LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 25 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.
- Life Terms and Radical Life Extension
- That Weight and Mortality Study
- On Being Distracted By the Little Things
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
LIFE TERMS AND RADICAL LIFE EXTENSION
I found myself talking about Papal succession this past week, rather to my surprise. A recent essay by Rand Simberg used the succession as a starting point for questions about the fate of life terms in a world of greatly extended healthy life spans. For my part, I think it's clear enough that change brings change. As and when scientists attain funding enough to build the technologies of radical life extension, we will start to see shifts in society to match. I imagine that lifetime positions will be one of the first things to go, but read the article and make your own minds up:
THAT WEIGHT AND MORTALITY STUDY
I've sure that many of you noticed the furor over a recent study of mortality risk at various weight levels; it seems to show that slightly overweight people have a lower mortality rate. The sound-bite versions of this study are probably being taken the wrong way: people like to hear what they like to hear - anything to suggest that it's not so bad to be overweight will get a fair amount of attention. Don't reach for the donuts yet, however, as it's good to be conservative in matters scientific. Bear in mind that there are still a great many studies to show that being even slightly overweight greatly increases your risk of suffering age-related illnesses:
As I have pointed out a number of times, we simply can't take each new study as the last word on any complex topic in science - statistics and human health are certainly both complex topics. The process of scientific investigation, research and debate on any given subject produces an array of papers supporting each major position as the years go by. Only slowly does the preponderance of evidence lean one way or another, and certain answers must wait for a complete understanding of the underlying processes and factors involved.
ON BEING DISTRACTED BY THE LITTLE THINGS
It's very easy to lose focus and join the chorus of folks talking about commonplace health details and differences of a year here and a year there in life expectancy or healthy life span. It's good that these things are discussed and it's good to pay attention, but medical science will be able to do far better than just a few extra years - if the funding exists, if there is widespread support, if people embrace the idea of a cure for degenerative aging.
Why settle for tinkering an extra year out of the engine if you can upgrade to something that will last an extra twenty ... or a hundred ... or more? Just because you can tinker now but that upgrade is somewhere in the future is no excuse to lose sight of the end goal. How much time and money did you invest in researching and maintaining your health this year? Compare that to the time and money you invested in making sure that the future of healthy life extension and longevity medicine is going to be up to scratch - why the disparity?
Take a step forward; if you can keep a retirement fund growing, you can certainly help real anti-aging science to grow, gain acceptance and produce results:
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
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
The Near Future Of Medicine (April 24 2005)
An article from the Edmonton Sun looks at some of what we can expect from the next ten years in medicine: stem cell based regeneration medicine and gene therapies. "It could be the magic bullet, the medical technology that puts surgery permanently in the shade - if we can just figure out how to make the damn things work. ... In the long run, we see science getting around the use of embryos as stem cell sources. Stem cell therapy could lend itself to all kinds of degenerative diseases, blood-borne diseases, cancer. ... The so-called Northern Trial is being conducted on human patients at six cardiac hospitals across the country, including the U of A and St. Michael's in Toronto. It's one of the more promising applications of gene therapy - the use of cloned DNA to urge the human body to heal itself."
A Long-Term Aging Study (April 24 2005)
The New York Daily News examines the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's long-term aging study, soon to expand to a larger study group. "The work is yielding clues about the aging brain, Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, and how people can keep their minds sharper longer by engaging in mentally challenging activities, such as playing bridge or the piano. ... It used to be thought that dementia was a part of the aging process, but it is not. ... Researchers have found that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of Alzheimer's, and that on average memory loss accelerates seven years before people are diagnosed with the disease." All the more reason to get working on a treatment for the underlying problem - the aging process.
Keeping Stem Cells Totipotent (April 23 2005)
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty profiles the work of researcher Petr Dvorak in the Czech Republic: "Dvorak was excited as he explained his laboratory's latest discovery -- a possible mechanism to keep human [embryonic] stem cells in their original 'blank' [totipotent] state. The leading international scientific journal in the field, 'Stem Cells,' is about to publish a paper detailing the findings. ... Embryonic stem cells do a couple of things. One, they will differentiate into all sort of cell types, and that's what excites everyone, because we can turn them, hopefully, in the long run, into cells that can be used for therapeutic purposes. But the problem is they do that when they feel like it, and we need to be able to control that."
Adult Stem Cells And Cancer Risk (April 23 2005)
A number of articles have seen print this week about the possible cancer risk from adult stem cells; a team has demonstrated the ability of lab-cultured adult stem cells to become cancerous after many months of cultivation. This has always been regarded as a low level potential risk, but as this BBC piece notes, "stem cell lines maintained and developed in stem cell banks over a long period of time are currently only used for research purposes. They are not transplanted into people." Still, this shows that much more research into cellular behavior would be a good thing. That understanding feeds into many different fields: regenerative medicine, cancer research and aging research amongst them.
More Neurodegenerative Trials (April 22 2005)
(Reprinted at CAMR). "A University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher said he would ask federal regulators Friday to approve the first clinical trial injecting special stem cells into the spinal cords of people with the degenerative nerve ailment called Lou Gehrig's disease." It is good to see more promising signs of progress towards therapies for neurodegenerative conditions; this and similar work forms a platform on which to build a greater understanding of age-related damage to the brain. Unlike other organs, we can't just replace the brain with fresh tissue in a worst case scenario for healthy life extension - so we had better get very good at understanding, repairing and preventing the myriad ways in which this complex machine fails with age.
A Look At Alzheimer's Research (April 22 2005)
From the Life Extension Foundation News, a look at current and near term efforts in Alzheimer's research. "Today, the only treatments for Alzheimer's are drugs that slow the symptoms. And by the time typical symptoms like memory loss begin to appear, the disease has already caused extensive brain damage. To counter that, the University of Arizona and a handful of other research centers around the country are working on a new track to identify tests like brain scans or blood samples that could detect Alzheimer's long before symptoms even start. At the same time, a new Alzheimer's treatment that would arrest a major cause of symptoms is undergoing clinical trials ... Champions of the treatment are so confident in its potential, they're calling it a vaccine."
Better, Faster Bone Generation (April 21 2005)
UCLA scientists have found a new biochemical trigger for bone formation that is a large improvement over the previous standard: "For the average person, this new development potentially means faster, more reliable bone healing with fewer side effects at a lower cost. In more severe cases, such as in children born with congenital anomalies, the new protein may offer an advanced solution to repair cleft palates, which involves bone deficiencies, and also aid in repairing other bone defects such as fractures, spinal fusion and implant integration." Developments in bone generation can also be expected to help those suffering from osteoporosis, a common age-related condition of bone loss.
More On Making Cancer Age (April 21 2005)
(From Medical News Today). You may recall that some groups are making progress in turning off the ability of cancer to resist cellular aging. UK scientists are making confident pronouncements: "Halting the production of telomerase is evolution's way of preventing cancerous growth. I am very confident that we are working along the right lines by targeting this molecule. ... The aim of the project is to develop a series of candidate drugs, which will then enter clinical trials after our four-year project period. Although it may be a number of years before treatments will be available to patients, we are very confident that we have found cancer's 'Achilles Heel', and that by the end of the project we will be in a position to exploit it."
A Good Idea, Slowly Spreading (April 20 2005)
An article on research funding for the study of falls and mobility in the elderly contains a good idea that I'd like to see more of: "Many people believe that unsteadiness is a natural part of aging. But Studenski said it was once thought senility was inevitable, but is now known to not be universal. The center will try to debunk such myths as it promotes independence among the elderly." Moving all age-related degeneration from the "natural, will happen" column into the "problem, we should do something about it" column is an important part of advocacy for healthy life extension. We should not have to accept the indignities of accumulated damage and loss of function - it may be natural, but so were smallpox, anthrax and commonplace chronic childhood illnesses.
Inside A Stem Cell Therapy Trial (April 20 2005)
SignOnSanDiego.com takes an inside look at a successful trial of a bone marrow stem cell therapy for heart disease. These first generation therapies use the patients own stem cells, and scientists do not yet have a complete understanding as to why they work. "It's not clear, for instance, which type of bone marrow stem cell is specializing into myocytes. Researchers aren't even certain that bone marrow cells actually cross lineages to become heart cells. Rather, the transplanted cells might secrete proteins that spur the division of existing heart stem cells – or perhaps recruit stem cells from elsewhere. Distinguishing one type of cell from another in any tissue is still terribly difficult for scientists, as is tracking where cells and their differentiating progeny wind up."
Promising Gene Therapy For Blindness (April 19 2005)
(From the Daily Telegraph). Australian scientists are moving towards trialing a gene therapy for some forms of blindness: "Researchers at the Perth-based Lyons Eye Institute have also successfully reversed blindness in mice using gene therapy and are now preparing to trial the procedure on humans. The process entails a gene being injected directly into the eyes. In the case of 14 dogs that were born blind, four weeks after the initial treatment they regained full sight. The technology [will be] focused on people who either inherited the condition or lost their sight through diabetes or ageing." This research group aims to commence human trials within two years.
Towards More Human Trials (April 19 2005)
Wired takes a look at the the timeline for the next wave of human trials in stem cell based regenerative medicine: "Several scientists have used embryonic or fetal stem cells to help rodents with spinal cord injuries walk again. The researchers travel the country showing videos of rats dragging their hind legs, followed by clips of them miraculously hopping around following stem-cell injections. The question now, especially in the minds of the 250,000 people in the United States with spinal cord injuries, is: When will the research transfer into helping humans? The answer depends on who you ask. Some scientists believe it could happen as soon as the end of this year. Others say that's too soon, and data from larger animals such as dogs or monkeys is necessary before researching with humans."
Evaluating Longevity Genes (April 18 2005)
(From ScienceDaily). Researchers have been hard at work building out a larger set of knowledge of genes and aging in the humble nematode worm: "Worms that lack fully functional daf-2 exhibit significantly extended lives, persisting approximately twice as long as their wild-type counterparts. Daf-2 was first reported as a critical aging-associated gene in 1993, but since that time, scientists have identified dozens of additional genes that are crucial for longevity ... In an effort to perform a comprehensive analysis of gerontology-related genes, the researchers compared gene-expression libraries obtained from daf-2 mutants to those obtained from controls at different ages." Metabolic control and stress response genes appear to be the most affected by daf-2.