LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 02 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.
- Folding@Home With the Longevity Meme
- The Future of Open Source Biotechnology
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
FOLDING@HOME WITH THE LONGEVITY MEME
This is a gentle reminder that the spare processing cycles on your computer don't have to be spare. Instead, they can be put towards advancing our understanding of human biochemistry with an eye to finding cures for age-related conditions like Alzheimer's:
"Folding@Home is a distributed computing project run under the auspices of the smart guys at the Stanford University Chemistry Department. They rely on the contributions of millions of hours of spare computing time by people like you and I. This processing time is used to solve the hardest, latest and most pressing problems in protein biochemistry."
Download the Folding@Home software and join the Longevity Meme folding team - number 32461 - to do that little bit extra to improve the future of medical science. It's easy!
THE FUTURE OF OPEN SOURCE BIOTECHNOLOGY
I took an all too brief look into the biotechnology crystal ball in a Fight Aging! post from last week:
"In the not so distant future, biotechnology will come to look much like present day software development. This is somewhat inevitable, given the falling cost of computing power. ... For my money, the most interesting part of this process is the enabling effects of cheap computing power - and the tools to take advantage of it - on people who are not professional researchers. To put it another way, the line between researcher and nonresearcher will become very blurred, just as the line between programmer and nonprogrammer is today. The present open source software development community contains diverse individuals, small teams, academic, non-academic, corporate and non-corporate groups producing solutions for specific problems that bother them or inspire them. In the future, equally diverse organizations will form and collaborate to produce solutions for health and longevity using open biotechnology yet to come."
The infrastructure for open biotechnology - shared information; low cost but effective toolsets; powerful computers; a pool of determined, knowledgeable and skilled individuals - is slowly coming into being. How is this relevant to healthy life extension research and the fight to cure aging? The central problem facing advocates for healthy life extension today is a lack of significant funding due to conservative attitudes within and without the scientific community:
As biotechnology becomes more like computer science - in terms of resources, costs and infrastructure - the problem of convincing a central group of stakeholders to disgorge large amounts of money for your research vanishes. When the cost of entry to development is low, when more can be done with less, suddenly any sufficiently motivated group can make progress ... and I don't think that anyone can accuse healthy life extension advocates of being unmotivated.
How soon will this come to pass? That is a good question; certainly not soon enough for us to sit back and relax, however. Today's problems, the obstacles that block large scale funding for directed research into a cure for aging, still exist. We can look forward to more years in which significant progress will cost significant amounts of money - thus these problems and obstacles must be tackled today if the first working anti-aging therapies are to be deployed in time to benefit those reading this newsletter today.
As always, you can read more about the sort of research strategies that deserve funding at biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey's SENS website:
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
First Seed Grants From HSCI (May 01 2005)
Medical News Today reports on the first seed grants awarded by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). "The grants will support research aimed at advancing the understanding of stem cell biology and developing new therapeutic approaches to several diseases, among them cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, muscle disease, Parkinson's disease, and retinal blindness. Five of the twelve projects will involve human embryonic stem cells, including using or creating new stem cell lines that are not eligible for federal funding. ... The awards put particular emphasis on projects that might be difficult to fund from other sources either because a project is considered to be 'high risk/high payoff,' or because the research is ineligible for federal funding under the current federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research."
Cryonics at Alcor (May 01 2005)
A comment in this Sunday Herald article accurately describes what needs to happen in order for the currently small cryonics industry to grow and mature: "Cryonics, ultimately, if proven to work, is going to become an adjunct to emergency medicine. If someone can't be treated, they will be preserved until such time when they can be treated. And it's not going to be the decades-long experiment that it is now; it could be just for a day, a week, a month or a year." Forming those ties to mainstream emergency medical practices via spin-off technologies and research is the way to a healthier, larger cryonics industry. If a realistic present day alternative to dying is to be available to more than a handful of people, this has to happen.
Diagnostic Nanomedicine Well Under Way (April 30 2005)
(From PhysOrg.com). Funding is increasing for the development of ambitious diagnostic nanomedicine, the first wave of more advanced biomedical ("wet") nanotechnology. "Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University [awarded] $11.5 million to establish a new research program focused on creating advanced nanotechnologies to analyze plaque formation on the molecular level and detect plaque at its early stages." The tools proposed here would represent a modest but significant step towards medical nanorobots of the sort envisaged by Robert Freitas. Advanced nanotechnology is a tool for the second wave of healthy life extension medicine, picking up where regenerative medicine and effective cancer therapies leave off.
Unique, Personalized Medicine (April 30 2005)
(From Small Times). The rapidly falling cost of DNA sequencing will lead to a future in which medicine is truly unique and personalized for each individual: "detailed blood analysis and a person's genetic sequencing [could] move medical diagnosis from the reactive to the predictive. ... doctors could use this approach to potentially detect life-threatening medical problems early enough to save people. ... If you can do early diagnosis, you can cure most cancers. We can't just do it right now. ... Each human organ has, through the blood, a unique molecular fingerprint that reports the status of that organ. Hence, if we can read these blood molecular fingerprints, we will have the capacity to assess health and diseases."
More Like Salamanders (April 29 2005)
One vision of stem cell medicine is, as this Forbes writer puts it, "to make human beings more like salamanders. When chopped into bits, salamanders regenerate. Humans don't. By exploiting an elegant natural process -- the body's ability to heal itself with stem cells -- scientists are hoping to find therapies or cures for a long list of conditions including spinal cord paralysis, heart failure and Alzheimer's. 'Humans have a mechanism that sort of dampens down that ability. Infusions of stem cells are basically overcoming the damping-down mechanism.'" The path ahead is quite clear from a high level viewpoint, but a great deal of work remains to fill in the details and achieve goals. Fortunately, funding and public support exist - it's amazing what can be accomplished with those two things in hand.
Massachusetts Stem Cell Bill Passed (April 29 2005)
The Boston Herald reports on the embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning bill passed by the Massachusetts senate. "The bill, which encourages embryonic stem cell research in Massachusetts, was approved by a 34-2 vote, meaning the Senate could easily override an expected veto by Gov. Mitt Romney. The legislation approved Tuesday by the Senate is a compromise between two separate versions approved last month in the House and Senate. It would allow scientists to create cloned embryos and extract their stem cells for research." This is another sign that the tide has turned from harm caused by outright opposition to (hopefully less) harm caused by regulation and politics as usual. It makes me wonder how any medical goals are accomplished, let alone the vital ones.
More Years, More Cancer, More Therapies (April 28 2005)
As a BBC article notes, "Breast and lung cancer rates have doubled around the world over the last 30 years ... much of the growth was due to more people living longer - as cancer is a disease which usually affects older people." As more people live longer lives, age-related conditions become more common. Fortunately, cancer research is very well established and very well funded; more than a dozen potential new types of therapy are in the works and the US National Cancer Institute is predicting cancer to largely be brought under control by 2015. Which then just leaves the remaining hundreds or thousands of age-related degenerative conditions, known and unknown ... wouldn't it be far more efficient just to develop working anti-aging medicine instead?
Telomere Complexities (April 28 2005)
A short note from the LEF News reminds us that dealing with telomeres and associated cellular biochemistry is a complex business. "Telomere shortening limits the regenerative capacity of cells during aging and chronic disease but at the same time inhibits tumor progression ... telomere shortening in [mice] in combination with chronic liver damage significantly reduced organismal survival even though telomere shortening strongly inhibited liver tumor formation. ... This study gives experimental evidence that the negative impact of telomere shortening on [regeneration and survival] can surpass the beneficial effects of telomere shortening on suppression of tumor growth in the setting of chronic organ damage." We have this balance of effects for one case in a vast range of possible cases - much more research remains to be done.
Early Regenerative Therapies Advancing (April 27 2005)
First generation regenerative therapies based on adult stem cells are getting traction, as illustrated by this report from Medical News Today on Arteriocyte, a spin-out company from the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine: "The first installment of the combined $1.4 million grant is for the first phase of a 10 patient study to test the safety of using stem cells to repair ischemic heart tissue caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart. ... patients with blocked or damaged heart vessels will have stem cells drawn from their own blood. These cells will then be enriched in the laboratory and reinjected into the patients at the site of their damaged heart tissue. Researchers expect this procedure to trigger the growth of new blood vessels to replace damaged ones."
More On Exercise Versus Alzheimer's (April 27 2005)
It's been fairly well established that exercise can delay or reduce the risk of suffering many age-related conditions - Alzheimer's disease included. Here, ScienceDaily reports on further investigations into the biochemistry underlying the protective effects of exercise. "Physical activity appears to inhibit Alzheimer's-like brain changes in mice, slowing the development of a key feature of the disease, according to a new study. The research demonstrated that long-term physical activity enhanced the learning ability of mice and decreased the level of plaque-forming beta-amyloid protein fragments - a hallmark characteristic of Alzheimer's disease (AD) - in their brains. ... [exercise] may bring about a change in the way that amyloid precursor protein is metabolized."
On Healthy Life Extension (April 26 2005)
Another Edmonton Sun piece looks at progress towards healthy life extension, including opinions from scientists on both sides of the feasibility debate. "Could we elongate human lifespans past a century or two? Researchers who study aging say it's possible - some say it's inevitable. The challenge is keeping your body fit and your wits keen past your 200th birthday. ... I don't think there's a practical distinction between the diseases of aging and aging itself. If nothing went wrong with us as we age, where would the aging be? ... Which is precisely the thinking behind the so-called longevity movement, which seeks to slow or even stop the aging process by approaching it as a series of treatable disorders."
Hibernation Research Funded (April 26 2005)
Research into induced hibernation in mammals may turn out to have relevance for healthy life extension - as well as "to reduce the body's need for oxygen and lengthen the window of time for treating patients with trauma, stroke, cardiac arrest or cancer. It might also be useful in surgery." The Seattle Times reports that $10 million in venture funding has been obtained by researchers who have induced a state of reversible metabolic hibernation in mice. "Scientists have been able to induce hibernation in yeast, worms and zebrafish but not previously in mammals. Now that Roth has demonstrated it with healthy mice, Ikaria's first task will be to show it can be done safely in larger animals."
Towards An Alzheimer's Gene Therapy (April 25 2005)
EurekAlert reports on trial results for a first generation gene therapy for Alzheimer's: "UCSD physician-scientists took skin cells from eight patients diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease. The tissue was modified in the lab to express nerve growth factor (NGF), a naturally occurring protein that prevents cell death and stimulates cell function ... the genetically modified tissue was implanted deep within the brains of the eight patients who had volunteered for the study." The results were better than any existing therapy, but only slowed degeneration. Better results are to be expected as therapies become more tailored to address the underlying biochemistry of the condition.
Calorie Restriction / Protein Restriction (April 25 2005)
The LEF News notes a study suggesting at least some of the characteristic biochemistry of calorie restriction (CR) can be obtained by restricting just proteins in the diet: "Previous studies have shown that [CR] decreases mitochondrial oxygen radical production and oxidative DNA damage in rat organs, which can be linked to the slowing of aging rate induced by this regime. These two characteristics are also typical of long-lived animals. However, it has never been investigated if those decreases are linked to the decrease in the intake of calories themselves or to decreases in specific dietary components." It remains to be seen whether the results of this study translate into actual healthy life extension in mice, as for CR.