Longevity Meme Newsletter, November 22 2004

November 22 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 will the 2004 election outcome impact old age policies?

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- No United Nations Therapeutic Cloning Ban
- Taking Stock of Progress
- Read Excerpts From Fantastic Voyage
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


One item of good news from last week is that politicians at the United Nations couldn't get an anti-research treaty underway.


Some form of ambiguous non-binding declaration will be issued instead as a face-saving measure. Thank you to all of you who contacted your elected representatives at some point in this long process. A UN treaty restricting freedom of research would have given support to anti-research factions the world over in their local fights to slow and restrict medical research - fortunately, that threat has been averted.


Despite anti-research efforts, progress is being made in establishing the foundations of 21st century stem cell medicine - albeit more slowly than we would like. Stem cell based regenerative medicine - and the biochemical, cellular and genetic knowledge that comes with it - is the most promising field for incidental healthy life extension in the near term.

We can hope that the tide of public support, funding and actual scientific progress has turned this year. In just the past week, Geron has been loudly proclaiming new embryonic stem cell research results while Wisconsin politicians became the latest to declare major funding plans for embryonic stem cell research. Incremental progress from laboratories around the world continues to add up. I suspect it will now be much harder for the US senate to push through the pending bill criminalizing the vital technology of therapeutic cloning - and a good thing too. Now if that obnoxious bill could just be buried completely, so that it stops scaring away private funding...


Despite this progress, it is still the case that directed research aimed at extending the healthy human life span - or even at simply understanding the aging process - is comparatively poorly funded. Progress on all levels has been made in the past few years, but there is a long way to go yet in comparison to growth fields like regenerative medicine. While cheering on advances in areas that will (incidentally) improve our health and lengthen our lives, we must continue to push for more funding and awareness of aging and serious anti-aging research:



While I have my issues with the principle focus of Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman's latest work, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough To Live Forever, I think that the view they present for the future of healthy life extension and medical research has considerable merit. You can read my distillation of that viewpoint, taken from the book, as the latest Longevity Meme article:



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



Stem Cell Therapy For Stroke Damage? (November 21 2004)
Yahoo! News reports that Brazilian scientists will begin limited trials in the use of a stem cell therapy to treat stroke damage. "The patient ... lost movement in the right side of her body and could not understand other people or communicate with them. Bone-marrow cells from her body were slowly infused in the middle cerebral artery through a catheter on the fifth day after her stroke. After 17 days she was discharged, having recovered movements, comprehension and some speech, with further improvements reported in the following months." Researchers emphasise that this recovery could be natural, but are optimistic about the prospects of a wider clinical trial.

Stem Cells Everywhere, It Seems (November 21 2004)
Betterhumans reports on more progress in discovering and manipulating human stem cells: "Adult muscle holds stem cells that could be used to treat nerve and muscle diseases. ... Until a few years ago, muscle cells were thought to be capable of generating muscle fibers only. ... But more recent studies have pointed to the power of these cells to differentiate into mesenchymal cells." Many parts of the human body are turning out to hold stem cells that can be differentiated into several other types of cell and used to build regenerative therapies. These are still early days for the science of regenerative medicine, however. There is a long, interesting and potentially very beneficial road ahead.

Regenerative Medicine For Cartilage (November 20 2004)
Science Daily reports on successful efforts to grow cartilage outside the body - in this case using biodegradable scaffolds and "an innovative bioreactor, which creates mechanical stimulation that builds the tissue." Growing replacement cartilage is a good step forward because "the regenerative ability of cartilage tissue in cases of damage or wear is very limited and nearly non-existent in adults." Age-related joint damage is a big health problem in and of itself, but it also tends to compound other health issues by restricting physical activity. This is one of the many areas in which regenerative medicine can help mitigate the damage of aging.

On Scientific Freedom And Health (November 20 2004)
With the prospect of a UN treaty banning therapeutic cloning now fading, eyes turn to the pending criminalization of this vital technology in the US. Newswise presents some cogent thoughts: "Republican Senators could be voting on acceptable ways to mend a broken heart. I am not referring to reaching out to disappointed Democrats, but rather to the debate on whether the U.S. government should ban embryonic stem-cell research, and its ultimate application in medicine - therapeutic cloning. As they consider the issue, I hope that everyone will weigh the words I recently saw carved in marble on the Thomas Jefferson memorial: 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'"

Slowly Expanding Aging Research (November 19 2004)
RedNova reports on one part of the slow expansion of aging research in larger institutions - the opening of a new biogerontology laboratory at Newcastle University in the UK. "Better understanding of ageing is essential if we are to address the challenges of age-related disability and disease and improve the quality of life for older people. Our research focuses on the mechanisms of ageing and why damage to key molecules such as DNA and proteins leads to chronic disorders in later life." Knowledge is power in medical research - the more we have, the better our lives will be. Newcastle Institute for Ageing and Health researchers have already made important contributions to our understanding of the aging process; we hope to see more of that in the future.

Incidental Life Extension Statistics (November 19 2004)
What benefits to life span have been incidentally derived from advances in medical technology? I think we're all aware of the underlying reasons for large gains in life expectancy - but comparatively little has been gained in the extension of healthy old age: "In 1900, the average 65-year-old could expect another 12 years of life, on average. A century later, in 2000, life expectancy post-65 had increased to 19 years for women and 16 years for men. Similarly, in 1900, 85-year-old Americans could expect an additional four years of life. By 2000, that statistic increased seven years for women and six years for men." Clearly, incidental life extension only gets us so far - we need more directed research into the untreated mechanisms of aging.

Geron Working On Diabetes Therapy (November 18 2004)
Geron has been rolling out tangible results for human embryonic stem cell work of late - a good thing given the current anti-research political atmosphere. The closer science is to cures, the harder it will be for politicians to be shut down or ban research. This latest Geron press release describes progress towards regenerative medicine for diabetes: "Insulin-producing cells can be differentiated from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). ... Differentiation of pancreatic islet cells from embryonic stem cells is very challenging and protocols reported from work with mouse embryonic stem cells have not proven useful for human embryonic stem cells. We are focused on improving the yield and purity of hESC-derived islet cells to advance our preclinical studies in models of diabetes."

Wisconsin To Invest In Stem Cell Research (November 18 2004)
Wired reports that Proposition 71 funding in California is continuing to have effects elsewhere - Wisconsin in this case. "Gov. Jim Doyle announced plans Wednesday to invest nearly $750 million to support human embryonic stem cell research and other medical experiments. The governor wants to use a combination of public and private money to build two research centers and support scientists studying infectious disorders, cardiovascular illnesses and Alzheimer's disease." Much of this proposal is speculative (subject to private backing and a vote in the state legislature), but it shows that organizations elsewhere in the US are concerned about a brain drain to California. Competition is a good thing, even in the realm of government funding, it seems.

Ronald Bailey On UN Therapeutic Cloning Ban (November 17 2004)
(From Reason Online). Ronald Bailey weighs in on the current attempts to ban therapeutic cloning at the UN. This piece provides good context and background for those arriving late to the debate. Therapeutic cloning produces "embryonic stem cells that are virtually genetically identical to those of the person who donated the adult cell's nucleus. This means that tissues and cells produced using them would not be rejected by the donor's immune system, and thus would make perfect transplants for the donor." A swathe of the most important research into regenerative medicine and cures for age-related conditions depends on this technology. A UN ban would lend support to those groups attempting to force a ban in the US.

Extracts From Fantastic Voyage (November 17 2004)
Jump in and read the latest Longevity Meme article, composed of excerpts taken from Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. While I may not agree with all of the book's focus, I think that the authors do a good job of articulating an expansive, ambitious, but ultimately sensible agenda for the future of healthy life extension and related medical research. This path to the future is often taken as read (and for granted) within the healthy life extension community - but we can never say these things too loudly or too often! Education for the purpose of generating public support for serious anti-aging research is vital to our future health and longevity. It's that view that I hope I've captured with this article.

US Still Pushing UN Therapeutic Cloning Ban (November 16 2004)
Ivanhoe reports that, barring further upsets, "a United Nations General Assembly panel will vote this Friday, Nov. 19, on an anti-cloning treaty put forward by the United States and Costa Rica." A United Nations ban on therapeutic cloning, a vital technology for the most promising research into regenerative medicine, would be a blow to the fight for freedom of research in many countries - including the US. "We have to listen to our scientists, listen to our physicians and by all means listen to the millions of people that are suffering with diseases. Eventually, this science will advance. I think the question is: How many millions of lives might we lose? How much suffering will take place before we find the true benefits of this research?"

News From Elixir Pharmaceuticals (November 16 2004)
A press release notes a new license and research direction. "Elixir Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced today that it has licensed intellectual property [relating to] NaCT-1, a human ortholog of the longevity gene, INDY ... Our research suggests that aging is a carefully regulated metabolic process. The INDY gene product is an excellent example of an anti-aging target that has been proven to play a role in the cellular regulation of lipid and carbohydrate metabolism. ... a drug that inhibits NaCT-1 may provide a pharmacological means to reduce fat and cholesterol synthesis and thus enable control of [excess lipids, cholesterol and body fat] ... Elixir has an interest in the NaCT-1 transporter as a drug target for the development of pharmaceuticals to improve human health and prolong youthfulness."

Telomerase To Fix Immune System Aging (November 15 2004)
EurekAlert notes that UCLA researchers have demonstrated that telomerase - a telomere-extending protein - can be used to prevent the premature aging of the immune system. "Immune cells that fight HIV are under constant strain to divide ... This massive amount of division shortens these cells' telomeres prematurely. So the telomeres of a 40-year-old person infected with HIV resemble those of a healthy 90-year-old person." This sort of premature aging is the result of a part of your body running at an accelerated rate - but with telomerase, "immune cells could divide endlessly. They grew at a normal rate and didn't show any chromosomal abnormalities that might lead to cancer." This research opens up possibilities far beyond the obvious benefits to HIV-infected people.

Good News On Stem Cell Lines (November 15 2004)
There are two pieces of good news for embryonic stem cell science in this report from the The Australian. Firstly, a Melbourne company is allowing free, unconditional access to a new embryonic stem cell line, with more to come in the future: "The company planned to release five more stem-cell lines over the next two years." This is an interesting varient on open source development strategies; the company plans to profit indirectly from its altruism. Secondly, this line only cost $100,000 to develop! This comparatively low price point (itself a sign of advancing technological prowess in the field) indicates that we should be seeing many more lines becoming available in the future - an essential condition for real progress in regenerative medicine.



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