Longevity Meme Newsletter, January 03 2005

January 03 2005

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.



- Welcome to Year Three
- Aging Research Review at ScienceDirect
- Thoughts About Billionaires and Their Money
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The first Longevity Meme newsletter was sent to a hundred or so folks back in January 2003. It certainly doesn't seem like two years, but there it is right on the calendar. It is a thought provoking exercise to look back at the early newsletters and get a sense of just how far medical researchers have come in a few short years.


Take telomeres for example, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes that are intimately involved in the mechanisms of aging, cancer and cell division. They are a hot topic in aging and cancer research nowadays. Was it really just three years ago that scientists were starting to get a handle on how to accurately measure and manipulate these entities?


Some things don't change, however - more is the pity. Compare bioconservative Leon Kass in early 2003 and late 2004:


At least he's consistent. He continues to act as a warning for those of us who support healthy life extension research - a warning that we are not immune to big government and those willing to misuse power to restrict the advance of medical science.


The full text of Aging Research Review (volume 4, issue 1) is free for access at ScienceDirect. The papers are very readable and include a most interesting piece by João Pedro de Magalhães on the use of genetic studies to determine the difference between causes and effects of aging. You'll find a few notes and links at Fight Aging!:


If you're up for more after that, you might be interested in a discussion of double strand breaks in DNA and how they may or may not be important in the aging process:



The younger organizations and activists in the healthy life extension community are growing up fast. A part of this process is coming to an understanding of how to achieve significant levels of funding for research, outreach, and so forth. A discussion on this topic (one of many) is currently underway at the Immortality Institute:


At least two very wealth people are already invested to some degree in advancing aging research and human longevity - John Sperling and Larry Ellison.


The question would be how we, as a community, can build organized, professional and respectable groups capable of obtaining large scale funding. It's the same sort of process that goes on around the world: how do you get venture capitalists to invest in your company? How was Paul Allen guided into funding the Allen Brain Atlas project? How do we obtain the next $100,000 donation for the Methuselah Foundation? There are well-established answers to all of these questions.

There is more than enough raw enthusiasm out there in our growing community. We must learn to guide this enthusiasm in ways that will achieve goals such as the funding of Aubrey de Grey's Institute for Biomedical Gerontology:


I see a bright future ahead; the success to date of the M Prize will be repeated by other groups. The level of professionalism in new healthy life extension organizations will increase. A rising tide lifts all boats, reinforcing progress towards the end goal of a cure for the aging process.


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 Genetics Of Parkinson's (January 02 2005)
ScienceDaily provides a wonderful example of the way in which our increased ability to work with genetic information has revolutionized the process of developing therapies. Researchers can now identify the precise biochemical mechanisms behind a given disease - and then try to tailor a drug or therapy to precisely manipulate or block that mechanism. This is a huge step forward over the old ways and greatly speeds the advance of medicine. "Researchers have known that mutations in a key gene called parkin are a major cause of Parkinson's disease (PD). Now they have discovered a new mechanism by which the parkin gene can be compromised, a finding that they say could lead to new drugs for the disorder."

Exercise Is Still Necessary (January 02 2005)
Even in the age of biotechnology, you must take care of the basics if you want to live healthily for long enough to benefit from future advances in medicine and longevity. InfoAging provides another reminder of the importance of regular exercise to health: "[Exercise] helped reduce metabolic syndrome - the potentially deadly mix of risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes or stroke. These risk factors include high blood pressure, excess fat around the abdomen, elevated blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. ... At the start of the study 43% of the participants had metabolic syndrome. After the six-month programme, those in the exercising group saw no new cases of the syndrome and the condition had been resolved in nine people - a reduction of 41%."

Genes And Calorie Restriction (January 01 2005)
"To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals." Starting with those wise words from Benjamin Franklin in 1733, ScienCentral takes a look at the mechanisms of calorie restriction (CR). "Can we find other ways of creating this same state as calorie restriction creates without having to calorie restrict? ... CR appears to trigger a gene called Sir (Silent Information Regulator) 2, which seems to be directly linked to prolonging lifespan in different organisms. ... Our studies show that, in fact, when you increase Sir2, you live longer; when you block Sir2 from being able to be increased, you can block the calorie restriction response ... What we're trying to achieve is a longer lifespan while maintaining our healthy physiology longer."

Take The IBG Survey (January 01 2005)
John Schloendorn is undertaking an online survey of attitudes, opinions and background in connection with Aubrey de Grey's proposed Institute of Biomedical Gerontology (IBG). This has some similarities to the marketing surveys employed by large advertisers; the results will be used to guide fundraising strategies for the Methuselah Foundation and the future Institute of Biomedical Gerontology. The survey runs through to the end of January, so please do take a few minutes to help enable more effective fundraising for serious anti-aging research. Related discussions are taking place at the Immortality Institute, so drop by and have your say.

Stem Cells In Neuroscience (December 31 2004)
It's a truism at the moment - and good news - that scientists in almost every branch of medicine see their research as "perhaps the most promising use of stem cells." Here, the Society for Neuroscience weighs in on what they see as the best and brightest stem cell research: "Embryonic stem cells have been shown to restore movement after paralysis. And with genetic engineering, stem cells can act as sophisticated protein delivery systems. Scientists have used them to deliver GDNF, a factor to aid in the survival of neurons targeted by Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. Another team has used them to seek and destroy brain tumor cells. And a Norwegian group has proved that even in adults, neural stem cells have the power to become functioning neurons." Interesting times!

Social Security And Longevity Projections (December 31 2004)
(From The Ledger). It's probably expecting too much for plain common sense to quickly penetrate the debate over social security and similar Ponzi-style wealth transfer schemes in other countries - especially given our current culture of entitlement. Still, it is apparently beginning to occur to some folk that radical change is necessary - or will be forced by circumstances. Unfortunately, bureaucrats are currently producing reports that greatly underproject future increases in healthy life span due to advances in medical technology. "Experts have repeatedly asserted that life expectancy is approaching a ceiling. These experts have repeatedly been proved wrong."

Asia As Stem Cell Central (December 30 2004)
BusinessWeek takes a high-level look at funding and progress in stem cell research in Asia: "The progress the Asians have made is 'astonishing,' says Robert A. Goldstein, chief scientific officer at New York-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, which has teamed up with Singapore in funding ES Cell's efforts to find a cure for the disease." The authors views this as a competition - as do most of the participants and principles, no doubt - but a rising tide in medical science raises all boats. Successes in any country (and even business or competitive failures) in stem cell research still advance knowledge, capabilities and the potential for healthy longevity worldwide.

Zebrafish, Cancer, Stem Cells (December 30 2004)
Boston.com is running a very readable article on the connections between biochemical and genetic mechanisms of stem cells and cancer. "Researchers know that [the cell signalling pathway called] Notch is active very early in the development of both zebrafish and humans, as the cells of the embryo decide what type of tissues to become. In most cells, it is then turned off. But recently scientists have found that cancer cells can activate the Notch pathway in adults' bodies, causing dangerous changes in their cells. This is apparently what happens in a rare form of leukemia called T-ALL. ... More and more, research is showing that messaging systems used early in development get turned back on and used by helpful stem cells in the adult body, and also by deadly cancer cells."

Prosthetics Technology Advances (December 29 2004)
Prosthetics technology is undergoing advances every bit as revolutionary as regenerative medicine - in many ways it is another path to the same end goals. Diversity is always a good sign in technological progress; many divergent efforts are more likely to produce widely applicable results over the long term. EurekAlert reports on one small part of this ongoing process: "We plan to spend this $6.7 million to further develop technology that we hope will someday help blind individuals see, allow paraplegics to stand and eventually walk, and let people with vocal cord problems speak ... To go from a bundle of wires sticking out of somebody's head to a totally implantable system that is invisible will be a major advance in this technology."

Second International Longevity Conference (December 29 2004)
The 2nd International Conference on Healthy Aging and Longevity will be held in Brisbane, Australia, March 2005. "This event is about providing leading edge, evidence-based knowledge on the achievement of increased human longevity and healthy/disability free life expectancy. It will explore the full spectrum of proven interventions including pharmaceutical, nutritional, clinical, educative, complementary, preventive and restorative means and the scientific underpinnings supporting them." The 2004 conference was well attended and widely regarded as a success. The presentations this year include a number of interesting healthy life extension topics mixed in with the more prosaic items.

How To Research And Participate In Trials (December 28 2004)
A lot of very interesting and promising work is taking place at the forefront of medical research these days; stem cells, cancer therapies, gene therapies, and advances in bioinformatics have brought the prospect of cures for many previously untreatable conditions. How should sufferers go about researching the latest therapies and weigh the merits and risks of enrolling in a clinical trial? How does one even go about getting enrolled in a clinical trial or wading through the wealth of health information (much of it wrong or out of date) online? I receive a few e-mails on this topic every month, and so eventually wrote a short summary of my advice and suggestions - by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it provides a better starting point than a blank slate.

Introduction To Embryonic Stem Cell Research (December 28 2004)
SFGate provides a good introduction to embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and their use in research: "the isolation of ESCs has opened up a rich variety of research opportunities. Among these are: the study of how cells assume their fate as part of one tissue or another; the exploration of birth defects and inherited disease; research on the origins of cancer; and the search for new therapies for numerous diseases. ... The passage of Prop. 71 has created the opportunity for California to proceed on human stem-cell research with unprecedented vigor. It is imperative that the opportunity be pursued with integrity and rigor. We are almost certainly going to be imitated. We should set a peerless example."

Why Aging Cells Become Cancerous (December 27 2004)
(From Xinhua Online). A team of South Korean researchers have found a mechanism to explain why aging cells - with a reduced ability to proliferate - are more prone to becoming cancerous. This hinges on the same gene recently linked to grey hair and melanomas: "Bcl-2 barred the DNA repair mechanism, depriving the human body of a significant tool in countering mutations, dramatically heightening the likelihood of tumors appearing. ... Up until now, scientists have suspected cells accumulate mutations when they are young and become tumors when they are old. But we have learned aged cells suffer abrupt mutations due to a lack of DNA repair." How does this tie in with the link between short telomeres and cancer? More research is definitely called for.

A New Direction For Cancer Research (December 27 2004)
Cancer research has been diversifying rapidly in recent years, the result of new technology and new knowledge. The International Herald Tribune reports on the latest new direction: "Within each tumor [lurks] a small population of elusive, highly potent cells that drive the tumor's growth ... In the past two years, cancer stem cells have gone from a theory on the fringes of biology to an idea that is attracting money and talent in cancer research. ... Most treatments today are judged by their ability to shrink tumors, but the new results suggest the size of the tumor is all but irrelevant: If doctors can kill the stem cells, the tumor is doomed, but if the stem cells survive, it will be back." Knowledge empowers scientists to develop targeted, effective therapies - we can hope this will happen here.



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