Longevity Meme Newsletter, December 27, 2004

December 27 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.



- End of Year M Prize Update
- James Vaupel on the Plasticity of Longevity
- Two Threads From sci.life-extension
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The end of 2004 has certainly been an exciting time for the Methuselah Foundation and the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. In addition to the $100,000 donation for fundraising I mentioned last week, the healthy life extension community rallied around to meet two funding challenges. As a result, the cash total for the Longevity and Rejuvenation prizes has risen by another $35,000 in last week alone and the total including pledges has passed $750,000.


Good work and many thanks to all of you who helped the M Prize reach new heights! For those of you new to this newsletter, you can read more about the way in which research prizes spur funding and the advance of science at the Longevity Meme:



The transcript for the latest SAGE Crossroads webcast with James Vaupel is finally available. I noted a few comments last week at Fight Aging!:


You may recall that the mainstream press seized upon Vaupel's comments relating to the possibility of a reduction in life expectancy in the future. This interview puts those comments into the original, wider context:

"That life expectancy is a measure of current conditions. It is not a prediction about how long somebody will live. But it's a measure of how long a person, a baby would live if that baby was confined to this year, could not get out of this year, was stuck with the conditions of this year. So a more meaningful projection for most people would be, how long do we think that a newborn would live given mortality improvements?"

In summary, Vaupel is bullish on the prospects for increasing healthy life span through improved medicine. He is in much the same ballpark as folks like S. Jay Olshansky or Richard Miller when it comes to the expected timeframe for these improvements, however. It is a good interview, despite descending into policy wonkery by the end. Read it and see what you think:



If you are of a mind to keep up with the very latest (and thus least proven) longevity and aging research, the regulars at sci.life-extension are happy to shower you in more references than you'll ever be able to follow up on. Two in particular caught my eye in the past week; I hope that you find them just as fascinating as I did.


"Interesting that telomeres appear to play no role in either human skin aging, or bone marrow aging. ... It is quite surprising that some major manifestations of aging such as skin and muscle atrophy can be reversed in old animals (or induced in young animals) by transplantion and/or joining of blood streams (parabiosis). It would be interesting to know how many signs of aging are due to immunological and systemic factors rather than tissue specific factors like telomeres."


"Understanding the process by which lower forms of animal life regenerate serious wounds has been a desirable goal for some time now. It is interesting and potentially very promising that a similar regenerative process has been found in a mammal - indicating a much shorter, although still resource-intensive, jump to therapies that will work for human injuries."


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



A Timeline For Alzheimer's Treatment (December 26 2004)
HealthDay reports that "many of the professionals who attended the ninth international conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Philadelphia this past summer predicted a viable treatment within the next 10 years." Alzheimer's research has been a priority for the NIA since the early 1990s; in many ways, the current state of public and private funding mirrors the the fight against cancer that commenced in the 1970s. The big difference is that it may take half as long and a fraction of the cost to win this war - one of many benefits of modern medical technology. Advocates for healthy life extension would like to see the same powerful engines of science, funding and public opinion turned to aging and serious anti-aging research.

Materials Science And Bone Glue (December 26 2004)
Regenerative medicine encompasses many minor fields often overlooked by observers - such as how we fix broken bones. Betterhumans reports on the development of a new engineered compound that glues bones together and speeds healing. "Seliktar took fibrin, the protein in blood plasma responsible for clotting, and to it attached a synthetic material called polyethylene glycol that's a plastic used in biomedical applications ... "The result is a three-dimensional material with the biological properties of fibrin and the strength of plastic." These sorts of advances - enabled by materials science - may seem comparatively minor, but they greatly improve on natural regenerative processes and benefit many people.

More On Immune System Aging (December 25 2004)
Randall Parker comments on recent discoveries relating to the way in which our immune system ages. "One subcategory of immune system cells may be aging more rapidly and causing most of the problem with reduced immunocompetence in the elderly. ... The authors show that old CD4 'helper' T cells cannot provide the stimulatory signals to B cells that prompt them to make antibodies. Old and young B cells, however, are equally effective if helped by young CD4 T cells." You might recall that researchers recently found that less useful CD8 T cells crowd out other types (such as CD4) as we get older. Understanding these processes is the first step on the path to fixing them - and thus rejuvenating age-affected immune systems.

UK Public Funding For Stem Cell Therapies (December 25 2004)
While US states continue to debate public funding for stem cell research, groups in the UK are moving ahead with their own funding plans. The Guardian reports that "plans for a £100m fund to exploit medical discoveries from stem cell research are being developed by entrepreneurs and the government to launch next year. ... A key figure in the proposal is Sir Chris Evans, millionaire founder of Merlin Biosciences, now one of Europe's largest venture capital firms specialising in life sciences. He is seeking to raise £50m from the private sector to be matched by government funds." The objective for this fund is to accelerate the path from scientific discovery to fully commercialized therapy.

Ready To Cure Paralysis Again (December 24 2004)
The Korea Times reports that researchers who successfully treated a paralysed patient with cord-blood stem cells are ready to start on a new round of trials as soon as their government gives permission. "We will conduct operations on two paralyzed patients as soon as the KFDA gives us the green light while the remaining two will also undergo stem cell therapy soon. ... For now, all is set for the second-round of tests, excluding the nod from the government as Song's team already secured matched umbilical cord blood stem cells for the patients and cultured them." Observers have been suggesting a healthy skepticism until the results of the first trial are repeated - here's hoping it works for other patients.

On Gray Hair, Stem Cells and Melanomas (December 24 2004)
Medical research often leads scientists in interesting, unexpected directions - so it is in the link between the graying of hair, stem cells and the skin cancers known as melanomas. An article at Betterhumans reports that "the loss of our youthful hues is due to the gradual dying off of adult stem cells that spawn a continuous supply of melanocytes, new pigment manufacturing cells. ... Melanoma tumors are caused by the uncontrollable growth of these cells and are hard to kill with treatment. ... what in the hair follicle is signaling the stem cells that is absent when aging occurs and the stem cells die off?" Researchers hope to be able to reproduce this mechanism of age-related death in cancerous stem cells.

Help The Year End M Prize Donation (December 23 2004)
Michael Cooper has generously offered to donate more than $23,000 to the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research if enough additional donations arrive to push the final cash total above $100,000. If this happens, Bob Gelfond's earlier challenge will also be met and he will donate a further $5,000 to the cause. Only a little more money is needed to make all of this happen before the end of the year - I have pitched in and I hope that you can too. We're getting close, but still need a few more small donations to close the gap! This is a wonderful opportunity to make a few dollars go a long way towards building an effective initiative for serious healthy life extension research.

Fit But Fat Not Good Enough (December 23 2004)
Welcome to another installment of "excess weight is bad for you," courtesy of CNN today: "There has been some suggestion that if you are particularly active, you don't have to worry about your body weight, about your diet. That's very misleading." A large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that "women who were physically active but obese had almost twice the risk of death of women who were both active and lean. Women who were sedentary but slender were 55 percent more likely to die. Women who were both sedentary and obese were almost 2 1/2 times more likely to die." You have to take care of the basics if you want to live a longer, healthier life.

Embryonic Research And Moral Bullying (December 22 2004)
(From Reason Online). Ronald Bailey on the theological and moral debate over embryonic stem cell research in the US: "Millions of intelligent people of good will maintain that seven-day-old embryos have the exact same moral standing as do readers of this column. Acting on this sincere belief, they are trying to block biomedical research on human embryonic stem cells that is desired by millions of their fellow citizens. ... Should we halt current human embryonic stem-cell research while these possible new avenues of research are being explored? Absolutely not. That would be surrendering to the moral bullying of a minority that wants to halt promising medical research that could cure millions on theological grounds that many of their fellow citizens do not share."

A Vaccine For Heart Disease? (December 22 2004)
As our knowledge of biological mechanisms advances, reprogramming existing processes for new uses is proving to be a fruitful area of research. The BBC reports on efforts to convince the immune system to destroy the root cause of heart disease: "It works by priming the immune system to recognise types of cholesterol in the blood as foreign, so that it attacks and destroys them. New Scientist magazine reports animal tests by Sweden's Lund University found the jab could significantly reduce the build up of harmful deposits." This work is still uncertain and in the earliest stages, but it demonstrates that many potential uses can be found for each new technique added to the biomedical toolkit.

Combining Stem Cells And Gene Therapy (December 21 2004)
EurekAlert outlines a potential class of treatment for genetic diseases that would combine the regenerative properties of stem cells with gene therapy. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a good testbed for this approach, as its symptoms are linked to a genetic defect in a relatively straightforward way: "[researchers] demonstrate for the first time that human bone marrow-derived adult stem cells can be coaxed to differentiate into airway epithelial cells and that encoding these cells with the gene that is defective in CF restores an important cellular function essential for keeping the airways clear of mucus and air-borne irritants." This is very promising work for the future treatment of a wide range of genetic conditions.

Stem Cell Funding Debate In Wisconsin (December 21 2004)
The Wisconsin Technology Network provides an update on proposals for a Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and state funding for stem cell research. "The response has been less than overwhelming to Governor Jim Doyle's proposal to invest nearly $750 million in public and private money in Wisconsin's biotechnology future. Budget-conscious members of the Legislature have choked on the price tag, opponents of stem-cell research have once again protested, and Milwaukee politicians have asked if they're being shortchanged in favor of Madison. ... Even though human embryonic stem-cell research was pioneered at UW-Madison, California's new Institutes for Regenerative Medicine could seize the advantage within a matter of years."

How Stem Cells Find Damaged Tissue (December 20 2004)
News-Medical.net reports on an interesting advance in our understanding of stem cell repair mechanisms: "To regenerate unhealthy tissue, stem cells must first move toward the effected area. It had never been known how stem cells [are] able to home precisely to the site of injury or disease ... Using a simulated stroke model, the collaborators found that the chemokine SDF-1 alpha, secreted by injured or inflamed neural tissue, acts like an SOS signal and summons implanted human neural stem cells to the site of injury ... The stem cells appear to migrate to the site of an injury by engaging in a special kind of movement called 'chain migration' in which the cells slide and guide on top of each other, laying down a path for each other, much like a colony of ants moving from their nest to a source of food."

On Longer Healthy Life Spans (December 20 2004)
An article from the Daily Breeze contains a great quote from biologist Steven Austad: "I think people will someday live substantially longer than today. (Living) into your 100s will be fairly routine, up to 150 for the outlier (a longer-lived person who is the exception to the rule). I think this because we have been so successful at figuring out how to make animals live longer. The arguments (against appreciably longer life spans) are based so far as I can tell on ignoring a huge pile of research done over the past 15 years and the mystical belief that longevity, unlike every other human trait we know of, is impossible to change." The work of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey is mentioned too - always a good thing.

That "Polymeal" Thing (December 20 2004)
Randall Parker has posted an excellent commentary on the "Polymeal" research that has been in the news recently. Given that it's only a matter of time before some yahoo in the anti-aging marketplace wades into the fray with Polymeal Inc., it's good to see a sensible view up front. "Note that the diet (assuming it works) would do this by delaying heart heart disease by an even greater number of years. A delay in the onset of heart disease would then allow time for other diseases to kill before heart disease developed to the point of being fatal. ... in order to get the benefit you would need to follow the diet for years, decades even. Also, if you already have very low cholesterol and low blood pressure I would not expect much of a benefit."



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