LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 04 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.
- Where Would You Find $62.5 Million?
- Is Aging Programmed?
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
WHERE WOULD YOU FIND $62.5 MILLION?
If you put the pieces together, it would seem that a $62.5 million research prize can inspire enough funding to crack all the fundamental technological hurdles to intervening in the aging process - the groundwork to produce the medicine of radical life extension. How do we arrive at this figure? Take a look and see:
The Cost of SENS
How Big a Research Prize to Fund SENS?
How To Fund a $62.5 Million Research Prize
SENS stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, the program proposed by biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey:
Unless you happen to have $62.5 million lying around already, no amount of talk about the fundamentals is going to make finding this amount of money easy, however. While the largest nonprofit organizations in the US each receive many times this amount in charitable donations each year, building a new research prize from scratch requires years of dedicated hard work.
The folks at the Methuselah Foundation don't intend to let that discourage them! With $500,000 in pledges and cash in hand only a year since the official launch, they are off to a good start. Research prizes are getting wonderful coverage in the media these days, and this bodes well for the future - great things come from public understanding and support.
IS AGING PROGRAMMED?
The scientific debate over whether - and to what extent - aging in humans is a genetic program bubbled up into notice again this week. This is an important discussion because the answer determines what sort of research should be undertaken in order to prevent age-related degeneration. There is an erudite discussion underway at Fight Aging on the topic, so please do take a look:
"Steven Austad provides a good argument for considering aging as unprogrammed decay rather than a programmed process in the body. This sort of high-level thinking about processes and purpose - like the reliability theory of aging - is an important part of effectively directing the research community. ... On the other side of this debate Valter Longo and Paola Fabrizio have authored a paper suggesting that aspects of aging in mammals may indeed be programmed. 'Programmed human aging is just a possibility. We don't know whether it's true yet or not. But if aging is programmed in yeast, and the pathway is very similar, then isn't it possible that humans also die earlier than they have to?' "
I have to say that my (admittedly limited) understanding of matters tends to put me with Steven Austad on this one, but much more research is needed before scientists are at the point of definitively answering questions like this.
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
More On Stem Cells From Fat (October 03 2004)
CBS News reports on the current state of research in regards to isolating adult stem cells from body fat. "To be sure, the research into fat-derived cells is still in very early stages and many questions remain. Katz, in fact, says he's not even convinced the cells deserve to be called stem cells, because he's not sure they really do turn into other kinds of cells when transplanted into the body. Nonetheless, he says they do show promise for being used someday to treat disease." Like previous work on adult stem cells and heart repair, there are open questions as to how this regeneration is accomplished. It does seem to work, however, and it's certainly a lot easier to harvest fat than bone marrow.
More On Stem Cell Pacemakers (October 03 2004)
A long article from Israel21c has more on the use of stem cells to correct heart rate. "The versatile cells can serve as 'biological pacemakers', correcting faulty heart rhythms when injected into the failing hearts of pigs ... The Israeli breakthrough could result in developments that would offer relief for hundreds of thousands of people around the world who now use artificial pacemakers to regulate the beating of their heart." The researchers used human embryonic stem cells for this work, but even so there is still a fair way to go before human trials could begin. The team is also looking beyond this specific use: "One of our next focuses is trying to improve the function of the heart after a major heart attack."
More On Early Nanomedicine (October 02 2004)
While the possibilities offered by advanced nanomedicine in the decades ahead are staggering, the business community prefers to focus branding efforts on present and near future technologies. Thus new drugs, delivery techniques and diagnostic tools that make use of advances in nanoscale manufacturing and manipulation now come under the nanomedicine umbrella. There are some impressive advances already in this early nanomedicine. Vastly improved diagnostic capabilities make a big difference to patient outcomes, for example. Many of the major killers - heart disease, cancer, and so forth - can be successfully prevented or treated even now if risk factors and symptoms are caught early on.
ACT Sets Up In California (October 01 2004)
Medical News Today reports that Advanced Cell Technology is to set up a laboratory for embryonic stem cell research in California. You may recall their recent success in deriving retinal cells from human embryonic stem cells and an proposed two year timeline for human trials to cure blindness. Advanced Cell Technology is a deliberately high-profile company - you can be sure that many more private research concerns are planning or making the same move, but without the accompanying fanfare and press release. This movement of resources is the expected result of a less restricted and less uncertain political environment. Just imagine what could be accomplished in absence of any political interference!
Looking At The Stem Cell Debate (October 01 2004)
Scientific American takes a look at the state of stem cell research politics in the wake of a panel held earlier this week. Federal research funding, recent developments from Advanced Cell Technology and California Proposition 71 take center stage. The current US administration looks to be set on continuing its opposition to embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. The attempted bans on therapeutic cloning have caused great harm to private funding prospects over the past few years. Opponents of freedom in scientific research continue to display a callous disregard for the ongoing daily death toll from age-related conditions.
Centers For Nanomedicine (September 30 2004)
Centers for nanomedical research are coming into being these days as well, illustrative of a healthy and expanding field of science. The new Nano/Bio Interface Center at the University of Pennsylvania is one such example: "As electronics and machines are driven ever smaller, they will inevitably be integrated with biological systems, which will have dramatic technological, biomedical and social implications. The new center will bring together Penn's renowned strengths in nanotechnology and the life sciences." Futurists suggest that advanced nanomedicine of the sort proposed by Robert Freitas will enable healthy life extension beyond that provided by the best regenerative medicine - perhaps 20 or 30 years from now.
Alzheimer's Not Accelerated Aging (September 30 2004)
(From HHMI). "Certain brain changes that are common in normal aging are not the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease. Recent research by cognitive aging experts suggests that changes related to Alzheimer's disease appear in distinct regions of the brain and reflect unique pathology compared with changes that occur in older adults without dementia." That scientists can talk in such detail about the condition is a sign of how far both Alzheimer's and brain aging research has come. It is important, however, for us to try and prioritize research that prevents any brain degeneration from taking place - such as intervening in the aging process itself. Neither Alzheimer's nor "normal aging" in the brain are part of a desirable future for anyone.
First Tissue Engineering Center (September 29 2004)
Tufts Daily reports that the first tissue engineering research center has been established at the Tufts Science and Technology Center. Tissue engineering is "an emerging multidisciplinary field involving biology, medicine, and engineering that is likely to revolutionize the ways we improve the health and quality of life for millions of people worldwide by restoring, maintaining, or enhancing tissue and organ function." The article gives a good example of an early practical result: recovery time for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee can be reduced from six months to a year down to a few weeks by growing replacement tissue from bone marrow stem cells. Applying this sort of technology to more vital, complex organs is only a matter of time and funding.
2nd World Congress On Regenerative Medicine (September 29 2004)
The 2nd World Congress on Regenerative Medicine will take place in May 2005; by all accounts the 2003 conference was a great success. As I often mention, the growth of a scientific field can be measured in concrete and conferences. As funding increases to significant levels, research centers are constructed and gatherings become larger, organized and more frequent. By all accounts - and despite political problems relating to embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning - regenerative medicine is doing well. We should all be glad that so much money is going towards improving our prospects for health and longevity ... but much more needs to be done yet.
Centenarians, Aging, Cancer (September 28 2004)
Ever growing numbers of people are able to live past 100, thanks to improvements in medical technology. We can do more, however: "As medicine gets even better, and if people eat right and exercise, experts like Dr. Michael Fossel believe that a 200-year life span is entirely reasonable. ... One major force in increasing the aging process is eliminating diseases like heart disease and cancer. Given the current research on cancer, Fossel said it is to the point that researchers are 'actually getting excited' about a cure." The big questions is "when will we see large gains in healthy life span?" While progress to date is welcome, we need to move beyond incidental life extension towards research that directly attempts to lengthen the healthy human life span.
Nanotechnology And Aging Research (September 28 2004)
The latest SAGE Crossroads webcast features Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology in a discussion of nanotechnology as it applies to aging and longevity research. In fact the webcast touches on a wide variety of associated topics, with the normal mix of conservatism and forward thinking from all sides. Individual attitudes towards change are certainly interesting to examine. The CRN folks worry about a number of social issues that are, in my opinion, not things we need to worry about at all - but it's good to have people thinking about the future of nanotechnology. Entities like CRN and the Foresight Institute play an important part in the march towards working nanomedicine.
Revisiting Programmed Aging (September 27 2004)
(From Innovations Report). Steven Austad argues that aging is not programmed in most organisms - it is just decay. On the other side of this debate Valter Longo and Paola Fabrizio have authored a paper suggesting that aspects of aging in mammals may indeed be programmed. "Programmed human aging is just a possibility. We don't know whether it's true yet or not. But if aging is programmed in yeast, and the pathway is very similar, then isn't it possible that humans also die earlier than they have to?" This discussion is still at the level of educated hand-waving - much more work is needed to settle it one way or another. My suspicion is that the genetics and biochemistry will turn out to be more complex than a simple yes or no.
Adult Stem Cells From Fat (September 27 2004)
We've been hearing a lot of late about the use of fat as a better source of adult stem cells (better in comparison to bone marrow, that is, and at the very least more easily harvested). PittsburghLive is printing a great introductory article for those of you interested in this branch of stem cell research. "It is known that there are progenitor cells within fat tissue that have the potential to differentiate, or be induced to become, mature fat cells and other cell types. These stem cells are there to heal the body so they could have many great clinical applications. ... Marra, Rubin and their colleagues are working on several projects to investigate the potential of fat-derived stem cells to aid in bone and nerve repair, as well as soft tissue regeneration."