Longevity Meme Newsletter, December 13 2004

December 13 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.



- Aubrey de Grey Profiled
- Werner's Syndrome and Aging Research
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


You should definitely take the time today to read the long, fascinating and irreverent profile of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey in Popular Science:



Werner's syndrome is less severe than Progeria, the other well-known premature aging disorder, but it is still horrible enough - those with the condition do not tend to live much past 50 and many die of cancer in middle age. You may recall that Progeria was recently determined to actually be accelerated aging rather than simply having the appearance of accelerated aging:


This is an important distinction for scientists, as it means that we can learn a great deal about the normal aging process through studying - and developing a cure for - Progeria. It now seems that Werner's syndrome (WS) could be equally valuable in this respect. A comparison of changes in gene expression has illustrated the strong similarities between this condition and normal aging:


"Transcription alterations in WS were strikingly similar to those in normal aging: 91% of annotated genes displayed similar expression changes in WS and in normal aging, 3% were unique to WS, and 6% were unique to normal aging. We propose that a defect in the transcription of the genes as identified in this study could produce many of the complex clinical features of WS. The remarkable similarity between WS and normal aging suggests that WS causes the acceleration of a normal aging mechanism."

Is Werner's syndrome another form of accelerated aging? Why does it differ from Progeria in symptoms and severity? The gene expression study suggests that we will learn a great deal about the mechanisms of aging from further research into Werner's syndrome regardless of the final answer to these questions.

In other news, a recent study of the biochemistry of Werner's syndrome has implicated a faulty telomere mechanism as a root cause of accelerated aging:


Telomeres are caps at the ends of our chromosomes, protecting our DNA from damage. They grow shorter throughout the body as we age, but are a vital part of the normal mechanism of programmed cell death and turnover in cell populations. Cancer is thought to be caused by malfunctions in telomere processes - malfunctions that are much more likely to occur as telomeres become shorter. This would explain why cancer is an age-related condition: one of Aubrey de Grey's proposed seven engineering fixes for aging is lengthening of telomeres throughout the body:


This new Werner's syndrome research has uncovered a way in which telomeres can be abruptly truncated: "Telomeres are like ticking clocks, normally shortening when cells divide and initiating cell death when they get too short. But without [a particular protein, missing in Werner's sufferers], Karlseder and colleagues found, telomeres can often be lost instead of just shortening. The researchers believe that the lost telomeres can lead to chromosomal instability that can result in cancer. This could explain why many Werner's sufferers die of cancer by middle age."

Telomeres play a central role inside our cells, and thus also in aging and cancer - two very important areas of research. It is not surprising to see telomeres showing up in any related field of science. At this point in time, any and all basic research into telomeres should pay off handsomely in the long run. We need to fully understand our cellular processes if we are to use this knowledge to fight aging and extend our healthy life spans.



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



The Future Of Human Health And Longevity (December 12 2004)
Leonid Gavrilov (noted for the reliability theory of aging) discusses the future at the Science Advisory Board. "Did you ever wonder how long will you be around and able to enjoy life? Or are you assuming that this question is irrelevant because you are not old? What do you think about the promise of forthcoming life extension offered by some scientists? Or perhaps you have more trust in an advanced discount-offer from your local funeral director? ... Pessimistic forecasts are usually flawed because of one hidden assumption [that] tomorrow will be more or less similar to what we have today. ... it is fundamentally flawed when applied to the progress in human knowledge and technology." You might find his Longevity Meme article on aging research and attitudes within the scientific community to be interesting as well.

More On Skin Stem Cells (December 12 2004)
Medical News Today reports on evidence for a type of multipotent stem cell in hair follicles that persists into adulthood. "Studies in the mouse showed that neural crest stem cells from adult hair follicles are able to differentiate into neurons, nerve supporting cells, cartilage/bone cells, smooth muscle cells, and pigment cells. Preliminary data indicate that equivalent stem cells reside in human hair follicles." If verified, this offers an easier path to regenerative medicine for a wide range of age-related degenerative conditions - trials over the past few years have already demonstrated the process of extracting adult stem cells, culturing and reimplanting them in the body.

Reviewing Fantastic Voyage (December 11 2004)
Enter Stage Right is running a review of Fantastic Voyage, the healthy life extension book from Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. "As Kurzweil and Grossman point out, little changes like cutting down on the amount of salt and sugar in your diet or a moderate exercise program can do wonders for your health and longevity. Just as importantly they also evangelize the reader to take a proactive approach to their health ... Whether or not you make to 5000 years of age depends largely on whether the promise of new future technologies is fulfilled. In that sense Fantastic Voyage is an optimistic work, dreaming of a soon to be realized future where we will be able to rebuild our bodies and minds at will."

Equating Obesity And The Wear Of Aging (December 11 2004)
Excess weight is bad for your long-term health and longevity - all that additional fat works hard to damage your biochemistry over time. The LEF News reports on a study showing that obesity has much the same effect on ability to work and risk of disease as 20 years of additional aging. 20 years! "The study identified specific correlations between obesity and cardiovascular disease risk factors, and found that the health risks are the same as if the employees aged 20 years. Obese employees have higher prevalence rates of serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease." At the other end of the scale, it is suspected that some of the health gains resulting from calorie restriction stem from reduced weight and fat.

Done With Death (December 10 2004)
TechNewsWorld takes a favorable look at The Scientific Conquest of Death, the first book of essays from the Immortality Institute. "A group of well-respected scientists and theorists take on the biological and philosophical arguments against radically extending the human life span. ... it is an entirely human response to try to fix problems that are harming people -- including death. Some 150,000 people die globally every day. ... it does seem rather odd that we aren't demanding a solution now. Perhaps one reason is that we live in a culture of death -- a culture that has convinced us that death is natural, good, and impossible to fight against, so we shouldn't even try. But we should try, and as this book shows, some very smart people are currently engaged in finding the solutions." And these folks need your support!

Tissue Engineering For The TMJ (December 10 2004)
(From EurekAlert). Scientists are making progress in growing simple tissue and small replacement parts for the body. "A central feature of the [temporomandibular joint, or TMJ] is a thin sheet of cartilage about the size of a postage stamp that sits between the mandible and the skull. Called the TMJ disc, this sliver of cartilage cannot heal itself if it is injured or damaged. Approximately 70 percent of all TMJ disorders result from TMJ disc displacement, and there are no synthetic materials that can replace a damaged or injured TMJ disc. Rice's new TMJ tissue engineering program aims to develop methods for growing replacement TMJ discs that can be implanted without risk of rejection because they will be grown from a patient's own cells." This is a good step towards much more complex tissue engineering.

Targeting Diabetes (December 09 2004)
(From the Union Leader). Like heart disease, diabetes is one of the first age-related conditions to be targeted by scientists working on stem cell based regenerative medicine. "Some of the first steps needed to fashion a true stem cell treatment for diabetes already have been taken. How stem cells might work for diabetics seems remarkably straightforward - in concept, if not in details. ... That is fueling intense research at many centers, including UCSF, where scientists are trying to discover the biological signals a stem cell needs to morph into an insulin-secreting cell. [Stem cells] could be a wellspring of transplant material for diabetics with no other options." More than just transplants too: stem cell medicine offers the possibility of full cures for this and other degenerative diseases.

Popular Science Profiles Aubrey de Grey (December 09 2004)
You'll find a long, irreverent and fascinating profile of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey at Popular Science today. The Methuselah Mouse Prize gets a good mention too: "One of the advisers to the Methuselah Foundation is no less a scientific entrepreneur than Peter Diamandis, whose X Prize helped wrap people's minds around another initially implausible idea, commercial spaceflight." While the author is overly skeptical the possibilities for near-term healthy life extension, he understands the value represented by scientists like Aubrey de Grey: "Aubrey is a cross between Svengali and a Methodist firebrand preacher, and yes, he can drive you up the wall. But in science, people like him are far too rare."

Proposition 71 Fine Print (December 08 2004)
SFGate takes a look at the legislative and legal details of Proposition 71: "Some laws are like a car patched together from spare parts, but the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative is built like a tank. Lawyers involved in crafting the law said it was purposefully designed to barrel through all the political and financial obstacles that might hinder research in a field that backers believe could one day cure diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease and a host of other ills." Unfortunately this will make it even more prone to corruption and waste than the average government program. One is left having to trust the idealism of those in charge; not a welcoming prospect for the long term.

The Key To Neuron Death (December 08 2004)
The Korea Times reports that researchers have identified a key gene controlling the natural process of neuron death. This opens up opportunities for new ways to treat neurodegenerative conditions: "If we prevent neuron apoptosis by controlling Bax's activities using medicine, we can increase the number of neurons and help treat Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and muscular atrophy, which are all caused from abnormal apoptosis of neurons in the brain ... For curing fatal diseases, many scientists have focused on stem cells concerning the creation of cells. But we started the research noticing that preventing the death of cells may also help treat diseases." A wide variety of approaches is always a good thing in medical research.

Word Games And Embryonic Stem Cells (December 07 2004)
The President's Council on Bioethics has been generating some press recently with regard to their review proposed techniques for obtaining what are effectively embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. William Saletan gives a better - if very biased - analysis in two parts at Slate. I agree with him that much of this seems to consist of word and definition games (or the result of arbitrary lines drawn in the sand) rather than anything of substance. For my part, I'd be happy to see bioethicists spending far less time and money in their attempts to slow down medical research for longer, healthier lives. Alas, we live in a time in which interference with freedom of research is widely accepted and supported. This is a real threat to our future health and longevity.

Another New Approach To Fight Cancer (December 07 2004)
The continuing growth in knowledge of cellular mechanisms - and capabilities in bioinformatics - has certainly been paying off in cancer research over the past few years - good news for the future of healthy life extension, as cancer is big concern. Many potential cures are currently in the works. InfoAging reports on yet another promising new approach: "Scientists have fixed a defect in cancer cells that allows them to avoid the normal cell-death process, and as a consequence, they eliminated leukemia cells from laboratory mice. ... BCL-2 overexpression has been noted in many types of cancer, and was first found in lymphoma cells. ... This study provides strong support for the speculation that blocking BCL-2 would be lethal to cancer cells."

Towards Controlled Differentiation (December 06 2004)
A press release at Newswise details an important advance towards controlled differentiation of embryonic stem cells: "The Johns Hopkins Medical Institution laboratory of John Gearhart has taken another small step on the road toward replenishing damaged cardiac tissue with pre-cursor cardiac cells grown from human embryonic stem cells (ES cells). Gearhart and his colleague, Nicolas Christoforou, here reveal preliminary data demonstrating what they say is a highly reproducible system for deriving cardiac progenitor cells from ES cells through controlled differentiation." Scientists are much further down the path of controlling stem cells than even a year ago - and this is the key to developing regenerative therapies capable of fixing age-related damage to our organs and tissues.

Advances On Aubrey de Grey (December 06 2004)
This PDF-format article on Aubrey de Grey and his Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence appeared in the Winter edition of Advances in Orthomolecular Research. It's a good read. "Late in the 1990s, this obscure computer scientist suddenly became obsessed with the enormity of misery and death caused by the aging process. But instead of raging impotently against age-related biological decay, he set out to do something about it ... Dr. de Grey earned his doctorate with a seminal work that overthrew previous thought on the role of mitochondria (the cellular 'power plants') in aging. But he eventually realized that even a solution to the problem of age-associated mitochondrial mutations would not lead to a final solution to the ongoing, seemingly-inevitable theft of health, dignity, and life by the aging process." His currently proposed solution took a few more years to gel into its present form.



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