LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 16 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.
- Update on the Future of Low-Cost Biotechnology
- A Point To Remember About Leon Kass
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
UPDATE ON THE FUTURE OF LOW-COST BIOTECHNOLOGY
I commented on the consequences of falling costs of research and doing business in biotechnology two weeks ago:
As a follow-up to that topic, you might want to take a look at the following Fight Aging! post:
In addition to the rise of open-source biotechnology, falling costs also imply an era of garage development, a start-up company in every neighborhood. Ideas are cheap - there is never any shortage of good ideas and the will to succeed; the problem is always capitalization of development. In other words, where is the money coming from? When the cost of research falls to the point at which the answer to that question is "my savings account," an explosion of development and progress will result. Just look at what has happened over the past thirty years in computer hardware and software.
How does this mesh with the future of healthy life extension and the development of practical ways to intervene in the aging process? Very promisingly, I hope. I can state for a fact that a great many knowledgeable scientists and businesspeople, given a lower cost of research, would be out there working hard to make working anti-aging medicine a reality. When medical research becomes cheap, you no longer have to spend resources on obtaining funding or bringing large, conservative organizations around to your way of thinking:
This will be a good thing, but the question is whether or not this transition will happen rapidly enough to benefit those of us reading this newsletter today. The timescale for changes of this sort is decades; the sensible approach would be to hedge our bets and continue to work toward high levels of funding for directed longevity research through existing channels. One of the more novel of such projects at the present time is the Mprize, a research prize for meaningful healthy life extension backed by such luminaries as biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, Dave Gobel and Peter Diamandis of the X Prize:
A POINT TO REMEMBER ABOUT LEON KASS
The President's Council on Bioethics is pontificating in public again; long-time readers will recall my opinions on that group:
I wanted to remind folks that Leon Kass, chair of the Council, is strongly opposed to healthy life extension. He has said on numerous occasions that he believes in the use of government power to enforce restrictions on medical research and applications aimed at extending the healthy human life span. Kass serves well as a larger than life bugbear for the healthy life extension movement, but - needless to say - I find it very hard to enter any sort of rational exchange with someone who holds this position. It is, in essence, a call for slow genocide on the aged, explored further in the following Fight Aging! post:
This is something to bear in mind when looking at the latest publication from the Council on embryonic stem cell research:
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
Reminder: Osteoporosis Is Bad (May 15 2005)
From Canada.com, a reminder that osteoporosis - age-related bone loss - is both common and unpleasant: "Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent diseases of aging, affecting 1.4 million [of 32 million] Canadians. It is characterized by the deterioration of bone density, leading to increased fragility. It is a sneaky disease as bone loss occurs without any symptoms. While it largely afflicts those over 50, it can strike at any age. Twice as many women as men are affected." This is just one of many equally disabling conditions that high levels of funding for healthy life extension research could address. More resources must be directed towards addressing the root causes of age-related degeneration: that is the way to make rapid progress towards longer, healthier lives within our life spans.
Bioethics Council Back To Work Again (May 15 2005)
The President's Council on Bioethics, a body led by a man who wants to force us all to suffer age-related degeneration and die and intended to put a rubber stamp on restrictive anti-research policies, is up to its normal tricks in the latest publication on "alternatives" to embryonic stem cell research. From one of the few remaining less conservative members: "Michael Gazzaniga, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth College, in a rebuttal to the council report said the proposed alternatives are 'high-risk gambles' and evade the question as to whether the United States should endorse embryonic stem cell research as it currently is done or whether the country will 'remain hostage to the arbitrary views of those with certain beliefs about the nature of life and its origins.'"
Stem Cell Research In The US (May 14 2005)
MSNBC is running a general interest article on stem cell research with the normal mainstream media emphasis on politics and public debate. "There is nothing controversial in and of itself about research on stem cells, which promise wondrous breakthroughs in treating thousands of diseases because of their potential to grow into many different kinds of tissue. Already, they are being used to create skin grafts, repair stricken hearts and generate bone marrow for patients with lymphoma and leukemia. The disagreements arise when you start talking about where those cells come from." So much effort is currently going into blocking medical advances and slowing down progress towards regenerative cures for age-related diseases.
Mortality Rates Lowest Ever (May 14 2005)
As reported by the BBC, mortality rates are the lowest ever - another way of looking at the results of medical advances that increase life expectancy, reduce chronic disease and improve healthy life span. "In 2004, the number of deaths dropped by 5.4% to 7,576 per million for men and 5.5% to 5,279 for women. ... That was the lowest since 1954 ... The ONS has stressed it is part of a long-term decline in mortality rates." We can expect next year and the year after to be even lower as these trends continue. The flip side of the coin is that "lowest" is nowhere near "low enough for my liking" and the trend of increasing life span is not yet fast enough to reach escape velocity to radical life extension. Much more funding needs to go towards directed anti-aging research to achieve those goals.
On Anti-Aging Hype (May 13 2005)
The Mayo Clinic has a fairly sensible, conversative article on the sorts of products currently pushed by the "anti-aging" marketplace - and calorie restriction, which is not. The bottom line is that the science simply is not there to support most claims made by sellers in the marketplace; calorie restriction is the gold standard for scientific backing in present day healthy life extension techniques, and little else rises to that level. That said, the value of supplementation, exercise and calorie restriction in improving health and resisting age-related disease are well backed by research. If you want to be active and alive to benefit from working anti-aging medicine developed in the future then you have to take best care of your health here and now.
Towards An Understanding Of Alzheimer's (May 13 2005)
Researchers have taken another step towards a complete understanding of the biochemical mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease: "Researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered an unsuspected subunit of the protein complex gamma-secretase, which plays a central role in Alzheimer's disease. The researchers have shown that the newly discovered component, the protein CD147, regulates the production of the toxic peptides that cause amyloid plaques, the brain lesions that are the defining feature of Alzheimer's." Understanding at this level, enabled by falling costs in modern biotechnology, is important because it enables scientists to work towards targeted, precise therapies.
Yet Another Stem Cell Heart Trial (May 12 2005)
EurekAlert reports on yet another new trial for a first generation stem cell therapy for heart damage. "The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is beginning a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and feasibility of a potential treatment for congestive heart failure that involves injecting a patient's own bone marrow-derived stem cells directly into the heart muscle. The procedure is expected to be performed in five to 10 patients who are scheduled to receive a heart assist device as a bridge to organ transplantation." Other similar studies are also currently underway - there would no doubt be more and greater progress if the overly conservative FDA wasn't holding matters up.
Growing Old Grungily (May 12 2005)
The New Scientist gives a overview of the "green theory" of aging - "that evolution has favoured cells that opt out of the detox business and allow molecular detritus to pile up. Gems and McElwee now believe that ageing is largely due to a breakdown in routine waste disposal and maintenance ... In the end, the crud piles up and poisons your cells. ... And what of the prospects for using the green theory to combat the problem of human ageing? As it is more general than, say, free-radical theories of damage, you'd probably have to do lots of different things to keep the junk at bay. But the hope is that one or two of the genes involved in this system will turn out to have big effects all by themselves. Then, perhaps, we can learn to harness their effects, and live longer lives. "
More On Declining Cellular Function (May 11 2005)
A recent News-Medical.net article is interesting in light of research into age-related stem cell decline and rejuvenation. "Declining function of cells that help repair the inner lining of blood vessels, known as endothelial progenitor cells, rather than a dwindling supply of the cells, may underlie the increased risk of atherosclerosis and other vascular diseases as people grow older ... The report [suggests] that it is not the quantity aspect of these cells produced by the marrow that fails with age, but instead, the quality of the precursors that become limiting, thus leading to deficient repair." This ties in very nicely with what is seen elsewhere in the body; this work suggests that more research should be directed to understanding whether chemical cues can restore the function of these cells.
Stem Cell Progress From Geron (May 11 2005)
Something good via Genetic Engineering News: human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) "can be differentiated into [hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs)], the cells which produce all of the cellular components of blood. When transplanted into immune deficient mice, the hESC-derived HSCs survive and establish multi-lineage hematopoiesis-producing human lymphocytes, red blood cells, and myeloid cells." In other words, "this work provides strong evidence that functional [blood] stem cells can be derived from human embryonic stem cells." Control over cellular differentiation is key to much of the future of regenerative cures for age-related disease. It is very gratifying to watch this important work progress, step by step.
Alzheimer's Vaccine Shows Promise (May 10 2005)
The BBC reports on the longer term results of 2002 trial for an Alzheimer's vaccine, a way of inducing the body to attack beta amyloid: "Results from the long-term follow up studies show 59 out of 300 patients who received at least one dose of the vaccine produced a significant immune response. This group performed significantly better on a series of memory tests than those who received a dummy injection. Brain scans also showed that their brains shrank in size - possibly because of a removal of built-up beta amyloid deposits." More sophisticated vaccine trials are already underway - this seems to be a promising approach to date, all told.
Nanotechnology: Past, Present and Future (May 10 2005)
The transcript for the latest SAGE Crossroads webcast is available. To quote the Foresight Institute's Christine Peterson, "we want a system that works at the molecular level, that gives you the benefits of surgery, three-dimensional control, bring it all the way down to the molecular level, and combine it with the chemical action of drugs, to change bonds, do the kinds of things you need to do to actually heal the patient. ... You can read about this in a series of books, for example, which start with the word 'nanomedicine.' If you were interested in the future of medicine, in the long-term future, the books on nanomedicine would be a place to start." She goes on to a good discussion of healthy life extension research and those who oppose it - well worth your time to read.
Lawsuits Hamper CIRM (May 09 2005)
The San Francisco Examiner reports on lawsuits launched in opposition to embryonic stem cell research and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). "Though the objections are related to fiscal oversight, the groups are represented by the Life Legal Defense Fund, which morally objects to embryonic stem cell research because days-old human embryos must be destroyed to collect the cells. State officials have insisted that the two suits have no merit but admit that they cannot borrow any funding while they are pending. ... if there is no way to approve bonds with the suits pending, the state [should] consider asking nonprofits to advance as much as $100 million." A "days-old human embryo" being an undifferentiated spherical clump of a hundred cells, of course, essentially the same as skin flakes shed every day.
Pharmacology of Lifespan (May 09 2005)
The next symposium organized by the Buck Institute for Aging Research in October 2005 will "bring together investigators from diverse backgrounds to address the current status of the pharmacology of aging and tackle the challenges associated with the discovery of compounds that slow aging. As genetic interventions have resulted in spectacular progress in our understanding of the aging process, now pharmacological interventions promise to advance it further. The Buck Institute Symposium will focus on targets for interventions in aging, developing screens for anti-aging compounds, applied drug discovery and the criteria for successful pharmacological interventions." I suspect this will largely focus on manipulation of metabolism, given the work that makes up the bulk of funded anti-aging research today.