Longevity Meme Newsletter, January 17 2005

January 17 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.



- MIT Technology Review Slams Healthy Life Extension
- SENS Website Updated
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


As I'm sure many of you noticed, the MIT Technology Review put biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey on the cover of the February issue. The article inside is in the vein of the Popular Science profile from earlier this month, but unfortunately much less optimistic (or even realistic) about the prospects for healthy life extension over the next few decades.


While the article itself is simply very bioconservative in tone (if a little bizarre by the end), the accompanying editorials are quite beyond the pale for a magazine that aspires to quality science journalism:


The comments of author Damien Broderick on this matter are, as usual, right on the money. A sample: "Nuland's essay is notable as well for its whiny and reiterated complaints about Aubrey's intelligence and energy. (What a nerve! Being smart! Being confident! Being articulate!) I expect to see this sort of complaint in Halfwits Review, not Technology Review." I have assembled his other remarks for your reading pleasure in the following Fight Aging! post:


You'll find further discussion and some sensible commentary from the healthy life extension community in the Technology Review forum. I encourage you to read the article and editorials and have your say:


Ultimately all publicity for serious anti-aging research initiatives is good publicity, even when it paints a blatantly one-sided, false picture of the prospects for the future. That doesn't mean we should take it in our stride, however: I think that it is a good idea to hold editors at publications like the Review to the standards we'd like to see; no ad hominem attacks and back up your comments on science with references. The editor-in-chief, Jason Pontin, has agreed to print a response from Aubrey de Grey in this case. I leave it up to the reader to form an opinion on the rest of Pontin's reply to the community:



While I'm on the subject of Aubrey de Grey, I should note that the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence website has been updated with a brace of new material and FAQs:


These are some of the results from the last year of media attention, work with the M Prize and ongoing discussions with scientists, activists and the public. Take a look when you have a little spare time for reading; you may just find a good quote to show your skeptical friends the next time the topic comes up in conversation.


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



Technology Review Editor Responds (January 16 2005)
The offensive editorials and bioconservative tone of a recent MIT Technology Review feature on Aubrey de Grey have attracted a fair amount of attention in the healthy life extension community. While all publicity is ultimately good publicity, I think that we should expect publications like the Review to refrain from ad hominem attacks and other unseemly journalistic offenses. Jason Pontin, the editor-in-chief, has responded to the many comments, noting that the Review will invite Aubrey de Grey to respond to the article - I leave it up to the reader to judge the rest of Pontin's response regarding the personal attacks on Aubrey de Grey.

Neurons Grown And Used For Therapy (January 16 2005)
The Times Online reports on the work of a Chinese researcher using live neural tissue obtained while treating accident victims, such as "a patient who had been stabbed in the eye with a chopstick. When the stick was removed it was covered in brain material, which Zhu was able to grow in a culture medium. ... Two months later he had grown several million cells that he transplanted into a patient with a serious head injury. ... The report, written by Minger on Zhu's behalf, said subsequent brain scans showed the cells had grown further and integrated with the patient's surviving brain cells to help them recover abilities lost through the injury." Now the technique is known, researchers must establish a better source of living neural cells - perhaps through culturing of a patient's own cells.

Research Into Age-Related Hearing Loss (January 15 2005)
News-Medical.Net reports that "researchers have discovered that deletion of a specific gene permits the proliferation of new hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear -- a finding that offers promise for treatment of age-related hearing loss." General advances in capabilities of research are allowing all sorts of potential therapies and cures for specific degenerative effects of aging to appear on the horizon. This can only be a good thing. "A major obstacle to hair-cell research has been that, since there are not very many hair cells in the inner ear, it has been hard to get enough material for study. But with Zheng-Yi's work, we now have the potential for generating cultured lines of hair cells for experiments."

On Okinawan Longevity (January 15 2005)
Okinawan longevity and low incidence of age-related disease has been the subject of study for some time now. This article from the Maui News summarizes the conclusions to date; in essence, Okinawan tradition "really resulted in a distinct cuisine that had very high antioxidant loads and very few calories. They ended up being lean all their lives. ... Coupled with physical activity, farming, fishing, you had the right recipe for longevity." So there you have it in a nutshell - calorie restriction, good supplementation, avoidance of excess body fat and moderate exercise. All of these lifestyle choices are readily available for those of us who want to try and make the best of our natural longevity. Why risk missing out on the real anti-aging medicine of the future?

The Race To Employ Adult Stem Cells (January 14 2005)
A short article reprinted at InfoAging reports on the race to deploy adult stem cell therapies for heart disease. "Once a mere fantasy, the idea of growing new, healthy heart tissue to replace damaged or diseased heart muscle is inching closer to reality. ... One approach uses adult stem cells found in bone marrow or the bloodstream. Injected or infused into damaged heart tissue, these stem cells can take up residence and grow into healthy heart muscle. An alternative is to use immature muscle cells taken from the thigh; when injected into the heart, they adopt the characteristics of heart cells. ... a particularly innovative self-repair strategy involves coaxing some heart cells to regress to a stem-cell-like state and then stimulating them to produce young, healthy heart cells."

Testing Everything (January 14 2005)
(From Nature). One of the big advantages of the rapid decline in the cost of biotech research is that it makes fishing expeditions an economic proposition: "Researchers have long been trying to find drugs or elixirs that can stave off ageing. But they have met with little success, partly because it is laborious and time-consuming to show that a drug adds years to our lives. To get around this problem, Kerry Kornfeld of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, and his team tested drugs on a tiny, short-lived worm ... 'We went through a pharmaceutical textbook and picked a drug from each class.'" The end result is new longevity science to investigate - an epilepsy drug that lengthens worm life span by up to 50%.

More On CR And Alzheimer's (January 13 2005)
Betterhumans reports on more evidence for calorie restriction (CR) as a way to fight Alzheimer's progression - in mice, at least. "Mice predisposed to develop Alzheimer's are protected by a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet, providing more evidence that dietary intervention can help prevent the disease and slow its progression. Reducing caloric intake by 30% eliminated the development of amyloid plaque in the mice, considered a fundamental feature of Alzheimer's disease. ... Studying the calorie-restricted mice, the researchers found that their diet activated pathways that break down amyloid peptides in the brain before they form plaques." Calorie restriction has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits in recent years.

A Bioconservative On Aubrey de Grey (January 13 2005)
The MIT Technology Review is printing a long article on Aubrey de Grey by a fellow who is adamantly opposed to healthy life extension beyond an arbitrary line drawn in the sand. It's an interesting piece, complete with all the old, disproven anti-life-extension arguments, and clearly illustrates the lengths that some folks go to insulate themselves from the slightest acceptance of longer, healthier lives as a good thing. I have nothing against people who choose not to live a longer life - freedom is vitally important - but the doom and gloom crowd who wish to block medical science and cap all life spans at their arbitrary limit are a real threat. Healthy life spans have greatly increased over the past century and the sky hasn't fallen - nor will it.

South Korean Stem Cell Research Permitted (January 12 2005)
SFGate notes that a South Korean team has been permitted to proceed with therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research: "[the] team of scientists who produced the first cloned human embryo last year were given government approval Wednesday to proceed with stem-cell research to find cures for diabetes, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's and other diseases -- but not for work toward reproductive human cloning ... scientists hope this research will one day allow them to grow replacement tissue to treat spinal cord injuries as well as diabetes and other diseases." That teams outside the US are forging ahead makes it less likely that the US goverment will be able to shut down this very promising research.

Molecular Biochemistry of Exercise (January 12 2005)
It's always exciting to see genes and proteins you recognize as being important to one area of study showing up in a related field - it implies that researchers are getting closer to a good understanding. Medical News Today reports on a program that "will study how key enzymes are regulated and should increase our understanding of the essential mechanisms governing appetite, food intake and energy consumption. Learning more about how the body responds to exercise at a molecular level will, for example increase our understanding of how the body regulates energy intake in the form of food and appetite control and energy output such as burning off fat and affecting metabolic rate." This overlaps nicely with ongoing studies of calorie restriction and mitochondria as they relate to metabolism and healthy life span.

Update on Elixir Pharmaceuticals (January 11 2005)
MSNBC mentions Elixir Pharmaceuticals in an article on up and coming biotech companies. "Elixir Pharmaceuticals Inc. begins 2005 as an early-stage drug development company focused on the science of aging. But the company plans to end the year as a much more mature version of itself, with at least one drug generating revenue and two in clinical trials, thanks to some anticipated licensing deals with larger partners. And assuming those milestones are accomplished, Elixir plans to go even further and pursue an IPO." As you may recall, Elixir has been researching the biochemistry of calorie restriction and longevity genes. Financial success means more companies entering this field - a good thing for all of us in the long run.

Discussing Bioconservatism (January 11 2005)
An interesting discussion on bioconservatism and related ideas is currently underway at the Immortality Institute: embryonic stem cell research, transhumanism, human dignity (whatever that might be), healthy life extension and the scientific path towards an ageless future are all up for debate. What do you think about attempts to restrict medical research or the way in which bioethical arguments are conducted in our society? What is the nature of being human and where do we (or should we) draw the line? You should drop by and have your say; the bioconservative side of the conversation is being held up by a smart fellow with a readable writing style.

On Female Longevity (Again) (January 10 2005)
The BBC reports on yet another explanation for the well known difference between male and female life spans. "Men's hearts lose up to a quarter of their pumping power from 18 years old to 70. But there was little change in women's hearts from 20 to 70, the study of 250 people said. The researchers said the difference may explain why women live on average up to five years longer than men." The tendency of women to take better care of basic health matters has also been suggested as a root cause, as have trends in smoking. For my part, I think that fewer statistics and more research into regenerative medicine - doing rather than watching - would be a good plan.

Early Development And Late Life Illness (January 10 2005)
(From Medical News Today). The Reliability Theory of aging suggests that we are born with a surprisingly large amount of cellular or genetic damage - or vulnerabilities that lead to the same long term effects as damage. Modern bioinformatics, genetic toolkits and embryonic stem cells allow researchers to investigate how this might happen: "We are trying to identify the primary factors that influence the methylation process and which therefore might affect an unborn child's long-term susceptibility to certain diseases in later life. We can use unspecialised stem cells to study the effect of [maternal] diet on the tagging of the DNA and then induce them to develop into a cell type such a heart cell to see whether the effect is still there."



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