LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
November 01 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.
- How Long Until The Stem Cell Debate Becomes Irrelevant?
- Beware The Stem Cell Frauds
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
HOW LONG UNTIL THE STEM CELL DEBATE BECOMES IRRELEVANT?
A brace of promising stem cell research results appeared in the press over the past few days, signs that - despite the efforts and legislation of anti-research groups - real progress is being made in understanding, identifying and controlling stem cells. In the long run, we would like to be able to turn any cell into a pluripotent stem cell capable of repairing damaged tissue where required. Finding a readily available source of useable multipotent stem cells in adults would be an impressive and very useful advance at this comparatively early stage, however. The good news is that both of these steps forward (or at least sidesteps to avoid anti-research legislation aimed at embryonic research and therapeutic cloning) are currently claimed, if not yet verified by the wider scientific community:
Knowledge is power in medical research. For working regenerative medicine for the masses to become a reality, researchers have to determine a) where to efficiently obtain stem cells capable of changing into all tissue types, and b) how to control these stem cells in order to culture tissue and limit side-effects. It seems unlikely that the required processes are beyond present day biotechnology - it's just that we don't yet know how to do it. Read more about efforts to control and understand stem cell processes here:
"Our bodies are complex machines made up of complex machines; progress in modern medicine is all about understanding and controlling the smallest of these machines. Technologies to halt aging, cancer and disease will eventually result from these efforts. The more public support that exists for this work, the faster it will go and the better our future becomes."
BEWARE THE STEM CELL FRAUDS
Our present lack of knowledge isn't stopping inventive, unethical people in some less regulated parts of the world:
A recent article details unregulated Russian stem cell frauds and pseudoclinics - not exactly a shining example of what can be achieved. Russians seem to have the worst of all worlds: Enormous levels of fraud, a population that doesn't yet seem to have learned the merits of caveat emptor, poor educational infrastructure, an ineffective and overbearing state, and the inability to develop effective private review, rating and monitoring organizations.
"Vladimir Bryntsalov, a Moscow pharmaceutical tycoon, decided last year on the advice of a friend to seek a treatment for the gray hair and wrinkles that come with being 58 years old. He had a potent mixture of human embryonic stem cells injected under his skin. It is a radical procedure with unpredictable results under any circumstances, let alone in a Moscow beauty salon. A few weeks later, Bryntsalov was as gray, wrinkled and tired as ever-and sported several pea-size tumors on his face. He began to doubt that the salon was legitimate. 'They didn't have a laboratory, nothing,' he says. 'Who knows where [the stem cells] came from?'"
Medical procedures in the absence of review are always a risk, no matter how flashy the new technology seems. Stem cell based regenerative medicine holds great promise for our healthy life spans in the years ahead, but only the very earliest therapies that are in human trials now - such as those for heart damage and various types of blindness - will be generally and responsibly available comparatively soon.
The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.
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Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Embryonic Stem Cells Remain In Skin? (October 31 2004)
This research, as reported by EurekAlert, sounds like it will be a major advance for the field of regenerative medicine if it pans out. "Stem cells found in adult skin retain their embryonic capability of making many types of cells. ... We think these stem cells are actually embryonic cells that go out into the skin during development and then stay in reservoirs in hair follicles." Remember that a number of equally promising developments in stem cell science over the past few years have turned out to be false alarms. It is worth following any research that promises readily available multipotent stem cells in adults, however - that is the key to efficient, low cost tissue engineering.
TriStem And Retrodifferentiation (October 31 2004)
The Independent takes a look at TriStem and their claimed retrodifferentiation technology. "A London-based biotech company says it can take an adult human cell from a patient and use it to create a stem cell. If ongoing medical trials being conducted in India to substantiate these claims prove successful, the whole issue will be turned on its head." We'd all like this to work, but it's best to wait for confirmation from the wider scientific community before getting too excited. The ability to create stem cells on demand from a patient's own tissue would certainly be a large step forward for regenerative medicine - although it still leaves the issue of how to deal with age-related damage to DNA.
The Possibilities Of Gene Therapy (October 30 2004)
Science News Online discusses the possibilities offered by muscle-enhancing gene therapies previously demonstrated in mice. The therapeutic possibilities are promising: "Instead of simply supplying a copy of a missing gene, he and others realized that gene therapy could also fortify muscle, bones, and other tissue at the first signs of disease or aging. This approach could slow the progress of muscle wasting from aging or diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis." This is still an early stage technology, however, and some follow on work has demonstrated very undesirable side-effects. Still, the promise of regenerative gene therapy is there and should be pursued.
More NASA Medical Research (October 30 2004)
NASA is engaged in a number of lines of medical research of relevance to healthy life extension. "Wouldn't it be nice if the cells in your body would simply tell you when you're starting to get sick, long before symptoms appear? Or alert you when a tumor is growing, while it's still microscopic and harmless? The ability to detect changes inside of individual cells while those cells are still inside your body would be a boon to medicine. NASA-supported scientists are developing a technology right now that could, if it works, do exactly that." This article looks at the intersection between diagnostic nanomedicine, personalized medicine, and efforts to prevent or repair radiation damage - technologies that should prove very useful in the fight to cure aging.
The "Allowed" Stem Cell Lines (October 29 2004)
The Washington Post has a good overview of the problems facing scientists who are trying to work within current federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. The allowed lines are largely useless for a number of different reasons. "At least five of those colonies 'will never be useful for the clinic' because they are so difficult to grow ... each colony has its own quirky propensity to turn into one kind of body cell or another, suggesting many more than the 22 colonies available will be needed if the field is to reach its full potential to treat a wide variety of failing organs." In conjunction with threatened legislation that has scared away private funding, this situation has caused years of delay in progress towards cures for age-related conditions.
A View Of The Damage Done (October 29 2004)
The damage caused by anti-research legislation, especially that directed at therapeutic cloning, is well illustrated in this UPI article on Advanced Cell Technology. The threat of bans at federal and state levels in the US has scared away private funding and left companies like ACT limping along for years. "Due to a dearth of funding, Lanza said his company has been unable to follow up on promising results in animals and carry out experiments that could lead to life-saving therapies for humans. The financial situation is so dire, the company has at times been unable to afford basic office supplies." This has greatly held back progress in regenerative medicine and following up on promising laboratory work for age-related conditions.
Bone Marrow Into Neurons (October 28 2004)
Medical News Today reports on a successful attempt to "coax bone marrow stem cells into becoming dopamine-producing neurons. If the method proves reliable, the work may ultimately lead to new therapies for neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease, which is marked by a loss of dopamine-making cells in the brain." Scientists are making good progress in learning how to control adult and embryonic stem cells - this work would be going faster in the absence of legislative interference. Ultimately, researchers would like to be able to take any cell and turn it into any other sort of cell ... but that is a long term goal for regenerative medicine. In the meanwhile, the more research the better.
New Cause Of Mental Decline? (October 28 2004)
(From EurekAlert). "In the first study of its type in the world, a team at the University of Edinburgh found that worse mental function is linked with abnormally enlarged channels around blood vessels in the brain. ... The abnormal channels are known as enlarged perivascular spaces. Rare in young, healthy adults, they are very commonly seen in the brain scans of older people, and in conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and high blood pressure." It is an open question as to what this might mean - no mechanism is to hand to explain the link. Basic research like this is very important; we only have the one brain, and it can't be replaced. Understanding the aging brain and developing regenerative medicine that works in situ is vital.
The High Bar For Retinal Regeneration (October 27 2004)
EurekAlert reports on work that would seem to set the high bar for tissue engineering a cure for degenerative blindness. "The key to their success is that they transplant intact, 2-millimetre-square sheets of the upper retinal layer. This preserves the circuitry of the light-sensing cells, as well as the supporting cells that nourish them. Aramant is dismissive of the stem-cell work, pointing out that no one is anywhere near recreating the complex structure of the retina using stem cells." Methods of generating complex tissue from stem cells will catch up - and would seem to be the most ethical way of generating the amount of complex retinal tissue required for this sort of therapy to be widely available.
Ronald Bailey On Nanotechnology (October 27 2004)
Ronald Baily discusses the First Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology at Reason Online. Robert Freitas, author of the Nanomedicine books, is featured: "not only will nanotechnology provide us with a lot of cool stuff and eliminate global poverty, it will also help us live a really long time. In his lecture on "Nanomedicine and Medical Nanorobotics," Freitas predicted that we would see in the next five years biologically active nanoparticles used as diagnostic sensors. He also described a project at the University of Michigan to use tecto-dendrimers, complex tree shaped molecules that could be designed to simultaneously sense and destroy cancer cells." In the longer term, Freitas is looking at how to build and employ nanomedical robots such as his respirocytes.
Type 2 Diabetes Gene Identified (October 26 2004)
ScienceDaily reports that a gene associated with type 2 (largely age-related) diabetes has been identified. "The protein that this gene makes represses the insulin response, so if you are making a lot of this protein, your ability to respond to insulin would be blunted, which would lead to higher glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. If it is too high, that's diabetes. ... There are certainly other genes that contribute to diabetes ... This is good evidence for one." Identifying genes is an important step in modern research. Thanks to advances in bioinformatics it is becoming easier with each passing year to determine all related biochemistry for an age-related condition - if you have identified the genes to use as a starting point.
More Stem Cell Eye Regeneration Work (October 26 2004)
A number of groups are working on stem cell based regenerative therapies for eyes. As noted by the BBC, human adult retinal stem cells have been shown to form the right tissue when implanted into mice: "When their eyes fully developed, the human cells survived, migrated into the sensory part of the eye and formed the correct cells. ... This will help them find out whether retinal stem cells can be used to treat degenerative diseases of the retina such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, which are among the most common forms of blindness in developed countries." This is early stage work, but successful strategies for managing stem cells in one project help to advance many others.
More On Alcor Publicity Push (October 25 2004)
It looks like the Alcor Life Extension Foundation publicity efforts - mentioned here previously - are well underway. "Alcor will be featured in a number of programs in the US, including The History Channel's 'Tactical to Practical' ... This week, Alcor hosted German television channel, ZDF for three days of filming. ... Sky One Television, a British television station, plans to feature Alcor in a pet documentary. ... another production company for Arte TV (French public television) plans to feature Alcor as an example of leading-edge technology. The Entertainment Group of the Netherlands plans to include Alcor in a television program about options for the end of life." We'll all be interested to see what the wider public thinks of cryonics these days.
Calorie Restriction, Free Radicals (October 25 2004)
EurekAlert reports on a study of calorie restriction that focuses on the aging brain. "Since there is evidence that both antioxidants and calorie restriction increase lifespan and reduce aging-related diseases, Dugan and her colleagues hypothesized that calorie restriction, like antioxidants, helps protect the brain against free radical damage. ... Old mice fed normal diets had significantly more superoxide in several regions of the brain than their young counterparts, particularly in one region implicated in Parkinson's disease, called the substantia nigra. But calorie-restricted old mice did not." Interestingly, calorie restriction did not appear to protect against general cognitive decline in this study. We need better medical technology!