LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
November 29 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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- First Methuselah Mouse Rejuvenation Prize Awarded
- On the Reading List This Week: The Genomics Age
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
FIRST METHUSELAH MOUSE REJUVENATION PRIZE AWARDED
The inaugural award for the Methuselah Mouse Rejuvenation Prize (or M Prize) went to Stephen Spindler last week for his work on calorie restriction in older mice:
"Dr. Spindler's research was astounding because it began with mice that were in middle age. This research, first reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science achieved decisive increases of 15% average and maximum lifespan, AND was accompanied by significant early reductions of deaths from cancer. The fact that mice actually became younger was verified by genetic microarray analysis."
While we already knew that calorie restriction extended mouse life span, this fills in some important gaps regarding the plasticity of aging in mice in response to treatments starting in later life. When it comes to translating work on mice to work in humans, I suspect that you, I, and most other folks will be paying for the ability to slow or reverse aging in later life. We're all going to be there - in "later life" - by the time treatments become available, even if all goes well in the research community.
The M Prize is one in a series of efforts to ensure that scientific research into aging and rejuvenation does indeed go well. It helps to bring recognition and prestige to important research such as that carried out by Stephen Spindler - and by extension, to the entire field. At this point in time, aging and rejuvenation research is still poorly funded and receives comparatively little serious attention inside and outside the scientific community. This is a terrible state of affairs for all of us, given the future of age-related disease and degeneration that we face - but the Methuselah Foundation initiatives are a step in the right direction.
You can help to support the Methuselah Mouse Rejuvenation Prize and the Methuselah Foundation with a modest donation. What better use for that loose change than to encourage scientists to bring about longer, healthier lives for all?
ON THE READING LIST THIS WEEK: THE GENOMICS AGE
A review copy of The Genomics Age by Gina Smith turned up on my doorstep this week. I had fallen into a lunch engagement with the author and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey a few months back, and this package was one result. The book is a wide-ranging, popular science examination of what genetics means for the near future of medicine, medical research, health, longevity and society. Not surprisingly, Aubrey de Grey gets a good mention - in a chapter entitled "The Fountain of Aging Well," he and aging researcher Richard Miller outline their respective visions for the future of scientific rejuvenation. You can read Aubrey de Grey's side straight from the source at his Cambridge University website, of course:
The Genomics Age is aimed at the neophyte: it strives to present complex science in a simple, accessible manner and is written in a very jaunty style. It is a good gift for science-phobic family members or friends who would appreciate the current revolution in medicine and the future of healthy life extension - if they would just give it a chance.
Far too few attempts are made to engage the broader public on the topic of radical life extension, or even cutting edge medical research for that matter. Given my views on the value of education and advocacy for the largest possible audience, I would be happy to see more books like The Genomics Age on the shelves.
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
Swiss Vote For Embryonic Stem Cell Research (November 28 2004)
SwissInfo reports that the Swiss voted a strong yes on strictly regulated embryonic stem cell research in a recent national poll. "The new law on stem-cell research won the backing of 66.4 per cent of Swiss voters. In French-speaking western Switzerland the percentage was even higher. Canton Geneva recorded the highest level of support at 84.5 per cent. The new legislation will permit research on stem cells from surplus human embryos under strict conditions. The production of stem cells will be limited to embryos not older than seven days." Unfortunately, therapeutic cloning remains banned - which greatly limits the possibilities open to Swiss researchers in this field.
Longevity Research And "Balanced Reporting" (November 28 2004)
It's somewhat sad that journalists feel the need to play the "balanced reporting" game for longevity science. This Newsday article presents outrageous minority views - calls for the enforced continuation of mass death, suffering and disease - as though they have equal weight and merit as support for medical research and longer, healthier lives. Meanwhile, to quote aging researcher Richard Miller: "For every $100 [the National Institutes of Health] spends on research in biomedicine, exactly 6 cents are spent on research focusing on the mechanism of aging. If what we do in mice were applied to people, many 100-year-olds would be as vigorous as today's 75-year-olds." We need more support and more research!
Cancer And Stem Cells (November 27 2004)
We already know that cancer and aging share, effect and stem from many of the same biochemical and cellular processes. Now it appears that there may also be a significant overlap between stem cell repair and cancer mechanisms. "There is growing evidence that stem cells gone awry in their efforts to repair tissue damage could help explain why long-term irritation, such as from alcohol or heartburn, can create a breeding ground for certain cancers. ... If these stem cells are the starting point of some cancers, multiple genetic and other changes may be required to trap the stem cell during chronic irritation, and perhaps many more changes to get the rapid growth of cancer. We need to figure out what those changes might be."
Obesity Leads To Debilitating Conditions (November 27 2004)
(From InfoAging). This point can never be made too many times: "Obese men and women suffer more commonly from a host of potentially deadly and debilitating conditions than people with more slender builds." Even a little excess weight significantly raises the risk of suffering numerous age-related conditions, but obesity is far worse for your health, finances and life span. "Men [with a body mass index of 35 or higher] were eight times more likely to have diabetes, five times more likely to have high blood pressure or knee replacements, four times more likely to have congestive heart failure and three times more likely to report impotence." If you want to live a longer, healthier life, keeping off the fat has to be fairly high on the priority list.
Optimism From Aging Researchers (November 26 2004)
Optimism for aging research is on display in the South Bend Tribune. "Aging is really a set of processes. They converge and interact with each other. There is a high level of excitement now with aging research. ... Aging research has come of age. The key finding is that aging is plastic, that it can be manipulated ... There is a lot of interest from (large pharmaceutical companies) that was not there two years ago. ... Current research suggests that aging seems to be governed by interaction between the neurons in the brain and hormones such as insulin ... What we don't know is whether the head is the weak link in aging or (if it) is sort of a master control. The excitement in the field is that these studies offer the possibility of rational therapeutic interventions. It is no longer just philosophical. Now we can get going."
Paralysis Successfully Treated (November 26 2004)
The Korea Times reports that researchers in that country have successfully treated a case of paralysis due to spinal injury with stem cell transplantation from umbilical cord blood. "The stem cell transplantation was performed on Oct. 12 this year and in just three weeks she started to walk with the help of a walker." This is a good example of the sort of first generation therapies - comparatively simple transplants - that are being trialed for a variety of currently incurable conditions. This is particularly poignant given the recent death of paralysed advocate Christopher Reeve. How much sooner could this therapy have come about without political opposition to stem cell research? How many more lives have been lost as politicians try to hold back the advance of medical science?
Proposed Stem Cell Funding In Illinois (November 25 2004)
JSOnline reports on the latest set of US state legislators to float the idea of local public funding for embryonic stem cell research. In this case, they are "proposing a 6% tax on face lifts and other cosmetic procedures to finance $1 billion in stem cell research over 10 years. Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes wants the so-called 'nip-tuck tax' proposal put on the ballot as a referendum in 2006." The passage of Proposition 71 in California is inspiring debate and funding proposals in a number of other states - most notably New Jersey, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Illinois legislators recently narrowly rejected a proposal to approve embryonic stem cell research in the state - but it is clear that local debate is still continuing.
Sweden Permits Therapeutic Cloning (November 25 2004)
Sweden becomes the latest European nation to explicitly permit regulated embryonic stem cell research and the associated technology of therapeutic cloning (or somatic cell nuclear transfer, as it is referred to in this article). "It is hoped that stem cell research will be able to lead to new methods of treatment for serious, currently incurable diseases like Parkinson's disease, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases. It is also hoped that it will be possible to repair serious tissue damage such as injuries to spinal bone marrow. The objective is to replace dead cells with healthy ones and in this way restore functions that have been lost." Has the tide turned past the point of serious political opposition to this vital field of research? We can certainly hope so.
Scientific Divisions Over Healthy Life Extension (November 24 2004)
This SignsOnSanDiego article gives a brief look at the way in which the scientific community is divided on the subject of extending healthy life span. "The good news is that most scientists think human life expectancies can be substantially stretched." The public debate taking place today is over how much stretching can take place, and how soon new medical technology can be developed - this debate greatly influences research funding. Personally, I think that the faction represented by S. Jay Olshansky is taking an unreasonable position. The technology and models proposed by Aubrey de Grey for the future of serious anti-aging research are much more plausible - far better to get on and solve the problem of aging than to extrapolate a gloomy prognosis based on historical data on aging!
The Evidence For Calorie Restriction (November 24 2004)
SignOnSanDiego takes a look at some of the science backing calorie restriction as the only currently available way of even modestly extending healthy human life span. "A human study by John O. Holloszy, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, published earlier this year noted that 18 people who had been practicing CR for three to 15 years showed dramatically reduced risk of developing diabetes or clogged arteries.
... It's very clear that calorie restriction has a powerful, protective effect against diseases associated with aging ... We don't know how long each individual actually will end up living, but they certainly have a much longer life expectancy than average because they're most likely not going to die from a heart attack, stroke or diabetes."
Betterhumans On The Rejuvenation Prize (November 23 2004)
Betterhumans gives more background on the research behind the inaugural award of the Methuselah Mouse Rejuvenation Prize. "The research showed conclusively that mice fed a calorie-restricted diet in middle age had fewer age-related diseases and lived longer than mice on normal diets, suggesting that the intervention and drugs that mimic it could provide the same benefits to middle-aged humans. Spindler worked on the project with scientists from Campbell, California-based BioMarker Pharmaceuticals Inc., which is working to develop drugs that reproduce the beneficial effects of caloric restriction." By recognizing and rewarding this sort of early rejuvenation research, the Methuselah Foundation hopes to encourage more and better progress towards healthy life extension in the future.
First Methuselah Mouse Rejuvenation Prize Awarded (November 23 2004)
The Methuselah Foundation is happy to report that they have awarded the first Rejuvenation Prize to Stephen Spindler, who led "the first experiment to achieve rejuvenation in middle-aged mice, making them biologically younger while extending their lifespans." The Methuselah Foundation prize fund is supported by public donations - by people like you and I who wish to make a tangible difference to the future of medicine, health and longevity. Donors include the "X PRIZE Foundation, Foresight Institute, the Life Extension Foundation, Dr. William Haseltine -- Founder of Human Genome Sciences and Dr. Raymond Kurzweil -- noted futurist and entrepreneur." I encourage you all to step up to the plate and make a donation that will help to invigorate serious anti-aging research!
Advances In Engineering Blood Vessels (November 22 2004)
Newswise reports on an advance in tissue engineered blood vessels (TEVs). Blood vessel development is currently a sticking point for the on-demand growth of replacement organs and other complex tissue. Scientists are making progress, however: "We have shown that fibrin-based vessels can be implanted in vivo, remain patent and support blood flow rates for 15 weeks. ... "It's not a stretch to extrapolate that these TEVs could remain functional in the long term because the animals presented no adverse effects .. the TEVs performed like native vessels 15 weeks after implantation ... exhibited excellent "remodeling," producing collagen and elastin, and had increased their mechanical strength by more than a factor of three."
Timeline For Regenerative Deafness Cure (November 22 2004)
(From the The Scotsman). UK scientists are projecting a 10 to 15 year timeline for curing deafness using regenerative medicine based on embryonic stem cell research. This is much in line with projections for other similar initiatives to treat degenerative conditions using stem cells. "Researchers from Sheffield University are using embryonic stem cells in efforts to grow new cells in the inner ear. ... during the 10 months of research conducted so far it had been shown that stems cells from the sensory nerves could be regrown in the damaged area, potentially leading to the return of hearing." As a general rule, it takes a decade to get from the laboratory to full commercialization - while modern science is getting faster and cheaper, the old regulatory and human costs are staying much the same.