make your opinions heard as we move forward to the US presidential election, the vote on Proposition 71 for embryonic stem cell research legalization and funding in California, political debates over stem cell research in a number of US states, and a revisiting of the global ban on therapeutic cloning at the United Nations - backed by the present US administration.


If you oppose government restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, now is an excellent time to talk to your elected representatives. Regenerative medicine for age-related conditions - based on stem cell and therapeutic cloning research - will be a vital technology on the path to radical life extension. Legislative restrictions, existing and threatened, have already scared away funding and cost years of potential progress. So let the politicians know that you are paying attention to their actions ... and that you vote your mind.



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



Xenotransplantation Not So Hot (September 05 2004)
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that advances in tissue engineering and artificial organs are making xenotransplantation - use of animal organs to replace failing human organs - less interesting. "Ten years ago, everybody thought it would come about. Enthusiasm has waned." Overcoming immune system rejection and other barriers has - like more or less everything to do with medical research - proven to be more difficult than first thought. Meanwhile, stem cell research and materials science advances seem likely to lead to the first artificial organs grown from patient tissue in a decade or so. This is a brute force method of extending healthy life span - in the long run we should eliminate the root causes of age-related damage.

Alzheimer's Breakthrough? (September 04 2004)
(From the Milwaukee Channel). Researchers have announced a potential breakthrough in Alzheimer's research - the discovery of a protein that may halt progression of the condition. Like many advances, this stems from lateral thinking when faced with a research problem. In this case, scientists were struggling to create a mouse version of the disease. "I said to myself, everybody is trying to kill neurons in mice to create the Alzheimer's pathology. And here we have a mouse that has amyloid deposition and plaques yet no neurons are dying. Let's try to figure out why these mice aren't getting the disease." It remains to be seen as to whether this new work will translate to humans, but it looks promising.

Piecing Together Aging (September 04 2004)
A collection of articles at Science Magazine examine aging as a collection of disparate processes: "Though we tend to speak of aging as a generic condition, its most devastating manifestations -- things like the deterioration of bones, joints, and neurons -- seem maddeningly specific to particular organs and tissues." Beating age-related degeneration through regenerative medicine - rather than preventing the root causes of the aging process - will require us to be able to repair many different types of damage to all our organs. It's a big job, which is why the level of funding and rate of progress are very important. Given the important recent research on the topic, you may find the article "What Can Progeroid Syndromes Tell Us About Human Aging?" interesting.

Skin Stem Cells Identified (September 03 2004)
(From Betterhumans). Researchers claim to have identified adult skin stem cells capable of differentiating into all kinds of skin tissue - at least in mice. "We've identified cells within skin that bear all the characteristics of true stem cells - the ability for self renewal and the multipotency required to differentiate into all lineages of epidermis and hair." This raises the possibility of a regenerative cure for baldness based on stem cell medicine - something I mentioned briefly earlier this year. More importantly, the ability to manipulate and use multipotent skin stem cells should bring a welcome boost to regenerative medicine for a variety of serious injuries and conditions.

Regulated Therapeutic Cloning In Singapore (September 02 2004)
CNN reports that Singapore has banned reproductive cloning but continues to permit regulated therapeutic cloning research, a position similar to that of the UK government. The Singapore administration has been moving towards development of their state as a biotechnology hub: "To draw scientists and biotech funds into its 40,000-sq-meter (430,600-sq-ft) Biopolis park, Singapore is offering a mix of tax breaks, grants and other incentives worth $1.3 billion -- and one of the world's most relaxed legal climates for research." It is unfortunate that we now live in a world in which scientists require permission to proceed from politicians - delays in medical research impact all of us.

An Overview Of Aging Science (September 02 2004)
The cover story for Chemical and Engineering News provides a good overview of some of the more recent aging science - and what we could to to slow or halt the aging process. The bulk of the article focuses on scientific research stemming from calorie restriction: investigations into the genetic and biochemical mechanisms by which CR extends healthy life span and reduces the risk of suffering age-related degenerative conditions. Work on telomeres - the protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes that serve a number of important functions - also gets a mention, as does research into how we lose our ability to heal ourselves as we age. "A decline in Notch signaling in [stem cells] may be a general mechanism underlying the diminished regenerative properties of aged tissues."

A Look At German Research Restrictions (September 01 2004)
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research is reprinting an article on German criminalization of embryonic stem cell research. Similar restrictive legislation for the related (and important) technology of therapeutic cloning is still possible in the US. The current situation in Germany clearly demonstrates the end results: "The restrictions ... leave scientists there with only one legal option for producing embryonic stem cells for research: leaving the country. For those who remain in Germany, even collaborating with international colleagues on new lines could leave them at risk of prosecution." Slowing the pace of stem cell research has real, ugly consequences for our future health and longevity.

Straight Talk About Stem Cell Research (September 01 2004)
The MIT Technology Review cuts through the fog to examine the true state of stem cell research. How close are we to cures for age-related conditions and working regenerative medicine based on this research? The scientist interviewed here suggests a decades-long timeline, although others estimate the first therapies are more like ten years away. The adult versus embryonic stem cell debate is also examined: "The public has been misled by the partisan tug of war over the notion that, given more study, adult stem cells could accomplish the same regenerative feats as their embryonic counterparts ... studies of embryonic stem cells yield important information for the understanding of adult stem cells, and vice versa. But overall, embryonic stem cells still appear to hold the advantage."

The Benefits Of Studying Longevity (August 31 2004)
The St. Petersburg Times investigates centenarian and other longevity studies: "By analyzing why the super-old age so well, scientists are gaining valuable information about avoiding the cancers, strokes and heart diseases that ravage younger people and cut short their lives." It turns out to have as much to do with diet and lifestyle as genes - you have a great deal of control over how much damage you are doing to yourself over the years. Since we are talking about diet, calorie restriction should get a mention - it is the only currently proven method of even slightly extending the healthy human life span. For far longer, healthier lives, we must support the future of medical research.

Leonid Gavrilov On Reliability Theory (August 31 2004)
I mentioned the work of Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova last week: here is the full IEEE Spectrum article on the reliability theory of aging. "The problem is that our bodies deteriorate with age. For most of our lives, the risk of death is increasing exponentially, doubling every eight years. So, why do we fall apart, and what can we do about it?" Reliability theory has proven to be very useful in the manufacturing world - it seems that it can be equally useful in the fight to cure aging and greatly extend our healthy life spans. If you want to read more, Leonid Gavrilov has kindly placed an article on his work here at the Longevity Meme.

More On Cancer Stem Cells (August 30 2004)
The LEF News is reprinting an article on cancer stem cells and current attempts to build new and better cancer therapies. "The solution would lie in stamping out the highly specialized cells, known as cancer stem cells, that appear to give rise to the cancer in the first place. Such cells are largely impervious to current treatments, enabling them to lurk silently until they repeatedly spawn new tumors, either in the same part or in other parts of the body." At least some types of cancer appear to have identifiable stem cells, and trials are underway for leukemia patients at the University of Kentucky. From the researchers: "It looks fantastic in the lab. In the laboratory we can very effectively kill the tumor without killing the normal stem cells."



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