LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
August 01 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.
- MIT Technology Review Issues $20,000 SENS Challenge
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW ISSUES $20,000 SENS CHALLENGE
Regular readers will recall the loud arguments over the anti-life-extension profile of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and his work that appeared in the MIT Technology Review at the start of this year. If you missed all the shouting and outrage, you can catch up on facts and links at the following post:
No such thing as bad publicity, so they say. Both Aubrey de Grey's proposals for serious anti-aging research - the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, or SENS - and the Technology Review's bottom line benefit from attention. Editor Jason Pontin took a credibility hit for allowing a strongly critical - one might go so far as to say hatchet job - article and editorial to appear without any accompanying scientific criticism of de Grey's work, however. Since then, Pontin has been attempting to obtain that scientific criticism for publication; regular readers will recall that he almost netted biologist Cynthia Kenyon for the job, but she backed out at the last minute:
All of which leads us to the announcement of the $20,000 SENS Challenge at the end of last week. You can find the details in the following Fight Aging! post:
"Biogerontologists apparently need an incentive to consider SENS. To that end, Technology Review is announcing a prize for any molecular biologist working in the field of aging who is willing to take up the challenge: submit an intellectually serious argument that SENS is so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate, and you will be paid $20,000 if it convinces independent referees. In the case that even $20,000 is insufficient to motivate the relevant experts, we also invite contributions to the fund; anyone wishing to pledge should contact me."
This is a promising development, as Aubrey de Grey explains:
"I know that most of my colleagues are inclined to be less conscientious than [biochemist Steven Spindler] when asked to opine on me, and I also know why, namely (a) that my conclusion in terms of potential life expectancy is very extreme and thus politically unpredictable, and (b) that the particular approach I advocate, the piecemeal engineering approach, is antithetical to mainstream thinking and thus tends to threaten funding for work that is currently in favour. The fact that I have no experimental training is an easy hook upon which to hang a curt dismissal of anything uncomfortable that I might have to say. I am therefore doing my colleagues a big favour with this: I am letting their silence help me rather than hurt me, They mostly know that I'm not an idiot and that they are unequipped to critique my proposals in detail, but they don't like to say so. Now, they don't need to say so - I'll gain credibility, and more with every day that passes, just from their silence."
It should go without saying that credibility leads to funding, and funding for SENS research will lead to better prospects for medical technologies capable of greatly extending the healthy human life span. As always, you can find out more about the science behind SENS at the Longevity Meme or the SENS website. If you are interested in living a longer, healthier life, you should read these proposals:
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
Knee-Jerk Reactions: Alive And Well (July 31 2005)
Knee-jerk, thoughtless reactions to healthy life extension are still alive and well, as illustrated by this latest from Tech Central Station: "On longevity, Bailey discusses how techniques such as manipulation of telomeres (the tips of chromosomes, which seem to play an important role in aging) may add decades to human life spans. Wouldn't that be a good thing? Not according to bioethicist Daniel Callahan, who contends that longer lives, besides bankrupting Social Security and Medicare, would be squandered on golf games." Well obviously, we must immediately move to ensure that everyone suffers, sickens and dies on time. Heaven forbid that actual changes might occur in government programs, or that people will be alive and in good health to do the things they like. Why don't we all go out today and do something that Callahan disapproves of, how does that sound?
Follow The Money (July 31 2005)
PLoS Biology serves up an interesting look at the politics of embryonic stem cell research (which is to say the ongoing restrictions, blocks and threats that hold back medical progress in this field). You'll find a lot of nonsense on the supposed efficacy of monolithic government programs over more distributed or private research, but overall the article provides a good overview of the current state of play: "German embryonic stem cell scientist Oliver Brustle faces major challenges in his lab on a daily basis that have little to do with science. His country's policy on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) is among the most restrictive in Europe. ... Despite the positive activity in many places, researchers like Gearhart and Weissman admit that it's only the best of a bad situation."
Stem Cell Mobilization (July 30 2005)
myDNA notes that "scientists have discovered how blood-regenerating stem cells move from bone marrow into the blood stream. The finding has led to the development of a new chemical compound that can accelerate this process (called stem cell mobilization) in mice - which could eventually lead to more efficient stem cell harvesting for human use." One reason researchers are searching for other sources of multipotent stem cells is that bone marrow extraction is an unpleasant, expensive procedure. Making bone marrow stem cells come out for convenient collection from blood is an intriguing alternative to attempting to use skin or fat stem cells, for example.
Der Spiegel On Aubrey De Grey (July 30 2005)
Der Spiegel takes a few low shots at both biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and the concepts of radical life extension in this article. The journalist may not want to live healthily for a long time, but at least notes the important points: "The list of attendees at the world's second major gerontology conference in Cambridge, which de Grey is currently organizing, also serves as testimony to just how seriously the scientific world takes his theories. ... Most medical research nowadays is devoted to cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. We have powerful lobbies for diseases, but not for aging. ... in theory, a human being would live only 14 years longer if medical science could eliminate these leading causes of death. But bio-gerontologists believe that if one could prevent aging itself, people wouldn't fall ill in the first place - or at least not until much later in life."
More Progress On Creating Brain Cells (July 29 2005)
The Australian reports on more progress - to go with the gene therapy advance reported recently - in developing replacement brain cells for those lost to neurodegenerative conditions: "Neurosurgeons withdrew the stem cells from the brains of adults during routine surgery ... As long as an agent was present to induce cell division, the extracted stem cells created new and working brain cells. ... So far we have managed to produce several millions of new cells from the original stem cells. About 25 percent of them are (active) neurons. ... Researchers have long attempted to find ways of replacing dead brain cells with healthy ones in order to reverse the tragic effects of such diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, in which the brain slowly dies."
New Eggs From Bone Marrow (July 29 2005)
The Times reports on a fascinating discovery: "Scientists have discovered that bone marrow produces primitive cells that can be summoned by the ovaries to replenish their egg supplies, challenging the theory that women are born with their life's supply of eggs. A study using female mice indicated that it may be possible to exploit this natural process in women who are infertile because of their age or cancer treatment. ... We may be ushering in a new era in the clinical management of female infertility and menopause. This could lead to new treatment approaches, based not on drugs but on regenerative medicine through adult stem cells."
More Than Just SIR2 (July 28 2005)
Understanding the genetic and biochemical mechanisms of metabolism is much akin to organising a nest of paper clips - find a loose one and keep tugging to see what it's attached to. From Newswise, the latest on research into the roots of calorie restriction and its effects on longevity: "Mice, rats, worms, flies, and yeast all live longer on a low-calorie diet, which also seems to protect mammals against cancer and other aging-related diseases. A gene called SIR2 is thought to control this process. ... Triggered by low salt, heat, or extreme calorie restriction, a yeast 'master longevity regulator' called PNC1 stimulated SIR2 activity. This new work [demonstrates] that PNC1 regulates the whole SIR2 family of genes, suggesting that a human PNC1 gene might protect against diseases of aging such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes."
New Thoughts On Alzheimer's (July 28 2005)
Medical News Today reports on new research into the mechanisms by which Alzheimer's causes damage. Scientists "have shown that 'the plaques' which form in the brain of patients are linked to damage to nearby blood vessels. Leakage appears to occur between the blood vessels and the brain, as a result of which the plaques develop and the disease manifests itself. ... Under normal circumstances, the blood vessels transport the excess amyloid protein away from the brain. However, the protein has a harmful effect on blood vessel walls. This effect is perhaps strengthened as a result of ageing, which causes the protein to be removed less efficiently. The blood vessel loses strength and in its immediate vicinity the accumulation of the amyloid increases and plaques develop."
The Future Of Stem Cell Medicine (July 27 2005)
What is the logical endpoint for stem cell medicine as a mature field in 2030 or 2050? This EMBO Reports paper takes a look: "Doctors thawed a frozen tube of Jon's personalized stem cells - established in 2013 from embryonic stem cells created through somatic nuclear transfer - and injected them ... Thanks to a sophisticated cocktail of growth factors, the new stem cells target the damaged area and rapidly get to work, perfectly rebuilding a youthful heart. Several weeks later, Jon is discharged in excellent health. Regenerative medicine provided him with a new kidney ten years ago, and subsequent double knee regeneration gave him renewed mobility. Now his new heart will soon have him running a six-minute mile again. Jon Sigurdsson is 100 years old."
Bruce Ames On Tuning Metabolism (July 27 2005)
Here we have a new EMBO Reports article for those interested in supplements and optimising metabolism using presently available techniques - a topic I think garners far too much time and attention in the healthy life extension community. You can spend as much time and money as you like trying to keep up with ever-changing science, but will you ever really know if you are succeeding? This isn't like tinkering on a car engine, where the output is clearly understood and easily measured; in the absence of biomarkers for aging, you'll never know if you're getting good value for money. Take care of the health and longevity basics, but I suspect that further resources are best directed towards supporting the future of real anti-aging medicine and meaningful longevity research.
Bone On Demand (July 26 2005)
The BBC delivers more good news on the bone regeneration front: "We have shown that we can grow predictable volumes of bone on demand. And we did so by persuading the body to do what it already knows how to do. ... The technique uses the body's own natural wound-healing response, which allows broken and fractured bones to knit together, by creating a space around the healthy bone and encouraging growth." This is a clever technique, but still unproven in humans as the article points out. Still, it is promising to see so many different tactics in present day bone regeneration research. That is a good sign for the future, especially for those suffering from the age-related bone loss of osteoporosis.
Nanoparticles For Gene Therapy (July 26 2005)
A step forward for gene therapy is reported at Newswise: "Using customized nanoparticles that they developed, University at Buffalo scientists have for the first time delivered genes into the brains of living mice with an efficiency that is similar to, or better than, viral vectors and with no observable toxic effect ... scientists used gene-nanoparticle complexes to activate adult brain stem/progenitor cells in vivo, demonstrating that it may be possible to 'turn on' these otherwise idle cells as effective replacements for those destroyed by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's." A most interesting twist on current work into gene therapy and regenerative medicine through the manipulation of adult stem cells.
Fishing For Longevity Genes (July 25 2005)
From PLoS Genetics, the results of a search for more genes affecting longevity in nematode worms. Researchers have "identified 23 new longevity genes affecting signal transduction, the stress response, gene expression, and metabolism and assigned these genes to specific longevity pathways. ... Surprisingly, of the new genes that have conserved sequence domains, only one could not be associated with a known longevity pathway. Thus, our current view of the genetics of aging has probably not been distorted substantially by selection bias." This study should contribute to the scientific understanding of calorie restriction and other metabolic tweaks that can extend healthy life span. While unlikely to lead to radical life extension, increasing longevity by improving metabolism is plausible for the near future of medical science.
Development Causes Aging? (July 25 2005)
From the desk of aging researcher Joao Pedro de Magalhaes: "The idea that development is linked to aging has been frowned upon by scientists for decades, but new evidence demonstrates the two are not only linked but that aging and development are regulated by the same genetic mechanisms. ... Even in mammals there is growing evidence that aging is a consequence of developmental mechanisms. For instance, the pace of development influences the pace of aging, suggesting that the timing of developmental mechanisms determines the timing of aging in mammals. ... While the same genes drive development and aging, the researchers do not consider that aging is an intentional product of evolution like development."