Longevity Meme Newsletter, November 15 2004

November 15 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.



- The Scientific Conquest of Death Now Available
- Advertising! Have Your Say
- Update On S. Jay Olshansky
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Lifespans is the first book published by the Immortality Institute. Regular readers here will no doubt recall my mentioning this once or twice while I was helping with the editing process:


This book contains viewpoints, reports, speculation and advice from varied scientists, futurists and philosophers - such as Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, Marvin Minsky, Michael West and Manfred Clynes, as well as familiar names from the transhumanist community like Max More, Robert Freitas, Mike Treder and Nick Bostrom. You can read Stephen Gorden's review at Amazon.com:


He says, "I'm happy to report that the book is a complete success." For my part, biased as I am on this topic, I think you'll find this to be a worthy addition to your coffee table or bookshelf.


I am currently soliciting opinions regarding advertising on the Longevity Meme, Fight Aging! and potentially within this newsletter. As you are probably aware, all advertising revenue from these websites is donated to the Methuselah Foundation to help grow the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research.


At the request of potential (and fortunately reputable) advertisers, I am exploring options other than simple banner ads - potentially bringing in more for the prize fund. I would like to make sure that any changes or additions meet with general approval, however. The Longevity Meme, Fight Aging! and this newsletter are here for your benefit, and thus must remain clean, friendly and useful to readers. If you have opinions or suggestions on this topic, please do jump in and comment in the following post at Fight Aging!:



S. Jay Olshansky was kind enough to comment on an entry in Fight Aging! - my criticism of his views in that entry was ambiguous and looked a lot like criticism of specific research. You can read more here:


After a private e-mail exchange to clear up a few misconceptions, this extended into a brief but educational commentary between myself, Olshansky and Aubrey de Grey. If you are interested in the byplay between the media, science and healthy life extension, then take a look:


I'll finish up by noting that Olshansky is a supporter of aging research, does call for greater funding for this field, and is currently in the process of engaging Aubrey de Grey in written debate on the differences of scientific viewpoint between them. That's good - definitely progress. Now if only he would make an effort to change the way in which he presents himself in the media...


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



Some Centenarian Statistics (November 14 2004)
The Life Extension Foundation News relays some interesting statistics on the health and lifestyle history of participants in the New England Centenarian Study. The majority (80% or so) of those who reach the age of 100 have survived age-related conditions - often for decades - rather than avoided them altogether. This would seem to indicate that genetic and other factors are as important as suspected: "Delaying the onset of these diseases or escaping them entirely does not seem to be the only assurance of a very long life. ... brothers of centenarians are 17 times more likely, and sisters 8 times more likely, to live to at least 100 than the general population."

Hyping Resveratrol (November 14 2004)
The Times lavishes attention on resveratrol, one of the current darlings of the anti-aging marketplace. "It works by binding to a class of proteins called sirtuins which regulate the repair of cells and dramatically boosts their efficiency. Studies have shown that it has an impressive anti-inflammatory action which, in animals, has delayed the process of ageing and increased lifespan by up to 50%." While researchers see promise in a compound that appears to mimic some of the effects of calorie restriction, most responsible observers are suggesting it would still be premature to run out and buy resveratrol supplements. Efficacy in the laboratory is a fair way away from the proven benefits of supplementation.

Fact And Fancy In Stem Cell Business (November 13 2004)
BusinessWeek provides a reality check on progress in commercial research and development of stem cell based regenerative medicine. "The politicization of this has created a whole field of overnight experts who have no clue what they are talking about. Most of them have never seen an embryonic stem cell." The article makes that case that gains in the market due to the passage of Proposition 71 are largely misguided investor enthusiasm - a closer look is required before taking any of it at face value. Commercialization of medical advances is a long, hard road; there is a way to go yet for even the earliest and most promising stem cell therapies.

The Clam Connection (November 13 2004)
Some of the most important medical research taking place right now is also the most basic - learning to understand and control cells and cellular processes. Here, the Boston Herald looks at work on clams and its relevance to future medicine: "The clam eggs are the key. They give scientists an extraordinarily good look at a process that's fundamental to living organisms, from baker's yeast to humans: cell division. When things go wrong in cell division, it can cause disease. ... That's a vital first step in using the clam to discover the root causes of baffling human ailments, including cancer, muscular dystrophy, premature aging and diabetes. ... The molecular basis for disease might be variable. We're trying to understand all the molecules involved."

Attitudes Towards Later Life Must Change (November 12 2004)
The BBC singles out one area in which attitudes towards later life must change: "We live in an ageist society and it is a society that has not adjusted to the increased life expectancy that we have." If advocates and researchers are successful in ensuring even greater gains in life span over the next few decades, the need for change will become more pressing. This is not to say that the top-down legislative approach is the right one - far from it, since it is precisely these top-down policies (such as fixed retirement ages and Ponzi-scheme benefits) that cause many of the current problems. Advocacy, education and the increasing ability of fit, healthy, smart seniors to participate in society should do the job in the long term.

US Pushing UN Therapeutic Cloning Ban (November 12 2004)
As reported at CNN, US ambassadors to the United Nations are still pushing hard for a vote to ban therapeutic cloning: "A General Assembly panel is headed for a close vote next week on a plan for an anti-cloning treaty put forward by the United States and Costa Rica." This technology is vital to much of the most important stem cell research - including attempts to cure common age-related degenerative conditions. While a UN ban would likely be ignored by countries like the UK, it would provide further impetus for pending criminalization of research in the US. I strongly suggest that you contact your elected representatives and let them know exactly what you think of these dangerous, anti-research initiatives.

Public Presentation Of Healthy Life Extension Science (November 11 2004)
S. Jay Olshansky was kind enough to comment on one of my Fight Aging! posts critical of his mainstream media declarations on the prospects for healthy life extension. This extended into an educational three-way commentary between myself, Olshansky and Aubrey de Grey (proponent of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence initiative). We each have interesting differences of opinion on this topic - differences that I feel have a material effect on the prospects for funding in rejuvenative research. If you take an interest in the way in which science, activism, funding, the mainstream media and healthy life extension interact, I suggest that you take a look.

European View Of Proposition 71 (November 11 2004)
An article in the Guardian provides the European take on the passage of Proposition 71 in California. "People decided they weren't interested in waiting, that this science needed to be pursued aggressively. They said if the US isn't going to do this as a country, then let's make California do it. ... In some respects, Proposition 71 is one of the great bright lights of this election, it's a very healthy amount of money and we're very pleased it got passed. The problem is, it's so healthy, that those of us outside California are pretty concerned. What do we do to compete?" I'm still of the opinion that removing the threat of criminalization is more important than providing government funding - since the potential private funding pool is much larger.

Competition Works Wonders (November 10 2004)
Competition is what keeps people comparatively honest and working hard, even in government it seems. Newsday reports on competition between biotech hubs in California and New Jersey in the wake of Proposition 71 funding for embryonic stem cell research. New Jersey business developers are concerned that many biotechnology companies will move work to California - which seems very likely under the circumstances. Massachusetts politicians are also under pressure to make their state more hospitable to stem cell research. So while the threat of federal anti-research legislation remains, it looks like state legislative environments will become less threatening where it matters.

Basic Stem Cell Research Proceeding (November 10 2004)
From the long term perspective, the most basic stem cell research taking place at the moment is also the most important: "We want to learn more about stem cells over the lifetime of a human and why they seem to quit working as we age. Is it because the stem cells are becoming depleted. Is it because stem cells are dying out and not being replaced? Is it because you have other hormones being produced that interfere with the action of stem cells?" The range and effectiveness of potential regenerative therapies will expand as we learn more about stem cells - how to control them and how they actually work. With that in mind, it's good to see that research programs are underway.

The Nuts And Bolts Of Mental Decline (November 09 2004)
Intriguing research into the mechanisms of age-related mental decline is discussed at Betterhumans. Scientists have identified a very low-level process in neurons that can be tweaked to at least partially negate "the cognitive decline that affects about 40% of people over 65. Although scientists don't know the exact cause of age-related mental decline, studies have implicated decreases in neuronal excitability as well as decreases in synaptic plasticity - basically, the ability of brain cells to change connections. ... the ion channel-altered mice retained neuronal excitability into old age and had greater synaptic plasticity." This is early stage work, of course, but - like all research on the brain - very important to the big picture of regenerative medicine.

On The Evolution Of Aging (November 09 2004)
A recent study on fish from areas of high and low predation is challenging evolutionary theories of senescence, the rate at which animals degenerate with age. "We instead found that senescence was a mosaic of traits. ... The composite picture is that all of these fish deteriorate with age, but the comparative rates of deterioration is a mix of responses, most of which do not correspond to classical theory." As is usually the case, an aspect of biology is proving to be more complex than first imagined. "The differences between these results and the classical predictions gives cause to take the new, more derived, theories for the evolution of the aging process more seriously."

Closing In On Alzheimer's Genes (November 08 2004)
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center are "confident that we may be closing in on new Alzheimer's genes." If verified, these would be the first genes found to increase Alzheimer's risk in a decade: "Researchers think that Alzheimer's is caused by the interaction of several different genes, but so far only one gene, ApoE4, has been linked conclusively to the disease. Finding the other genes will be a huge step toward understanding how Alzheimer's begins and how it can be treated." Modern bioinformatics allows scientists to work rapidly towards understanding the mechanisms of a condition from the basis of identified genes, so genetic discovery is a noteworthy landmark in the research process.

US Therapeutic Cloning Ban Update (November 08 2004)
Wired reports on the US ban on therapeutic cloning, a single Senate vote away from becoming law since 2003. "Brownback's and Weldon's legislation would outlaw therapeutic cloning in the United States. The bills would also ban importation of any medical products created using the technology in other countries. Punishment would be up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine." Therapeutic cloning is vital to much of the most important research into regenerative medicine and cures for age-related conditions. This pending ban has done a great deal of damage to private investment in stem cell research - it's time for it to be removed. Contact your elected representatives today!



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