LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 11 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 Topical Consideration of Columbus
- Do We Have a Maximum Life Span?
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
A TOPICAL CONSIDERATION OF COLUMBUS
October 11th is Columbus Day in the US. Christopher Columbus was likely born in 1451 and died in 1506, but living into your 50s was not to be taken for granted in the late Middle Ages. Columbus benefited from his association with wealthy, powerful figures - or rather from the related access to diet, lifestyle and basic medical knowledge that we take for granted today.
A look at life expectancy throughout the ages shows just how far we have come, largely through elimination of disease, and especially childhood disease. The common folk of the 15th century were lucky to live to 40:
Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova's reliability theory of aging explains the historical gains we have made in life expectancy in terms of avoiding damage. Chronic disease, especially in childhood, causes damage that reduces the chance of living a longer life - preventing any single bout of chronic disease will increase the chance of living for another year in every future year of your life.
DO WE HAVE A MAXIMUM LIFE SPAN?
Reliability theory assumes the human body to be a very complex machine. This implies that, as for all machines, the body doesn't have a set maximum life span. The likely point at which a machine will break down can be described in terms of rates of accumulated damage and the level of component redundancy, however.
This sounds a little like a politician's answer to the question - "no, but yes." What we do have is the time taken for most people to die, for the machinery of the body to almost certainly fail due to accumulated damage that medical science cannot yet prevent. The recorded maximum human life span - a little beyond 120 years - has remained remarkable constant where records are reliable. This implies that advances in medical technology and disease control throughout human history have yet to address the processes that lead to this 120-year clock of accumulated damage to the body.
It is important to realize that at least the basic outlines of these processes are understood at this time. The current maximum human life span, and the processes that determine it, do not constitute a mystical roadblock to science. At the high level view of reliability theory, these processes are just like the chronic childhood disease of past centuries; a source of damage that leads to a lower probability of living a longer life. Thus, intervening in any of these untouched processes should lengthen what is thought to be "the maximum human life span."
If you are interested in reading more about the mechanisms believed to cause aging - and how researchers could develop therapies for them - then Aubrey de Grey's presentation is a good start:
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
Proposition 71 Update (October 10 2004)
The San Francisco Chronicle has an update on polling and opinions on the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative for those of you who like to keep track of such things. More interesting to me is the reaction in New Jersey to the proposition: "On Nov. 2, if the bond referendum is approved, there is going to be a huge sucking sound heard from California -- shhhwooh. It will be the sound emitted as they pull every stem cell researcher in the U.S. to the West Coast." People involved in New Jersey efforts to found an embryonic stem cell research program are ramping up their efforts. "We're not just talking about a new field of science. It's a new industry ... New Jersey should be the center of it."
Olshansky's Negativity (October 10 2004)
An interview (and related article) in the Straits Times accurately conveys S. Jay Olshansky's negative view on the prospects for healthy life extension research. He and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey are on opposite ends of the spectrum - but I have yet to see Olshansky rigorously defend his claims regarding the impossibility of significant near term advances in healthy longevity. Unfortunately, viewpoints like that held by Olshansky often turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Why would anyone who holds this view seek or award funding in the area of serious anti-aging research? The prevalence of unjustifiably conservative views is a real problem within the aging research community.
Immortality Institute Projects (October 09 2004)
Advance copies of the first Immortality Institute book, "The Scientific Conquest of Death," are now available for reviewers. From what I've seen during editing, I recommend it as a good read. The next project for the Institute is already well underway: An educational film about the healthy life extension community and the fight to cure aging. I understand that the Institute has recently obtained significant additional funding for this work from some well known members of the community, so it looks like full steam ahead with filming for the rest of the year. If you wish to be involved or interviewed, you should contact the Institute leadership before the film schedule is set in stone.
The Pace of Stem Cell Research (October 09 2004)
Forbes offers a reality check on the pace of stem cell research towards cures for age-related and other conditions. "Slow and steady" they say, although I'd debate the steady part of that - stem cell research has proceeded under the near-constant threat of local and national criminalization or other restrictions. The article is clear about the limitations of adult stem cells: "The greatest limitation of adult stem cells is that they can't regenerate all types of cells because they are specialized for definite cellular functions. Furthermore, it is impossible to extract certain adult stem cells, such as those that could regenerate brain tissue, without killing the donor." Overcoming these limitations requires embryonic stem cell research.
WTN X Prize Launches (October 08 2004)
As reported at Yahoo!, the X Prize Foundation and World Technology Network have launched a program to develop new research and technology prizes. By capitalizing on public support and understanding in the wake of the success of the X Prize, those involved hope to see many new industries invigorated and expanded. One such area is "aging deceleration: Extension of mammal life, or demonstrated evidence of aging reversal." As I've been saying for quite some time, serious anti-aging research is underappreciated, underfunded and will benefit greatly from an influx of research prize funding. The folks at the Methuselah Foundation and others planning similar prizes are taking note - expect more news on this front in the months ahead.
Is "Normal" Actually "Unhealthy?" (October 08 2004)
A study noted by the Life Extension Foundation News confirms what calorie restriction practitioners have been demonstrating for years: that even a little excess weight significantly raises your risk of suffering age-related conditions. "Even having a body mass index within the normal range exposed people to several serious illnesses ... men with BMIs between 22.0 and 24.4, the upper range of 'normal,' were significantly more likely to develop at least one of the weight-related illnesses than their leaner peers with BMIs between 18.5 and 21.9. Although BMIs below 25 are healthy, BMIs below 22 are healthier." Food for thought. Have you looked into calorie restriction yet?
Clue To Stem Cell Signalling (October 07 2004)
Forbes reports on what seems to be an important step forward in stem cell research - identifying the signalling molecules used by embryonic stem cells to spur growth and regeneration. As one scientist notes: "It is a little puzzling that we often get a relatively low number of cells that are incorporated in the damaged area, and yet get robust repair outcomes. In addition to replacing damaged cells, stem cells must bring something new with them." This may be the same or a similar mechanism by which adult stem cell therapies have accomplished regeneration. Many scientists in this area are hotly engaged in founding commercial ventures - and are thus not as forthcoming as they might be about the details of their work.
Aging Is So Yesterday (October 07 2004)
A wide-ranging overview article from BusinessWeek touches on many of the current areas of interest to healthy life extension advocates - if from the outsider's perspective. Centenarian studies, calorie restriction research, genetics and public policy are all given some thought. "Dr. Donald K. Ingram, head of the experimental gerontology lab at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), concedes it could be a decade or more before there is a fundamental breakthrough on life extension, and there may be considerable risks in tampering with the aging process. Nevertheless, he says, 'I think the discovery of some agent that would increase life span by 20 to 30 years is not unreasonable.'" This is now the moderate conservative viewpoint - which means that scientists like Aubrey de Grey have been making progress.
Elixir And Longevity Drugs (October 06 2004)
As noted at MSNBC, "a pill that could extend life by 10 years or more would surely dwarf sales of just about any other drug on the market." But how do you know that the substance you are working on actually extends life by 10 years? "Guarente says [Elixir Pharmaceutical's] initial product likely won't be an anti-aging pill, simply because it would be too difficult to ever win approval for such a drug - clinical trials could well take 70 years." The FDA and similar agencies make it impossible for companies in the US and many other countries to market real healthy life extension medicine - not that anyone has any such thing yet. This regulatory environment ensures that large companies won't fund the most promising longevity research.
Stem Cells To Repair Brain Damage (October 06 2004)
Embryonic stem cell research is making progress despite legislative attacks, it seems - without political interference, we could have been much further ahead by now. Reuters AlertNet reports that UK company ReNeuron is claiming success in repairing stroke damage in rats "and plans to start testing on humans by the end of next year." The company is currently seeking funding to enable development of therapies based on their stem cell work and "also hopes to use stem cells to treat other diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and Parkinson's disease." With recent news from elsewhere in the world, it sounds like a variety of human trials for various embryonic stem cell therapies will be starting up in 2005 and 2006.
Stem Cell Politics - Endgame (October 05 2004)
As the US presidential election - and the California ballot vote - draws near, the political debate over embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning enters its endgame for the year. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan summarizes and comments in an MSNBC article. While he focuses on federal funding restrictions, he does note - unlike most commentators - the much more serious matter of continued efforts to ban therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning is an essential technology for much of the most promising research into regenerative medicine. Threatened anti-research legislation in the US and at the UN has scared away private funding and greatly damaged prospects for early breakthroughs in this field.
Technophysio Evolution (October 05 2004)
Arnold Kling, in an article at Tech Central Station, tells us that "technophysio evolution is the ability of the human species to lengthen its lifespan. This has dramatic effects on the need for saving." He then proceeds to outline the weaker case for reform of social security (and similar wealth transfer programs) based on a very modest increase in life span and existing problems in this largest of Ponzi schemes. However, as I have noted at Fight Aging!, the entire nature of retirement will be changed through the technologies of radical life extension. Existing wealth transfer systems are doomed to failure, but this is a good thing! In exchange, the old regain health, vitality and the ability to be productive citizens once more.
Latest Newsletter, Fight Aging! (October 04 2004)
The latest Longevity Meme newsletter provides a good summary of the best of recent posts to the Fight Aging! blog. We've been watching the scientific debate over programmed aging and examining the financial calculations behind research prizes like the Methuselah Mouse Prize - amongst other topics. "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." If you're not reading Fight Aging! or haven't signed up for the newsletter then you're certainly missing out.
Building New Hearts (October 04 2004)
The Toronto Star reports on the efforts of tissue engineerers to grow the components of hearts, one piece at a time. "When you are born you have a certain number of heart cells. They get bigger but they really don't grow. So if a person's heart is damaged ideally we'd like to take a sample of their heart tissue, expand it and develop living heart cells' paths with their own tissue." Growing replacements for complex organs like the heart from a patient's own cells is the grail of current tissue engineering research. The ability to replace age-damaged organs or tissue as required offers the possibility of greatly extended healthy life spans.