Longevity Meme Newsletter, January 10 2005

January 10 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.



- Illustrations From The Joy of Laziness
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Recent articles discussing a new health book entitled "The Joy of Laziness" are unintentionally illustrative of the way in which most people look at health and longevity.


The author has hit on a catchy path to good book sales by packaging a few scientifically defensible - if not proven beyond a doubt - health details: low stress is good, too much physical activity will run you down over the long term. Then he throws in some bad science to top it up; the idea of a limited amount of "life energy." From a high level perspective, it is true that our bodies are heat engines that run down faster if used faster; calorie restriction studies suggest that all animals eat roughly the same number of calories over a lifetime. In other words there is a strong connection between metabolism (food in, energy out) and accumulation of damage that leads to age-related disease and death. This is certainly not the same thing as discredited "life energy" theories of aging, however, and these results are better explained by the Reliability Theory of aging:


Mainstream scientists correctly shoot down the bad science, and then assert the best scientific understanding relating to exercise: "I can understand why the book might sell well as it is always nice to be told that you can sit on your backside and do nothing. However, 20 to 40 minutes of exercise, three times a week, is the best way to improve cardiovascular health, the immune system and general physical well-being." Funnily enough, this is more or less exactly what the author says. This is a classic example of the ways in which shallow marketing and the human eye for detail work. Scientists and doctors tell us that "you must exercise moderately" while the man who sells books suggests "be lazy, you only have to exercise moderately." The parts of those sentences that stick in the mind are "you must exercise" and "be lazy" - simple differences in presentation and point of view.

Using present day knowledge and lifestyle choices to look after your health isn't rocket science. The information is right out there in the open: eat sensibly, practice calorie restriction, exercise moderately and take supplements to a level you are comfortable with. Yet vast amounts of energy are expended on trivial debates and repackaged presentation of the same information over and over again - such as The Joy of Laziness and the related discussion. How can you tell whether one course of action - diet, supplements, exercise - is 10% or 20% better for your healthy life span than a similar course? The answer is that you can't.


More importantly, you'll be just as dead in a century whichever choice you make if medical science does not advance rapidly in the next few decades. The only thing that will let you live a far longer, far healthier life is the medicine of the future. The predicted future of medical technology for healthy life extension - cures for age-related degeneration, therapies to slow and reverse the aging process - is not a given, not yet a done deal. Researchers have barely finished making the first tools for the job ... and it is a big job.


If you want to focus your energies on healthy life extension, don't tinker endlessly with the health basics. Get the basics sorted out according to reputable scientific information and then put your back behind the wheel of progress: help to support and encourage medical research for longer, healthier lives. That is the smarter way forward.



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



AMP-1 And Calorie Restriction (January 09 2005)
Limiting available energy through calorie restriction has been shown to extend life span (and provide numerous health benefits) in a variety of species. ScienceDaily notes recent research from Elixir Pharmaceuticals: "Using an array of genetic and molecular tricks on nematode worms, the team demonstrated that animals with extra copies of the AMP-1 enzyme lived on average 13% longer lives than controls. Other experiments demonstrated that environmental stressors that activate the AMP-1 enzyme, also lead to longer lived animals. ... The discovery that a sensor of energy levels regulates lifespan is very exciting because it tells us that the worm is actively making a decision in adjusting its lifespan in response to its energy state." The related biochemistry is very similar in humans, so stay tuned.

Genes And The Aging Brain (January 09 2005)
(From Newsweek). "Are the changes in the brain that accompany aging caused by damage to the underlying genes involved in functions such as learning, memory and the transmission of nerve impulses? Exciting new research suggests that they may be, and the findings could eventually help predict and prevent degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's." The spectrum of possible degenerative conditions in the brain is as wide as the brain is complex - the well known conditions are simply those we see most often. Far greater understanding of brain genetics and cellular biochemistry is absolutely necessary for significant extension of the healthy human life span. What lies beyond cured Alzheimer's in a much longer life? We have no idea yet.

Funding, Therapeutic Cloning, Illinois (January 08 2005)
The Daily Northwestern takes a look at proposals for public funding of an Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute and the science behind stem cell based regenerative medicine. "Professors conducting stem cell research at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine said they support a state proposal to implement a 6 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery. If passed, the proposal would fund roughly $100 million a year specifically for stem cell research." The new technology of therapeutic cloning is a focus - it is required to produce stem cell lines for research into the biochemistry and genetics of currently incurable diseases, as well as some of the other promising uses of embryonic stem cells. Therapeutic cloning is still under threat in the US due to pending federal anti-research legislation.

Diagnosing Parkinson's Early (January 08 2005)
As I mention every now and again, diagnostics is important. Catch any disease very early on - even those that are currently untreatable in late stages - and often something can be done to at the very least delay progression. SFGate reports on a new test for the early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease: "By the time unambiguous symptoms emerge, Parkinson's has usually been on the attack for years, destroying 60 percent or more of the special cells in the brain that control voluntary movement. ... Now scientists at drug giant Pfizer think they have stumbled on a simple test that is both sensitive enough to detect subtle biological changes due to Parkinson's and specific enough to avoid false alarms: analyzing how people speak."

We Must Learn To Repair The Brain (January 07 2005)
A discussion of stem cell research in the Danvers Herald provides a good feel for the reasons why research into the human brain is vital to the future healthy life extension. The more we learn, the more we find can go wrong in the aging brain; articles like this make Paul Allen's decision to fund the Brain Atlas project look very smart. Twenty years from now, when most of the major organs in the body can be repaired in situ or regrown from scratch, regenerative neuroscience will become increasingly important. The brain is in a class of its own - the one organ we can't just replace as a matter of last resort. The technologies used to repair aging or damaged brains must, by necessity, be more advanced.

Biomarker Predicts Osteoarthritis (January 07 2005)
Biomarkers are an important part of the medical diagnostic toolkit. Diagnostics isn't as flashy as the search for a cure, but bear in mind that many age-related conditions could be ameliorated or avoided entirely if predicted or otherwise caught in very early stages. EurekAlert reports on the identification of a biomarker for osteoarthritis: "a chronic degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis (OA) is a common cause of pain and disability among older Americans. OA of the knee affects up to 6 percent of the older population, while OA of the hip affects about another 3 percent. While treatments vary, there is hope that early intervention - before joint destruction can be clearly seen and measured on an X-ray image - will improve outcomes."

More On Indian Stem Cell Research (January 06 2005)
The Financial Express notes public funding initiatives for human embryonic stem cell (ESC) research in India: "He said that at the national level, the scientists, in order to carry out human ESC research activities, have identified six city clusters across India. They are - New Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Vellore. These clusters will involve researchers exchanging ideas and carrying out research activities in the field of basic and applied sciences. ... Besides India, stem cell research activity is being carried out in the US, Korea and Japan, and our country remains an active practitioner of human ESC research activities."

Stem Cell Trials In India (January 06 2005)
From Express Newsline: "While scientists around the world debate the ethical issues surrounding use of stem cells for medical treatment, India has already taken lead in this direction and has conducted the world's biggest and most successful adult stem cell experiment. ... The LV Prasad Eye Institute has been into adult stem cell research for the last six years and doctors at the hospital have successfully reconstructed over 160 damaged retinas using stem cells." Indian researchers are also working on stem cell based regenerative medicine for heart disease, another currently promising direction. First generation therapies based on transplants and adult stem cells are working well in trials - even though we don't yet know how they work.

Bioengineering Skin (January 05 2005)
An article from Innovations Report goes into some detail on efforts by tissue engineers to grow new skin: "Our goal is to bioengineer an artificial skin scaffold that promotes tissue regeneration and even directs cell growth for hair follicles and sweat glands so that the new skin would look and feel like normal skin. ... Ultimately, we are interested in understanding and finding the right mixture of biological and synthetic materials that will yield the best results for wound healing and tissue regeneration and will significantly increase the quality of life for severe burn victims and medical patients." Like all matters biological, it is much more complex than you might at first imagine.

New Jersey Stem Cell Funding Proposal (January 05 2005)
(From NewsDay.com). The latest proposal for public funding of stem cell research has been floated in New Jersey: "New Jersey would invest $500 million in stem cell research under a proposal acting Gov. Richard J. Codey is expected to unveil next week in his State of the State address. ... Cohen, who favors a $1 billion investment, said legislation to put the initiative on the November ballot could be ready for introduction in three months." The New Jersey initiative is one of the more advanced of a number of similar proposals and debates in other US states. We still need to do away with anti-research legislation at the federal level, however, as this continues to damage private investment in regenerative medicine research.

Missouri Therapeutic Cloning Ban? (January 04 2005)
Anti-research groups and politicians in Missouri will continue to try and force through a ban on therapeutic cloning (or SCNT) this year. "A statewide ban on SCNT would limit Missouri's ability to recruit and retain biomedical scientists, and not just those who want to work with embryonic stem cells. ... The damage would extend far beyond regenerative medicine to every field of biomedical research ... The more people know about this research procedure and understand its potential to relieve human suffering, the more supportive they become." Therapeutic cloning is an essential technology for the production of stem cell lines used to explore the biochemical mechanisms of disease - the best first step towards a cure.

Cord Blood Stem Cells Repair Heart Damage (January 04 2005)
Scientists are making real progress in developing therapies for heart damage. Here, EurekAlert reports on a study showing that human cord blood stem cells (HUBC) can repair heart attack damage in rats. "The HUCB stem cells were injected directly into the heart muscle of rats an hour after heart attacks were induced. After four months of recovery, the size of scar tissue left by dead heart muscle was approximately three times smaller in the HUCB treated rats than in the untreated rats. As a result, the heart's pumping capacity improved to near normal in the treated rats, after an initial decline, and was significantly greater than the cardiac function in the untreated rats with heart attacks." As the article notes, scientists are still trying to understand how stem cells work to repair damage in these types of therapies.

Progress On Mechanisms Of Aging, Cancer (January 03 2005)
(From EurekAlert). Scientists have made more progress in understanding the mechanisms of cell aging. "Aging cells are called senescent cells [and are] no longer able to divide but remain metabolically active. Accumulation of senescent cells over time appears to contribute to changes in tissue form and function commonly associated with aging, like the skin changes that occur between childhood and old age. ... Most importantly, the failure of cells to stop growing through differentiation or senescence can lead to the uncontrolled growth of cancer." This work identifies more of the biochemical mechanisms that control senescence; further investigation "might allow rationale design of therapeutics to treat cancer patients and even alleviate some aspects of human aging."

Understanding Stem Cell Regeneration (January 03 2005)
ScienceDaily reports on a new study that sheds more light on the way in which stem cells work to regenerate damaged heart tissue. "Most of all, this study is important because it begins to explain why stem cells can help a heart heal. Clinical trials that use bone marrow [adult] stem cells in people with heart damage have shown promise, but no one knows how it works. This starts to provide an explanation. ... human stem cells use different methods to morph into two kinds of cells needed to restore heart function - cardiac muscle cells that contract the heart as well as the endothelial cells that line blood vessels found throughout the organ."



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