LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 23 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.
- Stem Cell Politics: Vote This Week
- Korean Stem Cell Research Breakthrough
- The Fight Over Embryonic Research Is a Prelude
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
STEM CELL POLITICS: VOTE THIS WEEK
Apologies in advance for those of you who reside outside the US - we are back to the seemingly endless and destructive waste of tax dollars that is stem cell politics. For those of you who like to keep track of these things, a vote on the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005" (H.R. 810) is scheduled for this coming Tuesday 24th May. If you want to make your voice heard in this matter - the loosening of restrictions on Federal research grants for embryonic stem cell research, a very promising field of science for therapies and cures for common age-related conditions - the best way to do so is through the tools provided by the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR). Their fast action form will allow you to send a customized fax message to your elected representatives with a click of a button:
You might also find my more general comments on supporting stem cell research to be useful:
KOREAN STEM CELL RESEARCH BREAKTHROUGH
The level of political back and forth over embryonic stem cell research has risen in recent days, especially in the wake of last week's big story from South Korea:
South Korean researchers have "have demonstrated that therapeutic cloning can work in a medically useful way. Prior to this study, there was a question as to whether it was biologically possible. ... The answer is yes, it works. And they did it in a dramatic way - they used therapeutic cloning to derive stem cells that genetically matched patients who had real diseases that could be treated using this technology." This is a big deal, a big step forward and shot in the arm for regenerative medicine, for fundamental cellular research, as well as research into the biochemistry of age-related diseases.
Perhaps even more importantly at this juncture, the Korean team also demonstrated they could work with donated eggs ten times more efficiently than any other group to date - this sort of improvement in research infrastructure will greatly speed progress across the board once the relevant techniques are adopted.
Sadly, many in positions of power in the US couldn't wait to tell us just how terrible these amazing scientific advances are, not to mention how much they would like to ban and criminalize this research. I think that Ronald Bailey and Michael Kinsley have captured a useful range of responses to anti-research groups and politicians in recent articles:
Personally, and as I am sure that regular readers know by know, I think it is a terrible thing that we live in a society in which politicians have so much power to damage medical progress, and thus damage our future health and longevity. So much time and money is spent wrestling over the reins, writing senseless laws and redistributing wealth rather than simply letting medical science move forward at the best possible pace.
THE FIGHT OVER EMBRYONIC RESEARCH IS A PRELUDE
Battles over embryonic stem cell research that aims to cure age-related diseases can be viewed as a prelude to what is to come: a much more aggressive, widespread fight over working healthy life extension technologies. The SENS approach proposed by biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey is a good example of what the future could hold, perhaps partially implemented a few decades from now using advanced biotechnology or early nanotechnology:
The battle lines will be much the same as they are for embryonic stem cell research - the same faces will still be there ten years from now, twenty years from now. Thanks to the technologies they are currently fighting to ban, many opponents of freedom and medical research will be just as vigorous and healthy too. One only has to look at Leon Kass, chair of the President's Council on Bioethics, to see someone who will be lending his weight to attempted bans on extending the healthy human life span even as he benefits from the regenerative medicine he now tries to block:
But don't sit on the sidelines listening to my pontifications - the solution to the problem of anti-research groups and hypocritical politicians is to get involved, to make your voice heard, even simply talk about what you want from the future of medical science. The entrepreneurs are listening, the philanthropists are listening - they fund the future that we want to see ... but only if they know that we want to see it. So speak up in favor of healthy life extension and research to cure age-related disease!
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
Join Our Folding@Home Team (May 22 2005)
Wouldn't it be good to be able to put the spare processing power of your computer to use in advancing medical science? You can! Folding@Home is a distributed computing project from Stanford University that relies on the contribution of millions of hours of spare computing time from people like you and I. This processor power is used to solve the hardest, most pressing problems in protein biochemistry, speeding up the search for therapies and cures for degenerative conditions of aging. Currently, Alzheimer's disease is one of those at the head of the list. The Longevity Meme Folding@Home team (number 32461) is growing and moving up in the ranks - join the team and compete to advance medical science!
A Short History Of Tissue Engineering (May 22 2005)
The Times Online provides us with a fascinating look at the history of tissue engineering over the past decade, placing it the context of advancing understanding of stem cells and the young field of regenerative medicine. "Problem one: it takes a long time to grow something to order; and that may be time the patient doesn't have. Problem two: no one has yet cracked the problem of how to create a blood supply within larger tissue scaffolds. Problem three: there hasn't been enough money in it for commercial companies to drive the technology. ... scientists' attention has been diverted to creating tissue 'on site', rather than making body parts separately." The end goal is still to be able to replace age-damaged tissue with something as good as new.
Older Mother, Shorter Life (May 21 2005)
(From Science Blog). A study in mice shows that delayed motherhood lowers the life span of children in mice: "Negative effects of late maternal age in women, such as abnormal numbers of chromosomes in their children, are well known. However, other potential negative effects on offspring from delayed motherhood have been only anecdotal. ... a team of reproductive biologists [presents data showing] that delayed motherhood in mice results in decreased life expectancy and reduced body weight of their offspring." This would seem to reinforce theories of aging based on accumulated genetic damage - if this damage in germ cells reduces the life span of your children, what is the same damage in other cells doing to your own body?
Xenotransplantation In The News (May 21 2005)
The New Zealand Herald takes a long look at the politics and science of xenotransplantation, a a field of medicine that could produce therapies or even cures for diabetes and other age-related, degenerative conditions. "From these pigs, Living Cell is taking hormone-producing brain choroid plexus cells for experimental treatment of animals with brain injury, such as strokes, and brain disease, such as Huntington's. Even more promising are the pigs' insulin-producing, pancreatic islet cells, which are now being used for treating humans with diabetes." Unfortunately, xenotransplantation is in much the same place as embryonic stem cell research - held back by political restrictions, threats and FDA red tape.
Anti-Research Politics (May 20 2005)
From MSNBC, a fine example of anti-research politics in the US: "President Bush on Friday said he would veto legislation that would loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and expressed concern about human [therapeutic] cloning research in South Korea. ... 'The president is opposed to that. That represents exactly what we're opposed to.'" This is exactly the sort of threatening environment - backed up by pending legislation to criminalize this research into cures for age-related conditions - that has scared away private investment and held back progress towards the full potential of regenerative medicine. The lesson is clear - if we want the liberty to lead longer, healthier lives, then we have to stand up and fight for it.
Insulin, Weight, Shortened Telomeres (May 20 2005)
An interesting study is noted in a release from Newswise: "Obesity has long been known to result in early death, but researchers don't fully understand the process of aging at the cellular level. ... people with insulin resistance and weight gain also have prematurely shortened white blood cell telomeres - a widely recognized sign of aging. Telomeres are part of each chromosome and naturally become shorter over time as cells multiply and reproduce. ... We know that obesity and insulin resistance place a physical burden on the body, leading to inflammation, the production of more blood to feed the body, and oxidative stress, all of which are important factors in the biology of aging. It makes sense that we would see other signs of aging, like shortening of the white blood cell telomeres, as well."
More On The Korean Stem Cell Advance (May 19 2005)
Wired has more on the breakthrough from Korean scientists. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology comments that the researchers "have demonstrated that therapeutic cloning can work in a medically useful way. Prior to this study, there was a question as to whether it was biologically possible. ... The answer is yes, it works. And they did it in a dramatic way - they used therapeutic cloning to derive stem cells that genetically matched patients who had real diseases that could be treated using this technology." This is a large step closer to the ideal of regenerative medicine: "Now we're waiting for the clinical trials (using non-cloned embryonic stem cells) to show that they're safe. ... and then we can start thinking about perfect match cells that are 100 percent compatible with any disease you want to go for."
Step Forward For Stem Cell Research (May 19 2005)
Good news for regenerative medicine today: "South Korean scientists reported Thursday that they've generated the first human embryonic stem-cell lines carrying genes that match the DNA of patients suffering from disease or spinal-cord injury. The development [represents] a major step in the field of stem-cell research. The immediate impact is that researchers could soon study cells carrying specific variations of disease in the laboratory. ... What the study shows is that stem cells can be made that are specific to patients regardless of age or sex, and that these cells are identical genetic matches to the donor ... If they can be safely used in transplant, the promise for effective treatment - perhaps even cure - of devastating diseases and injuries comes within reach."
A Korean View Of Future Longevity (May 18 2005)
From donga.com, a Korean view of the future of regenerative medicine, medical nanotechnology, and healthy life extension: "The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) has unveiled its projection ... In 2020, robots the size of a nanometer (one-billionth of a meter) will travel around blood vessels, clean them, and heal the damaged areas just like car technicians. Also, 'nano capsules' will circulate one's body, encountering pathogens such as viruses, and eradicate them by emitting drugs contained inside. ... Diseased organs in fatal conditions can be replaced by transplants, or 'alternative organs,' cultured from one's own stem cells. Once these prospects come true, we will usher in the era of healthy longevity in two decades."
Elixir Versus Sirtris (May 18 2005)
Reading between the lines of a recent press release, Elixir Pharmaceuticals is positioning for competition with startup Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. Both companies are aiming at new therapies based on an understanding of the biochemistry and genetics of calorie restriction: "Sirtuins are related to Sir2, a gene identified in yeast that is conserved across species and implicated in the control of lifespan, metabolism, resistance to stress and other cellular regulatory pathways. Modulators of this enzyme class may provide important therapeutic agents for metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, as well as HIV and cancer. ... Elixir has a comprehensive patent estate related to the sirtuins, including novel compositions and their potential application to disease treatment and longevity."
A Mainstream View Of Calorie Restriction (May 17 2005)
From InfoZine, a mainstream view of calorie restriction as a tool for healthy longevity. As is - unfortunately - typical, this article focuses on health benefits rather than longevity, but the results of recent studies are percolating through the medical establishment. "Besides influencing your weight, some studies suggest that avoiding excess calories may directly affect your cancer risk. Laboratory studies show that calorie restriction can lead to fewer and smaller breast cancers. It also appears to inhibit all cancers by slowing down the development of cancer cells, increasing their self-destruction and reducing DNA damage. Furthermore, one study shows that long-term calorie restriction by people with a healthy weight may also lower their blood cholesterol and blood pressure and significantly reduce heart-threatening build-up in blood vessels."
Aubrey de Grey: Visionary (May 17 2005)
CNN is running a series of articles on visions for the future from noted luminaries and thinkers. From biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "It is 2020. Life expectancy is still in the 80s and the world record life span is still 122. But humanity's attitudes to aging are unrecognizable from a decade ago, because of techniques that greatly extend the healthy life span of normal mice -- with therapies only begun at middle age." I can't say as I agree with all of Aubrey de Grey's thoughts on the immediate social changes this will bring - but his Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and Mprize projects are worthy of far greater attention and funding than it has recieved to date.
Disabling Rheumatoid Arthritis (May 16 2005)
Medical News Today reports on a first step towards gene therapies for rheumatoid arthritis. A newly identified gene, Foxo3a, "may open a new window for treating arthritic conditions caused by immune dysfunction. Currently, most treatments in development for these disorders focus either on preventing wayward immune cells from attacking the joints or on reducing the ability of these cells to open fire. The new results suggest it may be just as helpful to let these cells kill themselves and each other. ... evolution has somehow provided protective mechanisms for innate immune cells when they go into the hazardous inflammatory environments they create. They need ways to keep themselves alive, and Foxo3a is one of those ways." Remove that ability and errant immune cells cannot survive to do damage.
Always More Complex Than You Think (May 16 2005)
Here's a little something from PubMed for those who like to keep tabs on telomere research and its application to healthy life extension: "We examined telomere biology in rabbits to expand the comparative biology of telomere-directed replicative senescence within mammals. ... The leporids neither exhibited cellular senescence after sustained periods in culture nor displayed detectable telomerase activity. Continued culture was possible because of their extremely long telomeric arrays. Immunofluorescence showed robust telomere signals at chromosome ends and significant internal chromosomal staining in some instances. ... These results show that it is unlikely that lagomorphs use telomere shortening and replicative senescence as a tumor protective mechanism.