LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 27 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.
- A Good Interview on Stem Cell Science
- One Day, We'll Be Doing Science Too
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
A GOOD INTERVIEW ON STEM CELL SCIENCE
If you've been keeping track of stem cell research with an eye to future regenerative, life-extending therapies or cures for presently fatal age-related conditions, then you should read this recent interview with biologist James Thompson:
It's remarkably sound and sensible for something published in the mainstream press.
ONE DAY, WE'LL BE DOING SCIENCE TOO
The implications of an open source future for biotechnology are interesting to say the least. How many people do you know who are capable of tinkering with code a little, or have researched their own little software project? Anyone with that level of drive and capability could be adding - meaningfully adding - to the biotechnology revolution ten years from now.
"Know-how is expensive, of course, but not as expensive as you might think. If the cost of entry is low (a low cost, high power computer, some general smarts, an investment of time) then someone with 1/10 of a high-level professional biotech know-how can produce useful results at 1/10 of the rate and effectiveness of the professionals. If they mess up, then they mess up - in simulation rather than with real genes in real organisms. Experimentation and diversity will be the order of the day when the only cost is the time of dedicated citizen scientists and the only downside is that some of that time will be wasted. Useful progress may be slow for each individual, but many, many people will be qualified to participate."
If you feel strongly enough about healthy life extension and the fight to cure aging to volunteer with advocacy groups, learn a little biology, or tinker with websites, then you'll probably have the opportunity to be a citizen scientist in the years ahead. As computers become ever faster and ever more capable, professional scientists and skilled volunteers are building the tools that will enable more of us to help advance the biotechnology we feel most strongly about.
If ten thousand motivated people - given the tools and community - can collaborate to build the complex software of an enterprise class application server and all the supporting tools to go with it, then ten thousand motivated citizen scientists can collaborate to make significant gains in healthy life extension science. This is a future that will be here soon - it is a future that is already under construction.
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
Late Conception, Genetics, Aging (June 26 2005)
Randall Parker of FuturePundit comments on recent research into the genetics of women who can conceive at comparatively advanced ages. "One wonders whether the apoptosis genes were regulated to make cell death more or less likely in the late conceiving women. Did their ovary cells manage to avoid death and therefore hang around longer to reproduce? Or did their bad ovary cells more reliably die and thereby eliminate their harmful influence on neighboring cells? ... While women who have babies at late ages might have longer life expectancies there is a more obvious group to investigate for life extending genetic variations: really old people. A comparison of gene expression profiles between 90+ year olds and these late reproducing women might yield some insights into which gene expression profiles are most valuable for longevity."
More Investment In Stem Cell Research (June 26 2005)
The political climate seems to have calmed enough to encourage private investors to put money into developing stem cell therapies, as noted at Today's Stem Cell News. Patent filing statistics leads to the following conclusion: "The message from this report seems to be simple: biotech companies are undeterred by the hostile research environment that currently governs the stem cell sector. The market is aware that there is potentially a huge revenue stream from stem cell research - the world market value currently stands at $2.7 billion and is set to grow significantly over the next few years." If you want something done, let people get on and do it - enough with the threats of legislation and regulation already.
Dangerous "Anti-Aging" Nonsense (June 25 2005)
The less reputable end of the "anti-aging" marketplace - which includes Revlon and other large makers of useless cremes and potions - is mostly concerned with peddling junk that is only going to harm your wallet. However, dangerous procedures and services surface at the intersection of the "anti-aging" marketplace and the practice of medicine. In particular, the present hype over stem cells is leading to some very unethical, unsafe, overhyped procedures from those who consider the desperate and credible to be cash cows. Medicine is as finance - if someone is promising amazing returns on investment, then they're either stupid or a crook. Either way, it's buyer beware: do your research, make smart decisions and be a late adopter.
Stress And Aging (June 25 2005)
From FortWayne.com, an article that examines the relationship between the physiological effects of stress and the rate of aging. Like inflammation, stress causes changes that can be considered as "running the engine hot" or as a form of cellular damage. As the Reliability Theory of aging tells us, either of those things are likely to reduce our life span and make us less healthy as time goes on. You should skip over the flawed discussion of an upper limit to life span, however - Reliability Theory suggests that there is no such thing (aging is a consequence of accumulated damage), and even if aspects of aging turn out to be programmed into to your genes then future biotechnology will be developed to do something about that programming.
A Larger Stem Cell Conference (June 24 2005)
(From SFGate). The health of a field can be measured by the size of its conferences - and judging by the latest yearly conference of the International Society of Stem Cell Research, things are going well for the still-young field of stem cell medicine. "The record turnout represents a 50 percent increase from a similar conference last year ... The very fact that 2,100 people are here says a lot. As far as we know, it's the most in history for the stem cell field." Scientists are trying to use these events to dampen media hype to sensible levels - "managing expectations" as it's known in business. A representative comment: "I am not pessimistic about the future, but I think this will take a very long time."
Cultivating Adult Stem Cells (June 24 2005)
The field of stem cell research, while very promising, is still in its first stages - akin to gene therapy a decade ago. The cultivation of stem cells in the lab is still in the process of exploration and standardization even as researchers are pushing forward with trials for first generation therapies. Here, the Post-Gazette reports on a new step forward in the basics: "Stem cells obtained from adult muscle can multiply as often as stem cells from embryos, indicating that adult-derived cells could be cultivated for treatment purposes. ... Cells that had doubled 200 times seemed as 'fresh,' in Huard's words, as those from 50 doublings. They still carried the markers of stem cells and were able to repair muscle fibers in transplanted mice."
A Clever Application (June 23 2005)
Medical News Today reports on a clever application of new knowledge and capabilities related to controlling cells: "We used the brain's own signaling molecules to guide the genetically modified monocytes along a concentration gradient to the degenerating brain cells ... We showed that improvement of the disease was directly related to the amount of genetically modified monocytes reaching the degenerating brain cells. The improvement was clearly linked to the ability of the corrected neurons to break down excess GM1 with the enzyme delivered by the monocytes." While this was not aimed at an age-related neurodegenerative disease, we can expect to see many more similarly clever therapies as the knowledge base grows.
Gene Expression And Aging (June 23 2005)
An article from Genomics & Proteomics takes a broad look at changes in gene expression with aging - and hints of ways in which to intervene in the process. Interestingly, there is mention of developing biomarkers for physiological age: "We just now have molecular markers for aging in the kidney. If I did the same thing, we could have molecular markers for aging in the muscle, liver, or skin. These markers don't tell how many years you've lived; they tell your relative health. You could turn these into terrific clinical markers, and you would know whether someone is 40 and looks like they're on a bad trajectory, or if they're 80 and you could treat them as a 40-year-old." The current absence of meaningful biomarkers makes it difficult to usefully discuss the results of therapies.
Finding New Stem Cell Sources (June 22 2005)
Over the past year, researchers have been finding more new sources of potentially useful adult stem cells. Here, a Newswise press release details some of the latest research: "Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have successfully isolated stem cells from human skin, expanded them in the laboratory and coaxed them into becoming fat, muscle and bone cells. The study [is] one of the first studies to show the ability of a single adult stem cell to become multiple tissue types ... The research team grew mesenchymal stem cells, a type of stem cell normally found in bone marrow. ... Compared to bone marrow, a skin biopsy is easy to take, so it offers advantages for clinical use. The cells can be obtained from any small sample of human skin."
EMBO Reports Interviews Aubrey De Grey (June 22 2005)
A pleasant midweek piece from EMBO Reports: a focused, sensible interview with biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey. "There is a consensus within society that ageing is not a disease and therefore not an appropriate target for the biomedical approach. That's the problem. ... We define ageing as undesirable, that is what it comes down to. I consider myself a biomedical gerontologist - someone who is interested in developing technologies that do something about ageing. I distinguish myself from biogerontologists, who are mainly interested in understanding ageing but not necessarily in doing anything about it ... The reason that voters think curing ageing is a pipe dream is because television only shows my colleagues talking about what they can get funded."
More On Aging And Stem Cells (June 21 2005)
A short piece from Forbes is illustrative of what scientists are thinking about stem cells and aging these days: "In older mice, bone marrow stem cells that create new blood cells produce fewer immune cells. That means the bodies of older mice are less able to fight infection. As well as producing fewer immune cells, the aging blood-forming stem cells use genes known to be involved in leukemia - cancers that affect blood cells. This may be one reason why older people have an increased risk of developing certain kinds of leukemia ... Aging results in a diminished capacity of the body to maintain tissue and organ function. Since we know the cells mediating this maintenance are stem cells, it doesn't take a great leap of faith to think that stem cells are at the heart of that failure."
The Methodical March (June 21 2005)
SAGE Crossroads outlines the "Methodical March to Immortality," a good summary of the polar opposite of SENS in gerontology. Where Aubrey de Grey makes a good case that we know more than enough to begin the war on aging now, the methodical march crew want to move slowly, completely, genome by genome, five year project by five year project. The first, "funded by the Ellison Medical Foundation, [will] begin by scouring the entire yeast genome for genes that regulate longevity. The researchers will then take these life-extending genes and search for their counterparts in worms and mice." There is a time and place for completeness in science, but it isn't fast - and we need rapid development if we are to avoid the age-related disease, degeneration and suffering that has befallen every human to date.
Alzheimer's Predictor Developed (June 20 2005)
Randall Parker of FuturePundit reports on new research into predicting Alzheimer's: "Researchers have developed a brain scan-based computer program that quickly and accurately measures metabolic activity in a key region of the brain affected in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Applying the program, they demonstrated that reductions in brain metabolism in healthy individuals were associated with the later development of the memory robbing disease." As he notes, "the greater value of this finding is in research on methods to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's Disease." The next step is to understand the biochemical mechanisms of early Alzheimer's development that make this predictor possible.
Inflammation Isn't Good Either (June 20 2005)
Chronic inflammation has been identified as a risk factor for numerous age-related diseases and shorter, less healthy lives. In effect, inflammation acts as a source of damage to the complex biological machines that are our bodies - one reason why the defeat of common chronic disease has lengthened life spans. This item from EurekAlert links yet another age-related condition to inflammation: "A new study of dementia in identical twins suggests that exposure to inflammation early in life quadruples one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. ... The surveys included questions about loose or missing teeth. Gatz and colleagues used the answers to build a crude indicator of periodontal disease. ... The conclusion is not that good oral health can prevent Alzheimer's, but that an inflammatory burden early in life, as represented by chronic gum disease, may have severe consequences later."