Longevity Meme Newsletter, December 06 2004

December 06 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 New Look for the Methuselah Mouse Prize
- Aubrey de Grey News Roundup
- Venture Funding For Life Extension - Looks Promising
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The Methuselah Foundation have launched their new M Prize website to present the Longevity Prize and Rejuvenation Prize aspects of their work:


The prize total has reached $70,000 in cash and will pass $600,000 in total pledges once the latest member of The Three Hundred has been fully welcomed. On that note, I should take a moment to direct you read about The Three Hundred, a group of ordinary folks who are making a serious commitment to the future of health and longevity:


We are a potential tipping point for serious research into ending age-related degeneration; a few dollars given now have great power to effect change. If more of us step forward to support longevity science, the future of healthy life extension for all can be brought closer. We are the pebbles, and together we can create an avalanche.


The BBC ran competing views on the future of healthy life extension from Aubrey de Grey and S. Jay Olshansky last week as a part of their ongoing series on aging. The two essays, representing two of the most vocal groups within the aging research community, were widely read and discussed. I think you'll find this Fight Aging! post - and the articles and entries it references - to be a good read:


You can use Technorati to take a stroll through recent discussion on this topic in blogs and other frequently updated websites. Just following the link below:


I've been particularly impressed by April Smith's contributions - she makes me look like a downright lazy sort of activist. April's CR Diary, in which she discusses a lot more than just calorie restriction, should certainly be on your reading list.



Venture capitalists tend to invest in groups; the level of money and risk they deal in reinforces the human tendency to play it safe. Playing it safe in this context means not investing in unproven new fields and not failing to invest in proven existing fields. Widespread venture funding for a new field tends to start only after a couple of established organizations have been induced into sticking their necks out - but then it takes off with a vengeance.

With this in mind, it's good to see that Sirtris Pharmaceuticals has secured a fair-sized A round of funding, following on from the seed round only a few months back. Sirtris will be working on aspects of genetics and biochemistry related to the health and longevity benefits produced by calorie restriction.


This demonstrates, I hope, that mainstream venture capitalists are starting to bite on the idea of biotechnologies to fight age-related degeneration - and aging itself. It also shows that the business community is getting better at pitching the early technologies of healthy life extension to venture capitalists. You can't yet sell a venture capitalist on something that will make healthy life longer - but you can sell the idea of regulating metabolism or addressing specific age-related disorders such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

I expect to see more companies working on first generation healthy life extension therapies (therapies marketed for specific illnesses but which could also extend healthy life span) successfully obtain funding in the next year.


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



Embryonic Stem Cell Funding In The US (December 05 2004)
The Houston Chronicle provides an itemized list of some of the more noteworthy public and academic embryonic stem cell research initiatives around the United States. Private research initiatives probably represent a similar level of expenditure, but never get as much press. Also noted are those locations that prohibit this and other promising fields leading to regenerative medicine: "Three states have old laws expressly prohibiting research on human embryonic stem cells: Nebraska, South Dakota and Louisiana ... Five states have new laws expressly prohibiting therapeutic cloning or research on cloned embryos: Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota."

After Proposition 71, The CRCC (December 05 2004)
One of the cardinal rules of large scale activism is not to let organization, effort and enthusiasm go to waste after the primary goal has been achieved. Yahoo! News reports that Proposition 71 backers have created the California Research and Cures Coalition (CRCC) with the aim of "educating opinion leaders, elected officials and policy makers, medical professionals, media and the general public about the potential for stem cell research, specific progress in the research fields and public policy developments. Beyond general education, CRCC intends to take a national lead in identifying and developing best practices and standards (medical and ethical) for stem cell research to help expedite discovery of cures and treatments for patients with chronic diseases and injuries."

Why Our Immune System Deteriorates (December 04 2004)
(From News-Medical.net). Scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University have proposed an explanation for the deterioration of the immune system with age. "Throughout our lives, we have a very diverse population of T cells in our bodies. However, late in life this T cell population becomes less diverse ... [one type of cell] can grow to become more than 80 percent of the total [T-cell] population. The accumulation of this one type of cell takes away valuable space from other cells, resulting in an immune system that is less diverse and thus less capable in effectively locating and eliminating pathogens." Assuming this research is validated, work can now start on methods of balancing the cell population to prevent age-related immune system decline.

How Exercise Extends Healthy Life? (December 04 2004)
Betterhumans has been rolling out the good articles of late. Here, we have a possible biochemical explanation for some longevity benefits of exercise: "Perhaps some of the beneficial effects of exercise in human health are the result of the effect of AMP-1 activation on the aging process ... researchers found that by giving extra copies of the enzyme to nematode worms, the worms lived an average of 13% longer than controls. They also report that environmental stressors that activate the enzyme extend lifespan. ... This work supports our premise that aging is highly regulated and extends our list of molecular targets in pathways that affect lifespan by controlling metabolic processes." The work is from Elixir Pharmaceuticals, one of the companies currently pushing the aging research envelope.

Transhumanism And Healthy Life Extension (December 03 2004)
James Hughes debates his transhumanist view of healthy life extension and advancing medical technology in a piece at Radio Netherlands. "We have to keep in mind that looking forward thousands of years the evolution of the human species and whatever its descendents may become is pretty incalculable. But in this century I think we are going to see some pretty dramatic changes. I think we will see the indefinite suspension of ageing by the end of this century. I think we will see quite dramatic accelerations of the potential of human intelligence in this century. We need to think about the consequences for society of an indefinite suspension of the prospect of death, barring accident."

Engineering 1000 Years Of Healthy Life (December 03 2004)
The BBC interviews biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "Ageing is a physical phenomenon happening to our bodies, so at some point in the future, as medicine becomes more and more powerful, we will inevitably be able to address ageing just as effectively as we address many diseases today. I claim that we are close to that point." The opposing point of view is provided by in an essay by S. Jay Olshansky - regular readers will know by now that I'm backing Aubrey de Grey in this debate over feasibility and timelines. If you haven't yet taken the time to read the material at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence and Methuselah Foundation websites, you should certainly do so now.

On Recent Korean Research (December 02 2004)
Over at Reason Online, Ronald Bailey offers his thoughts on the stem cell paralysis therapy recently trialed in South Korea. Many observers are cautious: "I would be very skeptical of drawing any conclusions from one case with no [experimental] controls." So we take a wait and see attitude while encouraging research: "It may well turn out that adult stem cells are good treatments for certain diseases, umbilical cord stem cells work best for others, and embryonic stem cells are better at curing still different maladies. Contrary to the claims of bioconservatives, it is not either adult and umbilical cord stem cells or embryonic ones; for the sake of millions of suffering patients, it's necessary to forge ahead on all three fronts."

More On Adult Stem Cells And Heart Disease (December 02 2004)
Betterhumans reports on attempts to understand how adult stem cells from bone marrow have worked as a therapy for heart damage in some studies. "We set out to confirm, using more stringent criteria, the very appealing strategy of using stem cells from bone marrow to regenerate cardiac muscle, but we found that they never become normal, mature muscle cells. It's clear that the transplanted cells aren't growing, as we once hoped, into heart cells. But they may stimulate growth of new blood vessels into the damaged regions or they may secrete growth factors that promote recovery." Early stage regenerative medicine is moving fast - I expect to see these sorts of questions answered in the next few years.

More Venture Funding For Sirtris (December 01 2004)
Mass High Tech reports on the $13 million A round funding landed by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals - it follows close on the heels of their seed funding earlier this year. Sirtris was founded by David Sinclair to investigate sirtuin enzymes and their role in the health and longevity benefits of calorie restriction. They are "attractive drug targets for metabolism, inflammation, cancer and neurodegeneration." More funding in this area is a good thing - greater understanding of the mechanisms of aging and metabolism should lead to a class of therapies that can extend healthy life span and reduce the risk of suffering age-related conditions. Venture capitalists tend to invest in clusters of related technologies, so we can hope to see similar efforts funded in the years ahead.

How Important Is Therapeutic Cloning? (December 01 2004)
Wired asks how far stem cell research into regenerative medicine can go without using the technology of therapeutic cloning (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer). Therapeutic cloning "will likely be a conduit to therapies, not therapies themselves, at least not until scientists develop much more efficient therapeutic cloning methods. 'The value of nuclear transfer is not for cell therapy, it's to do molecular research to figure out how genetic disease is manifest,' said Tom Okarma, CEO of Geron." Immune reaction to implanted stem cells is a big issue in current research - one that early regenerative therapies are sidestepping by culturing adult stem cells from the patient for reimplantation.

Stress Linked To Short Telomeres (November 30 2004)
(From Betterhumans). With the caution that this is only a single study - and much more work needs to be done - psychological stress appears to be linked to shortened telomeres. These protective caps on the end of your chromosomes regulate the normal process of cell death, get shorter with age, and have been implicated as a cause of cancer. While we don't fully understand these mechanisms yet, it seems clear that having shorter telomeres is not a good thing. Chronic psychological stress is already linked with shorter life spans. Understanding why this is the case would be of great benefit, but it's too early to take this particular study at face value - the link to telomeres is tentative and much more work needs to be done.

Stem Cells Regenerate Muscle (November 30 2004)
The New Scientist reports that Austrian scientists have demonstrated a stem cell treatment to regenerates age-weakened bladder muscles. Stem cells were taken from the patients, cultured, and injected into the bladder sphincter. "Within 24 hours, 90% of the women had no urinary leakage. After two weeks, both doctor and patient could a see a marked increase in muscle tissue and contraction power under the ultrasound. Now, more than a later year, 18 of the 20 women have maintained full control over their bladders ... The team is currently treating eight to 10 women per week and long waiting lists are building up." Why is a similar successful treatment for damaged heart muscle taking so long to get past regulation in the US?

The Uncertain Pill (November 29 2004)
Betterhumans is printing a very helpful piece on Lifeline and Protandim - a new anti-oxidant regulator with nice lab work from Ceremedix (as CMX-1152) behind it. This article goes in depth on the science and the uncertainty; it's not even entirely clear that what is currently branded as Protandim is the same substance as CMX-1152. While I'm sure that Protandim will be well-received by the healthy life extension community (as was resveratrol), it is simply too early to say whether this pill will have any meaningful benefits. The recent history of supplements is littered with substances that did well in the lab, but do nothing when ingested as pills, or whose supposed benefits were later invalidated. Make your own risk-reward calculation for Protandim, but make it an educated choice.

Secrets Of The Aging Kidney (November 29 2004)
The LEF News reports that "for the first time, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have examined how kidneys change at a molecular level with the passage of time." The findings, from different tissue groups within the kidney, suggest that the same changes in gene activity with age occur in all tissue types. This would certainly be hopeful news if verified - dealing with one type of process will require far less time and research funding than if there were a different process for every tissue type in the body. This "study doesn't suggest what factors drive the aging process, only that once it starts it follows the same path even in different organs ... whatever happens once aging begins, the mechanism that kicks off the process is probably genetically determined."



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