Longevity Meme Newsletter, March 21 2005

March 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.



- On Leon Kass and Suppression of Research
- Read Ramez Naam on Longevity and Population
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


By all counts, Leon Kass and his cronies on the President's Council on Bioethics are up their old tricks again:


Titled "Bioethics for the Second Term: Legislative Recommendations," the group's plan says in part: "Meanwhile, South Koreans successfully cloned human embryos; British HFEA authorizes human cloning-for-research; Harvard scientists get permission to do human cloning-for-research; a right to do such research is constitutionalized in California and endorsed in several other states. We did not get the preferred convention passed at the United Nations. We have lost much ground."

So there you have it - this and other groups are still soldiering on in their attempts to ban promising medical research that will lead to longer, healthier lives. These efforts have greatly damaged progress by scaring away vast pools of potential private funding for new medical technologies based on therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research. They have also encouraged the sort of legislative interference and nonsense that has dominated the field over the past few years. I strongly encourage you to contact your elected representatives to make your opinions known on this matter.


You can find further commentary referenced at Fight Aging!:


"When debating the views and opinions of Leon Kass, chair of the President's Council of Bioethics, it's rather hard to get past the point at which he says he wants to use government power to ensure medical technology for healthy life extension is never developed or used."


Serving well as a companion piece to Max More's "Superlongevity Without Overpopulation," the latest Longevity Meme article is taken from Ramez Naam's new book "More Than Human."


The prospect of overpopulation is one of the most cited - and most flawed - arguments employed by those opposed to healthy life extension. Just as for the flawed arguments based on ever-increasing decrepitude - the Tithonus Error - or boredom, overpopulation objections must be addressed well and addressed often. This is necessary in order for advocates to obtain greater public support for the fight to cure aging; it is very hard to reach people who have already made an instinctive decision based upon false information. See the following Fight Aging! posts for more details on this issue:



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



California Anti-Research Efforts Underway (March 20 2005)
As noted by the Press-Telegram, groups opposed to embryonic stem cell research are starting legislative efforts to halt or impede the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "Two state senators with opposite views on stem cell research forged an odd political alliance Wednesday when they introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to 'reform' the new $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which is already facing two lawsuits seeking to put it out of business." Here, "reform" means "pull the rug out from underneath." I would find it easier to respect the positions of those who oppose research into curing age-related conditions if they were open and honest about their motivations.

Paul Berg On Stem Cell Research (March 20 2005)
Discover has an interview with scientist Paul Berg: "There are things that really trigger a strong sense of injustice in me, and frankly, the bills pending in Congress to ban cloning for stem cell research were one ... By its nature, science is an uncertain business, and predicting outcomes and results with certainty is foolhardy. I believe that the availability of embryonic stem cells provides a new and powerful approach to understanding the genetic and cellular basis of disease and for that reason is likely to lead to new knowledge and better treatments for those who are afflicted with those burdens. I'm convinced, however, that we are far less likely to find cures or new therapies without research on stem cells. ... I'm an experimentalist, and the only way I can tell you if it's going to work is to let me try it. But if you're going to prevent me from trying it, we'll never know."

Fasting and Calorie Restriction (March 19 2005)
Randall Parker of FuturePundit does his normal good job of following on recent research into fasting and calorie restriction. "Another approach that may eventualy obviate the need for fasting is a class of drugs called calorie restriction mimetics. The idea behind calorie restriction mimetics (which are the subject of active research in a number of labs) is that they'll fool your metabolism into thinking you haven't eaten. Then your cells would throw themselves into the same state they go into when they are not getting as much calories. Appetite suppressants would remain useful for anyone who is overweight. But the benefit of fasting would be delivered by a separate calorie restriction mimetic drug."

Cryonics at National Geographic (March 19 2005)
The signs of the Alcor publicity and outreach drive are spreading, as illustrated by an article at the National Geographic News site. It goes into some detail with regard to the science and practice of cryonics - a big improvement over other mentions in the media in past years - including a discussion of vitrification. "A few years ago, cryobiologists discovered a new preservation process, called vitrification, which virtually eliminates ice-crystal formation. Rather than freezing the tissue, vitrification suspends it in a highly viscous glassy state. In this mode, molecules remain in a disordered state, as in a fluid, rather than forming a crystalline structure." As the article notes, there is still a way to go in terms of growing the industry and improving the technology, however.

Longevity Conference Underway (March 18 2005)
As noted in a brief Daily Telegraph spot on telomerase, cancer and aging, the 2nd International Conference on Healthy Aging and Longevity is underway in Brisbane. The speaker list looks just as interesting as last year for those of us in the healthy life extension community - many familiar and respected names and topics. Presentations include "The Molecular Basis of Life-Span Becomes Clearer," "Caloric Restriction Mimetics: The Next Phase" and "Drug Therapy Versus Calorie Restriction to Delay Age-Related Disease Onset and Prolong Life." Good stuff, and kudos to the organizers for putting up the necessary funding and effort to develop this successful conference series.

Slate on Aubrey de Grey (March 18 2005)
Slate writes about the work of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and his efforts to invigorate the field of longevity research through the M Prize. Like many recent articles on de Grey it is an odd mix of insulting, respectful, pessimistic and enthusiastic: "OK, so de Grey isn't doing hard science himself. His theories may all prove wrong when tested. And in any case, I'm sure I'll be long gone before anyone cures old age. But who says an enthusiast can't contribute? If someone, someday, gets to live a lot longer than we will because Aubrey de Grey brought more buzz to [aging research], it doesn't matter if he grows his beard to his knees." If fully funded, serious anti-aging research offers the possibility that those of us reading this now will benefit from a "cure for old age."

Ramez Naam On Longevity And Population (March 17 2005)
The latest Longevity Meme article is excerpted from Ramez Naam's More Than Human; a compact examination of the likely future of population in the light of advancing healthy life extension technologies. "How will longer lives affect world population? Certainly anything that keeps people alive longer will increase the number alive at any given point. However, the details of population growth can be rather counterintuitive. Consider that today the countries with the longest life expectancies at birth have populations that are remaining steady or even shrinking. ... If the developing world can attain the present level of affluence of the developed world by 2050, we'll see overall world population level out and begin to drop."

Obesity And Life Expectancy (March 17 2005)
SFGate reports that obesity is bad for you: as bad as the average risk of cancer, as studies of life expectancy show. It is important to note that life expectancy is a statistical measure; it is not a prediction of future longevity, and is only useful for these sorts of comparisons of the relative risks of lifestyle and disease. Here, for example, the life expectancy calculations assume increasing rates of obesity but no advances in medical technology - obviously not the case in the real world, but very helpful when trying to tease out the effect of obesity on healthy life span from the data. The weight of scientific evidence strongly suggests that excess fat greatly increases the risk of age-related disease and reduces life span - so take action accordingly.

An Eye On Infrastructure (March 16 2005)
Unromantic improvements in infrastructural technologies drive the pace of medical research. Medical News Today reports on a very promising step forward for embryonic stem cell research - a way to greatly cut the costs of production. "Researchers at Ohio State University have developed a method for mass-producing embryonic stem cells. That's important because traditional laboratory methods used to grow these cells are costly and don't produce cells fast enough to respond to increasing demands for human embryonic stem cells." More to the point, less money spent on raw materials means more money to work on cures for age-related conditions. "Mass-producing cells like this could reduce stem cell production costs by at least 80 percent."

Polling New Jersey Stem Cell Funding (March 16 2005)
While debates continue in a number of US states over public initiatives similar to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, polling suggests that state funding in New Jersey would pass at at the ballot. "By a wide margin of 61-31 percent, New Jersey registered voters back a statewide bond initiative to raise $250 million for stem cell research ... Overall support for embryonic stem cell research on an unaided basis stood at a strong 68-24 percent. ... Most voters want to see stem cell research get a full opportunity to explore possible cures to such diseases as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and others." As always, take polls for what they are worth. I have reservations about public funding and legislation, but the level of public support for medical research to cure age-related conditions is encouraging.

The Odd Idea Of Maximum Life Span (March 15 2005)
(From SAGE Crossroads). The idea that there is - somehow - a maximum limit to human life span past which we cannot go, no matter how good our technology, is strangely pervasive given the evidence against it. "'This whole idea that there's a wall came from people spouting stuff off the top of their head,' says evolutionary zoologist Steven Austad ... Biodemographer James Vaupel [argues] that life expectancy has increased linearly - about 3 years per decade - for the past 160 years, and he sees no reason it should stop. ... This argument that we've maxed out - the data don't bear it out ... What's more, none of these estimates takes into account the possibility that researchers will develop treatments that will keep us living longer."

Understanding Telomerase (March 15 2005)
Medical News Today reports on continuing progress in understanding telomerase: "UCLA biochemists have determined the three-dimensional structure of a major domain of telomerase, the enzyme that helps maintain telomeres - small pieces of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that act as protective caps - allowing DNA ends to be copied completely when cells are replicated. This is the first major piece of telomerase for which the structure is known. Telomerase plays a key role in most cancers, and this work ultimately may lead to targets for drug intervention. ... In the natural aging process, the telomeres eventually get so short that cells can no longer divide, and they die. While telomerase is turned off in most types of healthy cells in our bodies, it is active in the vast majority of cancer cells."

Dormant Brain Stem Cells (March 14 2005)
Forbes reports on scientific investigations into adult stem cells in the brain. "The activation of dormant stem cells in the patient's own brain could someday allow doctors to re-grow lost cells without resorting to surgery, and in ways that target exactly those areas of the brain -- and specific types of cells -- damaged by disease. ... While stem cells sourced from embryos or bone marrow have received the most media attention, residual amounts of these regenerative cells exist throughout the body. According to Mehler, about 0.3 percent of brain cells may be dormant stem cells. Just why they so often remain dormant -- even when the brain experiences injury -- remains a mystery."

On Adult Stem Cell Heart Therapies (March 14 2005)
A fascinating article from the New York Times looks back at the past few years of research and progress into repairing heart damage with adult stem cells. "[In April 2001] stem cells from bone marrow, injected into the damaged hearts of mice, had morphed into the special cardiac muscle cells that the body cannot replace after a heart attack. ... But four years later, the treatment has yet to demonstrate whether it will fulfill its promise. ... Ten human trials of the marrow-to-heart approach have been completed in clinics around the world, all but one with positive results. But the overall degree of improvement in the patients' heart function has been modest. At the same time, the original research that provided the rationale for many of the trials has come under severe criticism from scientists."



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