Longevity Meme Newsletter, February 21 2005

February 21 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.



- Video Clips From the University of Alberta Presentation
- The Advance of the Suitably Outrageous Extreme
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Kevin Perrott, tireless volunteer for the Methuselah Foundation, has made available media coverage for the recent Aubrey de Grey presentation at the University of Alberta. You can find links to video of CFRN and Global TV coverage in this Fight Aging! post:


All in all, the presentation went very well. It was standing room only and generated a fair amount of media attention, as well as subsequent donations to the M Prize fund for anti-aging research:


While this was a comparatively minor event in the grand scheme of things, I think it serves as a model for what can be accomplished with a good volunteer group and the right sort of preparation. Expect to see more and bigger happenings in the year ahead.


Long-time readers may recall that I advanced the idea of a "suitably outrageous extreme" for public debate over healthy life extension research back in 2003.


"The middle of the road, 'reasonable' position in public or political debate tends to gravitate to midway between what are perceived to be the two opposite outrageous extremes, regardless of the actual merits of any of these positions. With this in mind, it is occurring to me that part of the ongoing problem in the modern political debate over healthy life extension is that our "outrageous extreme" has always been a tentative, reasonably proposal that medical research carry on and that near-term technology would seem to allow us all to live a little longer ... say, to 150. ... We need a better outrageous extreme."

Over the past 18 months of public discussion of thousand-year life spans and biological immortality, I think that the position of near term healthy life extension research - with the aim of understanding the aging process and fixing age-related damage to give us a few extra decades - has become a lot more palatable for the public and funding entities. It's now harder for opinion makers to laugh at 150 when scientists and futurists are touting the prospects of 1000, 5000, or as long as like.


Needless to say, this is all somewhat divorced from any discussion of the underlying science for most people - but we can hope that more of the public will take the time to listen to the scientific debate and form their own opinions now that the basic concepts of healthy life extension are talked about more often. This is the path to the sort of widespread support for longevity research that major funding programs - private or public - require to get underway.


The highlights and headlines from the past week 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



Mechanisms Of Osteoarthritis (February 20 2005)
EurekAlert: researchers have found that joints whose cartilage lacks a specific type of collagen will develop osteoarthritis - the so-called 'wear-and-tear' form of the disease - at a greatly accelerated rate. The results of their experiments with mice provide new insights that could lead to potential treatments for a disease that afflicts more than 40 million Americans." This is early stage research, in the sense that a link has been identified and mechanisms to explain it proposed - but it's way to go from here to deploy working regenerative medicine for this form of arthritis. "While the mechanism behind the accelerated development of osteoarthritis is not yet clear, it suggests that the lack of type VI collagen negatively impacts the ability of the cartilage to respond properly to the mechanical stresses and pressures on the joint."

On Upb10 And Telomeres (February 20 2005)
The LEF News is reprinting an interesting illustration of cellular complexity. "Genomic instability, particularly in the regions at the ends of the chromosomes known as telomeres, has been linked to aging in humans and an elevated risk for aging-related diseases, the most prominent of which is cancer. ... an enzyme known as Ubp10 plays a vital role in protecting the telomeric regions of the genome from potential destabilizing molecular events. ... Interestingly, Ubp10 appears to work similarly and in concert with another enzyme called Sir2 ... Sir2 has also been associated with promoting genomic stability, and some studies have linked it intriguingly to the aging process. Some studies, for example, have suggested that low-calorie diets that extend life also boost Sir2 activity dramatically."

Another Clever Use Of Gene Therapy (February 19 2005)
EurekAlert reports that scientists have successfully used gene therapy to get mice immune systems to accept grafts of dead bone (a common procedure for drastic bone loss in humans). "Everyday activities cause microscopic fractures in our bones ... when the bone is dead, there is no healing, and those tiny fractures begin to accumulate until finally, perhaps in 10 years, the implanted section collapses, and more drastic surgery becomes necessary. ... the virus permeated the inflammatory tissue around the dead bone and turned on the genes. The mouse body then began to treat the implanted bone as if it were its own tissue instead of a foreign object ... It's at that point that the body actually begins changing the dead, foreign bone splint, into the body's own, whole, living bone."

Growing Support For Stem Cell Research (February 19 2005)
Public support for embryonic stem cell research is still growing in the US - a hopeful sign that in this case, as for others in the past, people do not refuse the chance of cures for age-related disease. "More than three out of five Americans (63 percent) now back embryonic stem cell research, and even higher levels of support exist for bipartisan federal legislation to promote more such research (70 percent) and the growing number of state-level initiatives to encourage stem cell work (76 percent do or might support such measures), according to a new survey." A pity that support is usually portrayed in terms of public rather than private funding, but this level of awareness and enthusiasm is certainly an improvement over the state of play just a few years ago.

Enumerating The Benefits (February 18 2005)
(From the Kansas City News). Estimating out the number of people likely to benefit from near-future regenerative therapies developed using therapeutic cloning - or somatic cell nuclear transfer - is a good tack to take in political debates, as is happening in Missouri. "A study has found that more than 400,000 Missourians suffer from six diseases and injuries that could be treated or cured with therapies that scientists expect to develop using somatic cell nuclear transfer. ... The study, conducted by The Analysis Group, a national research firm, looked at six medical conditions that are considered most likely to benefit from future stem cell research: juvenile diabetes and a related disease that develops in adults; Parkinson's diseases; spinal cord injury; heart attack; stroke; and Alzheimer's disease."

Federal Fight Over Stem Cell Research (February 18 2005)
Reuters reports on new legislative initiatives in the US: "Aiming to circumvent President Bush's limits on the use of stem cells from human embryos, members of Congress on Wednesday introduced bills to allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Supporters from both major parties joined the coordinated introduction in the House of Representatives and Senate, saying they have given up on persuading Bush to change his policy. ... Feinstein said she and other senators also planned to introduce a bipartisan bill to encourage so-called therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer. This technique produces stem cells directly from a patient. Bush has said he plans to work to outlaw it completely."

Xenotransplantation Of Stem Cells (February 17 2005)
National Geographic News reports on the prospects for using pig embryonic stem cells to regrow damaged human tissue. Xenotransplantation is beset by all sorts of biochemical obstacles, but medical science is advancing to the point at which we can start to see ways around these roadblocks. "By implantation of pig embryonic tissues into immune-deficient mice, we have now determined for the first time distinct gestational time windows for the growth of transplanted pig embryonic liver, pancreas, and lung precursor tissue into functioning tissue ... Using pig tissue to replace failing human organs could help patients with diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, and liver failure."

Young Blood For Old Muscles (February 17 2005)
A fascinating experiment with genetically identical mice of different ages demonstrates that an influsion of young blood helps old muscles to heal as though they too were young. Wired reports that researchers "must pinpoint the youth-inducing molecules in the blood that are responsible for switching on the stem-cell capabilities in old muscles. Rando said that grueling process will be his lab's next project. ... Rando and his colleagues studied muscle stem cells called satellite cells, which in young mice and humans induce repair when injury strikes. Rando found in previous work that satellite cells exist in older muscle, but they don't respond to a muscle's cry for help after injury. In the new study, the presence of younger blood helped the satellite cells work more like they do in young mice."

Another Interview At The Eagle (February 16 2005)
A Telegraph reporter caught up with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey at the Eagle - the scene of a number of past interviews - to discuss his predictions for the future of longevity research. "Two people die every second, one of them from diseases that would not afflict a young person. That means that 100,000 people die unnecessarily every day. Or 30 million a year. ... De Grey thinks he can save these lives. In his assessment, there are only seven fundamental kinds of cell damage that occur in ageing (generating such side effects as arthritis, diabetes, cancer). He maintains that we have - or soon will have - practical solutions for each of them." If you support work towards longer, healthier lives, then donate to the M Prize for anti-aging research - help the science move faster!

Adjusting Free Radicals In Flies (February 16 2005)
Betterhumans reports on efforts to extend fly life span through a "genetic manipulation that reduces free radical damage to nerve cells ... The life extension appeared to derive from an increase in mitochondrial uncoupling in the flies' heads, which led to a decline in free radical production and oxidative damage." It is interesting to see manipulation of mitochondrial function in this way, focused on reducing the damaging waste output - as the authors note, "Our findings highlight the plasticity of mitochondria and suggest the intriguing possibility that genetic or pharmaceutical interventions altering mitochondrial respiration in adults could have significant positive effects on healthy lifespan."

Defending Freedom Of Research (February 15 2005)
An excellent op-ed from the Joplin Independent hits the right notes: "Rep. Emery seems to believe that a small group of undifferentiated cells - with no brain or nerve cells, no awareness, no thoughts or feelings and never destined to be implanted in a human womb - is the same thing as a human baby. Because of his belief, which to me defies common sense, he would halt medical progress and condemn our children and grandchildren to the same diseases, the same pain and suffering that we face today. We can do better; we should do better; as a state, we must do better. [Therapeutic cloning] is the bright hope of regenerative medicine, and if pursued diligently, it could someday empower physicians to do more to restore their patients' health than previous generations dreamed possible."

Enthusiasm For Private Bioengineering (February 15 2005)
Articles like this one from MSNBC show that the investment community is warming up to at least some regenerative and tissue engineering technologies required for future healthy life extension medicine. "Cellular Bioengineering has developed a process for growing corneal tissue, which may someday eliminate the need for human donors. It is creating a cell bank that would enable cells from one donor to generate enough supply for 1,000 recipients. ... The company expects to begin human clinical trials in 2006. An estimated 10 million people suffer from some type of corneal blindness, which can usually be cured by transplanting corneas from donors who have arranged to donate their organs after death."

Gene Therapy For Deafness? (February 14 2005)
(From the Telegraph). Our ability to hear depends on hair cells in the inner ear: "Normally, humans are born with about 50,000 hair cells but since they do not regenerate, the steady loss that can accompany ageing produces significant hearing deterioration in about a third of the population by the age of 70." Fortunately, scientists have demonstrated - in guinea pigs at least - that gene therapy can be used to coax these hair cells into growing once more. "Now Dr Raphael and colleagues have shown that a type of cold virus, called an adenovirus, can be used to implant a gene, Atoh1, and induce new hair cells to grow in the cochleas of deafened guinea pigs. The gene helps guide development of the ear. In a second study, another American has found that the deletion of a specific gene permits the growth of new hair cells in the inner ear."

Finding Progenitor Stem Cells (February 14 2005)
As the sophistication of biotech tools increase, scientists are identifying more sources of stem cells for regenerative medicine. Here, Nature reports on the discovery of small numbers of heart progenitor stem cells that remain in the adult body. "These are very rare cells, which accounts for why they have not yet been reported ... Only a few hundred progenitor cells remain in the heart after birth, and this number decreases with age, the researchers say. Unlike stem cells, which have a seemingly unlimited capacity for self-renewal, progenitor cells undergo a finite number of divisions ... cardiac progenitor cells have one considerable advantage over stem cells: scientists can easily coax them into becoming fully specialized heart-muscle cells, without chemical or hormonal stimuli."



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