LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 13 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.
- DNA Repair: Good Thing or Side Issue?
- Sneaky Opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
DNA REPAIR: GOOD THING OR SIDE ISSUE?
Repairing damaged DNA: where does this fit in the grand scheme of aging and cancer? It sounds vital, but is it really all that important as a part of developing therapies for the aging process?
"We have completely fragmented their DNA. I mean we have completely destroyed it by bombarding it with [radiation]. And they can reassemble their entire chromosome and put it back into working order within several hours."
Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey has his own take on this topic in the context of engineering a cure for aging.
SNEAKY OPPOSITION TO EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH
In the face of strong support for embryonic stem cell research aimed at cures for age-related conditions - by way of producing a regenerative repair kit for the human body - opponents of this science are becoming sneaky. They are promoting progress in adult stem cell medicine in order to portray embryonic stem cell research as a dead end. This is all smoke and mirrors - it can only be accomplished by selectively ignoring the publications and opinions of scientists in this field. Here is an excellent example of the type from Michael Fumento:
He lauds positive results for adult stem cell heart therapies without once noting that embryonic stem cell medicine is already outperforming these first generation therapies in the laboratory:
Any significant progress towards treating the most common age-related conditions is welcome in my book - but opponents of embryonic stem cell research are actively trying to slow things down while those waiting for cures continue to suffer. This is not ethical. To be clear on my position, I see the moral value of a hundred cell embryo - a tiny sphere with no capacity to feel or think - as no different from that of any other clump of a hundred cells not involved in vital brain functions in a living being. Needless to say, many people feel otherwise:
Why is embryonic stem cell research lagging behind adult stem cell research? Firstly, the initial technical hurdles have proven difficult. Secondly, the threat of bans on vital technologies such as therapeutic cloning in the US and at the United Nations - and actual bans in other countries - have scared away funding and deterred researchers from entering the field. It is typical of anti-research groups to point to slow progress, caused by their favored policies and threats, as justification for further restrictions.
Many scientists expect, eventually, to be able to manipulate any cell into becoming a stem cell, or give adult stem cells the same mutability that embryonic stem cells possess. There is no good timeline for this project. It could take years, or decades, or even prove impossible. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 lives are lost each and every day to the ravages of age and disease. We need that regenerative repair kit for human beings and embryonic stem cell research will get us there much more rapidly.
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
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
800 Drugs In The Pipeline (September 12 2004)
The Life Extension Foundation News reprints an interesting breakdown of the current set of drugs for age-related conditions in human trials or awaiting FDA approval. It gives a good view of research and regulatory priorities: "123 medicines would treat heart disease and stroke and 395 would assist cancer patients ... 22 new medications being developed against Alzheimer's ... 14 new drugs being developed for Parkinson's disease and 53 for diabetes. Eighteen of the proposed new compounds would treat osteoporosis." The cancer research establishment is enormous, the result of thirty years of deliberate intent, education and strong public support. This is a model we should emulate for the future of serious research into a cure for the aging process.
Adult Stem Cells From Fat (September 12 2004)
As reported by Medical News Today, there is a growing level of interest in the process of obtaining adult stem cells from fat tissue. "Research has indicated [fat]-derived stem cells can be coaxed into bone, nerve, cartilage and endothelial cells." Reliably identifying and isolating stem cells from fat will provide a better source of adult stem cells for some of the regenerative therapies currently in human and laboratory trials. Obtaining stem cells from fat tissue is much less onerous and invasive than working with bone marrow stem cells; fat-extracting techniques (like liposuction) are more quickly and easily performed. This seems like a good step forward.
Exceptional Longevity Family Study (September 11 2004)
The Senior Journal notes the launch of another study on longevity - what factors, genetic or otherwise, enable some people to live longer than others? "We will be looking for genetic risks for cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes—all the major risks—as well as asking about personal habits, looking at medical histories, and doing clinical tests." Personally, I think that researchers should be spending more time focusing on realistic prospects for reversing aging while continuing to examine the current state of affairs. That they don't is a function of the conservative funding environment - more public support for and understanding of serious anti-aging research is needed.
The Fine Art Of DNA Repair (September 11 2004)
A NASA publication discusses the investigation of DNA repair in the humble Halobacterium: "We have completely fragmented their DNA. I mean we have completely destroyed it by bombarding it with [radiation]. And they can reassemble their entire chromosome and put it back into working order within several hours." Damage to DNA - especially mitochondrial DNA - is associated with aging, and possibly a cause of age-related degeneration. While the NASA study is focused on repairing radiation damage incurred during space travel, knowledge relating to DNA repair could be turned to other tasks as well. A reliable DNA repair kit for humans would likely go a long way towards extending our healthy life spans.
Ben Bova On Calorie Restriction (September 10 2004)
Ben Bova, science fiction author and columnist, takes a look at calorie restriction as a part of his latest outing at the Naples Daily News. "For several years now, biologists have known that certain organisms can extend their life spans significantly — more than 50 percent, in some cases — by severely restricting their intake of food." Given the latest research results, it seems very likely that calorie restriction works to extend life span in humans as well - if not to the same extent. Meanwhile, scientists are closing in on an understanding of the mechanisms by which calorie restriction improves health and extends life span. I expect to see fairly reliable calorie restriction mimetics appearing in the drug pipeline within the next five years.
Anti-Aging Nonsense Vs. Hype Vs. Science (September 10 2004)
A piece in the Guardian notes that biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be speaking at at the current Anti-Ageing Conference in London: "Dr de Grey will warn them, in his speech today, that they may have misused the term anti-ageing. He said that physicians and suppliers of anti-ageing medicine were selling things that were perfectly legitimate within their own scope but the use of the phrase gave the impression that it could do more." This, I think, is too generous to some of the junk that gets promoted at this sort of event - especially considering the damage the "anti-aging" industry is doing to the prospects for serious anti-aging research aimed at extending the healthy human life span. If industry members want to become scientifically respectable, then they have to clean up their act.
Interesting Longevity Gene Work (September 09 2004)
A very much overhyped - but still interesting - piece of science appears in the New Zealand Herald. Many lower forms of life have the ability to extend their lives in a sort of low-activity state, but this particular parasite is impressive: "The genes allow worms in the possum's small intestine to live for up to a year - while the same worms live outside in the soil for only a matter of days if they do not 'switch on' the longevity genes." Similar genes occur in humans, but that certainly doesn't mean the work has any relevance to our health and longevity. From the researcher in charge: "If you are putting money into this, from a commercial angle a lotto ticket would be a better idea." Still, a grant has been provided for further study.
On The Front Lines Of Cancer Research (September 09 2004)
A cure - or at the very least a family of reliable therapies - for cancer is a vital stepping stone in the path towards greatly extended healthy life spans. This piece from ScienceDaily is a good example of the sort of research taking place at the moment: a focus on basic mechanisms and uncovering better ways to interfere with cancer growth or correct faulty cellular processes that lead to cancer formation. The science of bioinformatics (advances in computing and automation) has greatly increased the speed at which biochemical processes can be investigated and understood. New information leads to new avenues of investigation and potential treatments, and the pace is continuing to pick up.
Aubrey de Grey In The Australian (September 08 2004)
Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey is featured in an article at The Australian. "Ultimately, we could extend life indefinitely because these processes do not simply slow down the damage which causes ageing, but repair it." He predicts that with the right level of funding (and it would be a large project, on the order of $100 million per year), we could develop the technology to greatly slow or prevent age-related degeneration in mice in a decade. This sort of timeline can be given because the path forward is clear: No new pathways for the accumulation of age-related damage have been discovered in the last 20 years, which "strongly suggests that no more are to be found -- at least, none that would kill us in a presently normal lifetime."
The Future Of Extreme Longevity (September 08 2004)
Terry Grossman is doing the rounds to talk about his new book "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever." "In our new book, Ray Kurzweil and I make the scientific case that immortality is within our grasp. We explain how to slow down aging and disease processes to such a degree that you can remain in good health until the more radical life extending and life-enhancing technologies - now in the research and testing pipeline - become available." I'm less optimistic about the future of healthy life extension medicine and the ability of present day techniques to affect the aging process. This is why I believe that we must all get involved to ensure that serious anti-aging research is funded in time for us to benefit from it.
Polls On Embryonic Stem Cell Research (September 07 2004)
Here is a little poll data from PR Newswire for you to mull over: "In 2001, a Harris Poll reported
that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans believed that stem cell research should be
allowed. Three years later, a new Harris Poll finds that this majority
supporting stem cell research has increased to more than 6-to-1." If nothing else this promises to make life interesting for US politicians should they continue to attempt a ban on therapeutic cloning. For those who follow these things more closely, you can find links to more polling data at Fight Aging! Personally, I look forward to seeing the day when serious anti-aging research enjoys the same level of public understanding, debate and support.
Inside Calorie Restriction Research (September 07 2004)
The Gazette at John Hopkins University provides insight into how research into calorie restriction moves forward: "Calorie restriction has intrigued scientists for decades because it increases the life span of almost every species studied." Genetic screening allows scientists to establish a profile of changes caused by calorie restriction. This profile can then be compared with those produced by various compounds to try and narrow down the field of candidate drugs and drug targets in the body. "Our findings could be used to take a rational approach to designing drugs that mimic beneficial aspects of calorie restriction." Calorie restriction mimetics are a hot topic in medical research at the moment.
More On Stem Cells And Osteoporosis (September 06 2004)
A nice long piece at Medical News Today discusses movement towards controlling stem cells to treat osteoporosis (age-related bone loss, or "brittle bone disease"). The ability to quickly discover compounds that cause stem cells to differentiate into specific types of mature cell - bone cells in this case - is one of the great benefits of bioinformatics. Advances in computing, automation and miniaturization mean that hundreds of thousands of compounds can be screened in the time it once took to check a dozen outcomes. This allows scientists to skip directly to the answer, as it were - new biochemistry is being uncovered in a year of work where it would once have taken a decade or more.
Progress And The Challenge (September 06 2004)
Medical News Today notes that more than one billion people are expected to be over the age of 60 by 2025, double the present number. The challenge we face: how soon can the scientific and business communities research and commercialize regenerative therapies for age-related degenerative conditions? How soon can we develop and manufacture ways to intervene in the aging process so as to prevent damage and disease from occurring in the first place? This is a race against time to save - and improve - a billion lives over the next few decades. Each year of delay is accompanied by fifty million deaths and untold suffering for hundreds of millions of afflicted people.