Longevity Meme Newsletter, May 30 2005

May 30 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.



- SENS 2 Conference, September 2005
- Speaking of Ignoring SENS...
- Debate the SENS Proposals at the Immortality Institute
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The early registration and abstract submission deadlines for the second Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence conference (SENS 2) - organized by biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey - are coming up soon, so this seems like a good point to remind everyone about the event. You can read up on the conference and who will be presenting at the following pages:


There's some interesting stuff in there. If you're looking for serious-minded scientists who support the development of working rejuvenation therapies to greatly extend the healthy human life span, then look no further. Aubrey de Grey has a real knack for the human and administrative aspects of the scientific process, as his continually growing and branching initiatives demonstrate.

The trick for the future is, of course, to turn mainstream publicity and scientific acknowledgement into significant levels of funding for research to make SENS therapies a reality. This is an early stage in which we can all help out - the more we talk about the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, the harder they become to ignore or dismiss out of hand:


As someone who spent a good few years pounding out papers in a slowly moving field of science, I quite sympathize with the position Aubrey de Grey is working from. The hardest part of advancing the scientific paradigm in your field is not being right, nor getting the work done, but rather forcing the old guard to acknowledge and debate your proposals in public.


This probably falls into the category of gossip, but I shall share regardless. You may recall the MIT Technology Review article on Aubrey de Grey early this year and the fallout over editorial behavior on the part of Jason Pontin. A viewpoint with links to the relevant items can be found here:


Pontin has been somewhat annoyed by the reluctance of bioscientists to review SENS or even give substantial quotes on the subject for his publication. He is not a supporter of SENS, and in fact has some less than flattering and not very useful things to say about Aubrey de Grey, but Pontin is chasing A-list scientists to produce a review of the SENS proposals - his goals are aligned with those of the healthy life extension community, at least for the moment. Thus it was with some pleasure that Pontin announced he had signed up Cynthia Kenyon to do the job in an article to be published later this year. You can read more about that in the following post:


Within a matter of days of the public announcement, Kenyon backed out, saying that she "could not do an effective job." We all found this fascinating:


Unfortunately, the curtain is only drawn back so far, and we have to guess and extrapolate as to what else is going on behind the scenes. The most charitable interpretation is that most A-list scientists are, in fact, very, very busy and focused people - focused in the sense of a narrow expertise in their specific field of study. The SENS proposals are a synthesis over a number of very broad and different areas, which means that any review or critique based on the science is going to take time and hard work. Kenyon may not have realized just what she was letting herself in for in terms of a time commitment.

I'll leave any more uncharitable interpretation of events as an exercise for the reader, but I will note that Cynthia Kenyon sees radical life extension and physical immortality as a plausible, practical possibility. An excerpt from a recent book makes that quite clear:


"I think that [immortality] might be possible. I'll tell you why. You can think about the life span of a cell being the integral of two vectors in a sense, the force of destruction and the force of prevention, maintenance and repair. In most animals the force of destruction has still got the edge. But why not bump up the genes just a little bit, the maintenance genes. All you have to do is have the maintenance level a little higher."


The Immortality Institute keeps a forum set aside for debating the SENS proposals. A great deal of interesting discussion has taken place there over the past six months or more - if you'd like to dig deeper into this business of scientific healthy life extension, I strongly recommend diving in:



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



SENS 2 Deadlines, June 15th (May 29 2005)
The early registration and abstract submission deadlines for the second conference on Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS 2) are on June 15th, 2005. "The purpose of the SENS conference series, like all the SENS initiatives (such as the journal Rejuvenation Research and the Methuselah Mouse Prize), is to expedite the development of truly effective therapies to postpone and treat human aging by tackling it as an engineering problem: not seeking elusive and probably illusory magic bullets, but instead enumerating the accumulating molecular and cellular changes that eventually kill us and identifying ways to repair - reverse - those changes, rather than merely to slow down their further accumulation. This year's SENS Lecture, provisionally entitled 'Stem cells, SCNT and the rejuvenation imperative', will be given by Dr. Michael West, CEO of Advanced Cell Technology."

More On Mitochondrial Aging (May 29 2005)
FuturePundit provides more commentary on recent research into the consequences of age-related damage to cellular mitochondria. "Failures in mitochondria due to aging are suspected of causing atherosclerosis and heart disease ... Mentally I file this under 'Totally Unsurprising'. Mitochondria have their own DNA for some of their proteins. Some gerontologists (e.g. Aubrey de Grey) theorize that the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) acts as a sort of Achilles Heel in cellular metabolism and cellular aging. Very reactive chemical compounds get generated in mitochondria by breaking down sugar and some of those compounds occasionally break loose and fly into the mtDNA causing damage. So mtDNA might accumulate damage at a much faster rate than DNA in the nucleus."

FT On Transhumanism (May 28 2005)
The Financial Times follows the party line for mainstream media articles on transhumanism and transhumanist enthusiasm for the technologies of healthy life extension. The article presents a short list of amazing achievements and improvements to the human condition that technology - and medical technology in particular - has already accomplished, followed by another list of amazing advances yet to come ... and then dives off the cliff into why this is all a terrible, terrible thing and will never work to boot. I note numerous references to the uniform mortality rate amongst past advocates of radical life extension - but looking at the past is a very bad way to predict the future, that much is certain. A final question: what is worse, forcing billions of people to suffer and die, or making a few hundred self-righteous bioethicists uncomfortable?

Connecticut To Fund Stem Cell Research (May 28 2005)
An article at Newsday.com expects the Connecticut legislature to follow through with a plan for public funding of stem cell research: "On a 31-3 vote, the Senate approved spending $100 million over 10 years to fund the research, which scientists believe could hold the key to curing diseases such as juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer's. Eighty percent of the funding would come from the state's share of the national settlement with tobacco companies. ... The bill now goes to the state House, where it has the support of the speaker. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell applauded the Senate action. 'I would be proud to sign the bill when it reaches my desk.'" It is plausible that present battles over much larger sums of money will make it easier to pass more modest funding legislation.

A Focus On Repairing Aging Tissue (May 27 2005)
RedNova reports on the goals of a new Irish bioengineering center: "Research on mechano-biology will be used for tissue engineering or muscle skeletal tissue. For example when you get degeneration of cartilage, such as you get with arthritis, we can grow tissue outside the body and put it in to replace defects inside the body ... There is another disease where the bond underneath the cartilage begins to stiffen. When the bond underneath the cartilage gets stiffer, the cartilage then is more highly stressed because it is sitting at the top of a stiffer bond, and there is the start of the process of degeneration of the cartilage. Many musculature diseases begin with problems with the bond tissue." Developing regenerative medicine for all age-related conditions is going to take a vast amount of work.

A Profile Of Cynthia Kenyon (May 27 2005)
SFGate.com excerpts a profile of Cynthia Kenyon from David E. Duncan's latest book: "I think that [immortality] might be possible. I'll tell you why. You can think about the life span of a cell being the integral of two vectors in a sense, the force of destruction and the force of prevention, maintenance and repair. In most animals the force of destruction has still got the edge. But why not bump up the genes just a little bit, the maintenance genes. All you have to do is have the maintenance level a little higher. It doesn't have to be much higher. It just has to be a little higher, so that it counterbalances the force of destruction. And don't forget, the germ lineage is immortal. So it's possible at least in principle" Interesting in light of Kenyon's recent reluctance to critique Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS).

Betterhumans Reviews More Than Human (May 26 2005)
Since we've already touched on the topic of transhumanism and Ramez Naam, I should note that More Than Human is reviewed at Betterhumans today. "Rather than just defending human enhancement, he delineates why we should embrace it, and suggests approaches for doing so responsibly. In regards to life extension, for example, Naam points out that older people are more likely to vote, less likely to commit violent crimes and less likely to prefer militaristic solutions. So why wouldn't we want more older, wiser people in society?" A little too indirect for me - we should embrace healthy life extension because it will greatly reduce suffering and death. Very simple. You can read an excerpt from More Than Human focused on healthy life extension and population growth here at the Longevity Meme.

One For The Transhumanists (May 26 2005)
A long three-way interview with James Hughes, Ramez Naam (author of More Than Human) and Joel Garreau is posted over at WorldChanging: the future of healthy life extension and advancing medical technology is one of the many topics addressed. Some good points are made along the way: "I also don't think that there's any useful distinction between therapy and enhancement although many people will persist in making it. My favorite example is that anti-aging medicine will stop an awful lot of diseases. I don't see how you can distinguish in that case between saying well this is also a prophylactic against cancer, and saying that it will extend my life a couple tens of decades."

More To Blame On Faulty Mitochondria (May 25 2005)
From Nature, information on yet another part of age-related degeneration that can be blamed on accumulated damage to mitochondria. "As the cells in blood-vessel walls grow old, their energy-generating machinery begins to leak, says the team. This releases reactive molecules into the vessels, triggering a chain of reactions that ultimately clogs up arteries and increases the risk of having a heart attack ... They speculate that an increased flow of reactive oxygen damages the blood vessel's walls. The body then mounts an immune response to repair this damage, and scientists have already established that cells trying to fix arterial damage can create problems." Fixing mitochrondial damage is one of the proposed Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.

The Stembrid Technique (May 25 2005)
An interesting article from the New Scientist looks at the work of Yuri Verlinsky in Chicago, who "claims to have produced patient-matched embryonic stem cells without resorting to therapeutic cloning. ... Verlinsky says he has already created 10 embryonic stem cell (ESC) lines using his new 'stembrid' technique. Unlike therapeutic cloning, it uses existing ESCs instead of human eggs, and so would be much cheaper and easier. ... other experts say Verlinsky must do a lot more work to prove his claim." The ethical discussion is something of a red herring; the real item of note is that multiple research groups are working on different paths to the same goal. That is a good sign in any field of medical science.

399 New Cancer Medicines In The Works (May 24 2005)
DrugResearcher.com reports on a survey of the scope of current cancer research: 399 new therapies and medicines are currently in development. Most will no doubt flounder in one way or another (the FDA proving to be a very effective barrier to medical innovation), but this is still an impressive breadth of work. The cancer research community, from activists to funders to scientists, is something that we in the healthy life extension community should seek to emulate. The pathway for medical activism leading to growth of research and large-scale funding is proven; it's been done for cancer and diabetes and is in progress for Alzheimer's disease. We can do this for serious anti-aging, rejuvenative medicine - it's just a matter of work.

Stem Cell Politics In California (May 24 2005)
Sadly, his seems to be a week for politics and obstruction rather than research. SFGate.com looks at what is happening to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine: "Leaders of California's Proposition 71 stem cell research program launched a new campaign Monday against state legislation they say threatens to kill the $3 billion program before the first grants are issued. ... Both those developments underscore just how unsettled public policy has become as scientists try to fulfill the medical promise of regenerative medicine against a backdrop of ethical objections and funding uncertainties." Massive public funding makes for massive waste as groups fight slow legislative battles. In my humble opinion, it would be far more effective to eject government from research and regulation, letting scientists make rapid progress with philanthropic and private funding.

$50M Philanthropic Stem Cell Funding (May 23 2005)
Against a backdrop of far too much politicking, the Starr Foundation has committed to $50 million in funding for stem cell research in New York. "The Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative will seek to decipher the molecular codes ultimately responsible for human cellular diversity and eventually use this understanding to design cell-based therapies. ... greater understanding of their capacity and of how to direct their activity allows scientists considerable potential to develop new regenerative treatments that would deploy the body's own ability for growth and repair against a range of conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis."

Foresight Challenge On Longevity (May 23 2005)
The Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges are a high level roadmap for improving the human condition with advanced nanotechnology. As a part of the challenge to increase health and longevity through the application of nanomedicine, biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey provides the first and second expert opinions. "The postponement of aging is likely to follow a trajectory similar to most technologies for which there is widespread enthusiasm: after an indeterminate period in pursuit of the initial breakthrough, improvements to the technology in terms of cost, convenience and efficacy will occur rapidly. ... effective life-extension therapies will [repair age-related damage, rather than merely slowing down its accumulation, thus] most of the beneficiaries of the early life-extension therapies will survive long enough to benefit from subsequent, more effective ones."



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