Longevity Meme Newsletter, August 15 2005

August 15 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.



- The Two Paths to Failure, Aging and Death
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


There are times when the march of technology makes radical life extension within the next few decades look like a foregone conclusion. But the future is not fixed, and we would be foolish to assume that simply adopting and using the best new health techniques and medical tools as they are developed will be enough. No, we must speak up and organize to ensure that the future of medical technology is as star-studded as we hope. As a constituency, we who support and desire healthy life extension have more in common with patient advocates than any other group. The methods that have worked for patient advocates - for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, diabetes and many other diseases - are the methods that will work to build greater funding and faster progress for meaningful healthy life extension research.

Yet we can still fail, even in the midst of scientific plenty and the amazing march of medical biotechnology.

The first path to failure is the path of complacency and inaction - we just have to look around to see examples in the world today. Many terrible, widespread diseases have yet to draw the level of funding given to AIDS research. There are strong constituencies for large-scale scientific programs in other fields that could have been accomplished in the past decades, but have gone nowhere. Where are the floating cities, the farms on the ocean floor, the mass produced flying cars? The future path of scientific endeavor is decided by our voices, support and desire, by our ability to generate effective advocacy groups at all levels - just because something is possible, plausible and economically viable doesn't mean it will happen. Healthy life extension could become one of these postponed chances, and billions will suffer, age and die because we - all of us - did not make our case well enough and loudly enough.

The second path to failure is that of regulation, protectionism, nationalization and socialism in medicine - the poisons of politics and power abused that impede research and progress. Government investment - and the regulation that invariably follows - is, by its very nature, enormously inefficient when it comes to producing results. Demonstrably so; the incentive structure is counterproductive, as decision makers have neither meaningful reward for success nor penalty for failure. Even worse is government investment coupled with protectionism - making a bad choice the only choice.

Competition is the alchemy by which selfish human nature produces greater good, and by which risks are properly evaluated. It is the lack of competition that dooms government programs to their poor performance. Just look at what has happened to the US manned space program in a government-enforced absence of any meaningful competition: despite widespread public support and advocacy for manned space exploration, billions upon billions of dollars and decades of work have been wastefully and unaccountably spent for very little gain. A similar fate could befall medicine in these times of ever-bigger government and ever-greater attempts at social control. The worst-case scenario would be for the present trends in socialism, regulation to suppress competition and increasing centralized control in medicine in the US and Europe to continue and spread in Asia as well; it would cripple research communities and our chances of longer, healthier lives.

These are gloomy prognostications, but we will only live in the future we desire if we walk with our eyes open, looking ahead and planning. What have you done recently to help ensure that healthy life extension research produces significant results in time to help us all?



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



"Use It Or Lose It" For The Brain (August 14 2005)
(From the Washington Post). Here is another of my infequent reminders about exercise - a vital part of maintaining good health so as to live long enough to benefit from future medical technologies. This applies just as much to the brain as the body; if you don't make use of its varied capabilities, the brain will degenerate more rapidly across your life span. "Some people might have brain networks that are more efficient and so have a greater capacity to compensate for disease ... You have to be cautious. We don't want to create false hopes that you can prevent Alzheimer's ... One of the most striking findings was how it affected function in the area of the brain that creates everyday working memory. We may not have conclusive proof. But the evidence is strong. And these are all healthy choices for other reasons."

Revisiting Fiscal Nonsense (August 14 2005)
As Kevin Perrot recently pointed out, any suggestions that longer, healthier lives for all would somehow lead to financial problems are an indication that present day government-imposed wealth transfer systems (such as for healthcare and social security) are wrong-headed and broken - and always were. The Mature Market here presents another report that looks at the unfolding regulatory situation in the context of ever-lengthening healthy life spans. While you read, think about the basics - if you are active and healthy for more years, you can work and save for more years. You can change careers to keep things interesting. Retirement will fade to be replaced with very lengthy holidays for those who want a rest between vocations. Above all, you'll be alive and healthy to enjoy life! How could this not be an improvement?

Xenotransplantation, Neurodegeneration (August 13 2005)
The field of xenotransplantation has been somewhat eclipsed in the popular view by the advance of stem cell based regenerative medicine, but work continues - such as that reported here by the New Scientist. "Pig brain cells could be implanted into human brains by the start of next year if trials of a pioneering treatment for Huntington's disease are approved in the US. Similar tests on primates have proved 'astonishingly successful' in treating the degenerative brain disease." The pig cells do not replace human neurons; instead they repair damage to the cellular environment caused by progressive neurodegeneration. Huntington's is not an age-related condition per se, but this general strategy looks promising for other, much more common neurodegenerative diseases.

Why Naked Mole-Rat Longevity? (August 13 2005)
Naked mole-rats (NMRs) pose a opportunity for study in the field of aging science. Why do they live eight times longer than similarly-sized rodents? For that matter, what are the mechanisms whereby some other species of animal manage to live far longer than their peers? In the case of mole-rats, it appears not to be related to antioxidants and the free radical theory of aging: "The present study tested if NMRs possess superior antioxidant defenses compared to mice and if age-related interspecies changes in antioxidants were evident. ... It is nonetheless unlikely that antioxidant defenses are responsible for the eight-fold longevity difference between these two species. Maintenance of constant antioxidant defenses with age in NMRs concurs with previous physiological data, suggesting delayed aging in this species."

Tissue Engineering Progress Continues (August 12 2005)
The recent venture funding for Tengion would seem to be why Dr. Anthony Atala's work on tissue engineering is getting press placement of late. Such is the way the world works, but it doesn't make the level of scientific progress any less interesting: "Atala said his research with engineering organs is still at the preclinical stage, which means it has not been tested in humans. However, when he transplanted these artificial bladders into dogs that lacked functional bladders, the organs developed and functioned normally after a month. Atala has helped develop [urethras] which have successfully been implanted in humans. He has created blood vessels, muscle, wombs and vaginas, which have been successfully tested in animals and are close to being ready to test in humans."

Reprogramming Stem Cells (August 12 2005)
(From MSNBC). Stem cell research will lead - we hope - to a complete understanding of cellular machinery, an essential first step towards all the most futuristic visions of medical science. The mechanisms of differentiation are a good early target in this research: "Imagine being able to reprogram the cells of your own body to produce fresh heart cells, regenerated nerve cells to heal spinal cord injuries, pancreatic cells to stop diabetes - or any other type of tissue to cure what ails you. ... Our group, and I know at least two or three others, are playing with different techniques, and it's very clear that something is going on here. We're definitely getting reprogramming." Sadly, anti-research groups use this sort of news to try and denigrate embryonic stem cell research, a field that is vital to achieving near- and long-term research goals in the fight to cure age-related illness.

The Growing Mprize For Longevity Research (August 11 2005)
Jay Fox notes that the total of cash and pledges for the Mprize for longevity research is growing rapidly thanks to many generous donors: "At the current rate of growth, the Mprize should easily reach two million dollars by year's end. But let's not settle for that. Let's continue to advocate and advertise, and try to help accelerate the growth of the Mprize fund, and hence accelerate the power the prize has to inspire research, or even to create controversy and publicity, which can be leveraged to raise further funding and inspire research. Let's help accelerate the intentional search for the cure for aging, and help save hundreds of millions of lives, perhaps billions of lives." If you support the future of healthy life extension, then make a pledge to the Mprize, or better still join the ranks of the 300!

Revitalizing The Immune System (August 11 2005)
EurekAlert reports on positive early results in efforts to repair aging and failing immune systems. Researchers "have revitalised the thymus which produces the T cells required to fight infection ... the immune system deteriorated severely with age, and was further destroyed by severe viral infection and common cancer treatments ... inhibiting sex steroids improved the production of haemopoietic stem cells in bone marrow. These cells provide 'fuel' for the bone marrow and thymus to produce blood cells. ... Because the scientists have been able to manipulate the way the thymus grows back, they believe they should be able to rebuild the immune system of patients who are receiving [organ and stem cell] transplants so donor material is not rejected."

DNA Repair Mechanisms And Longevity (August 10 2005)
Here is a worthwhile article from The Scientist earlier this month. "Understanding the mechanisms that underlie aging remains a bedeviling problem, but not because of a lack of answers. If anything, there seem to be too many answers - or at least enticing clues - each leading in different directions. Thus, researchers are bound to get excited when a single molecule appears to play roles in several perceived longevity pathways, raising hopes that one could weave a coherent theory. Several strands of evidence have linked PolyADP-ribose polymerase-1 (PARP-1) to potential aging-associated processes such as DNA-repair, telomere maintenance, and apoptosis. But many still question PARP's role in longevity." For a good introduction to one small part of the aging puzzle, read on.

Aiming At Cells Made To Order (August 10 2005)
The latest SAGE Crossroads article takes a broad look at the aims of stem cell research and regenerative medicine, with a focus on the work of Woo Suk Hwang's group. "They and their colleagues generated the world's first customized human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines, each line tailored to genetically match one of nine patients who suffer from a variety of maladies, including spinal cord injury, diabetes, and an inherited blood disorder. ES cells are believed to be pluripotent, able to develop into any cell type in the body. Thus, they could potentially supply spare parts: lab-grown tissues that would repair ailing hearts, spinal cords, or even brains. And using genetically matched cells like the ones Hwang and Moon produced could keep patients from rejecting such transplants."

The Best Embryonic Stem Cell Research (August 09 2005)
(From EurekAlert). Promising signs of a movement of funds into what I consider to be the best of present day embryonic stem cell research - work aimed at uncovering the biochemical and genetic mechanisms of these cells. "If we are to realize the tremendous potential of stem cells, we urgently need more fundamental knowledge about their basic biology and more scientists trained to work with them. ... Each center will establish a core facility to support and train scientists and to define the growth conditions and molecular characteristics required for maintaining human embryonic stem cells in an undifferentiated state. Scientists at the centers also will work on specific pilot projects to advance fundamental knowledge of human embryonic stem cell properties and functions." This sort of work is key to more rapid advances in regenerative medicine.

On Investing In Healthy Life Extension (August 09 2005)
Wired concludes that investing in healthy life extension ventures is much like investing in the rest of biotechnology - a risky proposition. "Plowing cash into companies pursuing remedies for the ravages of age isn't the safest prescription for investors' financial well being. Biotechnology, the industry that promises the broadest potential for life-extending breakthroughs, is a notoriously risky investment play ... Still, investors [have time] to be patient. If it all works out, and we really do live forever, that should provide plenty of time for a portfolio of biotechnology stocks to turn a profit." It seems to me that biotech stocks over the past decade or so look much like early computer industry stocks - all very much a roll of the dice. It stopped being that way, you may recall, as the industry matured.

More On Worms, Telomeres And Aging (August 08 2005)
ScienceDaily has a better piece on recent research into telomere length and aging in nematode worms: "For successful aging you have to control both, aging in your dividing cells, which hinges on telomere maintenance, but also aging in your non-dividing cells. We thought that telomeres might play a role in the latter but that's clearly not the case. What is probably playing a role in the other half of aging is the insulin signaling pathway, proper mitochondrial function and dietary restriction ... To prevent accelerated aging in an organism, you need to have both proper telomere maintenance and those other genetic pathways intact. If you wanted to develop a drug to combat aging it wouldn't be enough to target telomeres, you would also have to target these other genetic pathways."

Hows And Whys Of Brain Aging (August 08 2005)
Betterhumans reports on one small step forward in understanding how the capabilities of the human brain decline with age: "Aging brains have been found to produce diminished amounts of critical growth factors that spur the birth of new neurons in the brain's learning and memory center. ... We determined that there is no major, fundamental defect in how newly born cells behave in the aging hippocampus. There is simply less of the growth factors that drive stem cells to produce new neurons. This is encouraging news because it means we can employ strategies to increase the levels of these growth factors and see whether an increased production of new neurons can be sustained in the aging hippocampus." So comparatively simple medical technologies may be able to repair age-related decline in learning and memory abilities.



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