LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 12 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.
- Reports From SENS 2
- A Week Replete With Promising Stem Cell News
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
REPORTS FROM SENS 2
Frank Rummel has been blogging from the second Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence conference (SENS 2) in Cambridge, England:
Rummel and some of the Mprize volunteers are promising multimedia recordings of the event once they return home, so stay tuned. For those of you who like your media a little more mainstream, the Guardian ran a piece on the conference - it's more focused on the science of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's SENS proposals than the conference itself, however.
A WEEK REPLETE WITH PROMISING STEM CELL NEWS
Stem cell science and medicine - rather than politics - has been in the news in the past week, and a refreshing change that is. Progress towards widely available regenerative medicine for age-related conditions and a greater understanding of human cellular biochemistry is continuing despite obstacles technical, economic and political, I am happy to report. Two recent posts to Fight Aging! capture the spirit of present day stem cell research and medicine:
"It is interesting to note that TheraVitae is now pushing their VesCell brand of adult stem cell therapy for heart disease - with the procedures performed in Thailand - quite aggressively in the US. They've recruited Amit Patel, a researcher in the field involved in US trials of stem cell heart therapies, and are conducting a slick advertising campaign. This seems to me to be a step forward; private capital is now confident enough in stem cell medicine to be funding and marketing medical tourism to Asia in the US."
"While first generation stem cell therapies - transplants, in effect, founded on well-educated guesswork and careful experimentation ahead of an understanding of the mechanisms involved - are on their way from laboratories and successful trials to the wider marketplace, the forward edge of research is now very much focused on understanding and controlling stem cell behavior and biochemistry ... right down there at the molecular level. As Scholer notes, knowing what makes a stem cell a stem cell is high on the priority list - being able to turn normal cells into stem cells on demand would solve a great many logistical problems for regenerative medicine aimed at repairing age-related conditions."
From the state of the field today, it looks like the next ten years should certainly be interesting. I'll make the fairly safe predictions that a) major inroads will be made into all common age-related conditions resulting from tissue loss or failure of specific cell populations, and b) stem cell research, alongside cancer research, will drive progress towards a complete biochemical understanding of our cells and the systems they form, and thus a complete understanding of why we age.
The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.
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Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
To view commentary on the latest news headlines complete with links and references, please visit the daily news section of the Longevity Meme: http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/
More Brain Stem Cell Research (September 11 2005)
The Life Extension Foundation News reports on further progress for brain stem cells. Researchers "have been able to get mouse brain cells to duplicate in a lab dish for the first time, increasing the odds that they may one day be able to do the same with human cells. ... their cell culture method offers the promise of producing a limitless supply of a person's own brain cells to treat illnesses ranging from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease to epilepsy. ... We've isolated for the first time what appears to be the true candidate stem cell. Thave been other candidates, but in this case we used a special microscope that allows us to watch living cells over long periods of time ... so we've actually witnessed the stem cell give rise to new neurons. Possibly, a different method may come up to identify the mother of all stem cells, but we're confident this is it."
New Stem Cell Institute At Cambridge (September 11 2005)
It seems appropriate that as the second SENS conference is wrapping up, Cambridge University has announced a new Institute for Stem Cell Biology: "Prof Smith, currently director of the MRC Centre of Development in Stem Cell Biology at Edinburgh University, will initially share his time between Cambridge and Edinburgh before moving with his lab to Cambridge next August. His research will focus in particular on embryonic stem cells, determining how stem cells maintain themselves, and how they become specialised into the different cell types of the body." The degree to which a field of science is prospering can be measured in conferences held and concrete poured - stem cell research is doing fairly well, it seems, despite political hostility and stifling regulation.
Grants, But Not (September 10 2005)
The Sacramento Bee reports on progress, sort of, for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine: the first grants have been declared, but "the money comes in the form of an 'IOU' because bond sales to pay for the research are tied up in litigation. Robert Klein, chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine governing board, said the grantees are encouraged to begin their programs now if they have the money, with the promise of reimbursement later. The award winners, not surprisingly, include research heavies such as UCLA, Stanford University, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco." The wasteful battle over funding embryonic stem cell research and stalling of actual money awards looks to continue into next year at the current rate - par for the course for public programs.
First Press From SENS 2 (September 10 2005)
The Guardian reports on the Second Strategies for Negligible Engineered Senescence (SENS) Conference and the work of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey: At a conference at Queen's College, Cambridge, this week, Aubrey de Grey, a 41-year-old Cambridge computer scientist, told a research audience that there was no reason why people should not live to 1,000. It sounds like science fiction, but for all that Dr de Grey has been dismissed as a crank, his papers continue to be published in peer-reviewed journals and scientists continue to flock to his meetings. The editor of the MIT Technology Review has gone so far as to offer a [$20,000] prize to any gerontologist who could put together a serious argument refuting his claims. So far there have been no takers." Don't forget that you can help advance serious anti-aging science by donating to the Mprize for longevity research.
Your Stem Cells Or Someone Else's? (September 09 2005)
An interesting view on the near future of stem cell transplant therapies from Medical News Today: "Tricking the body's immune system into ignoring stem cells will be the key to successful stem cell transplants ... Our recent experiments suggest that we could use regulatory cells to stop the immune system responding to foreign transplants, whilst leaving the rest of the immune system intact ... Cloning stem cells using a patient's own cells is another option for preventing the rejection of stem cell transplants. ... However, the cost and intricate nature of this procedure means that it may not prove to be a practical option for widespread use." This is from someone working on the immune system of course; it seems to me that the majority of recent successful trials and studies have used the patient's own stem cells.
Finding Heart Stem Cells (September 09 2005)
Adult stem cells are everywhere in the body - the difficulty lies in identifying and isolating them for therapeutic use. The promising nature of first generation stem cell transplant therapies means that new sources of adult stem cells can only be a good thing. In this short Washington Post article, we hear of new progress: "Japanese researchers have discovered stem cells in human heart tissue ... [the researchers] were able to culture stem cells from the samples that developed into different types of cells, including heart muscle cells, blood cells and neurons, the report said. Injections of the cells into a mouse that had suffered an embolism helped the animal regenerate damaged heart muscle and blood vessels. Similar tests are planned on dogs and pigs before conducting clinical tests on humans as early as next spring."
Stem Cell Pluripotency Fully Decoded? (September 08 2005)
Good news from EurekAlert: "Once an embryo is a few days old, the stem cells start to differentiate into particular tissue types, and pluripotency is forever lost. But if stem cells are extracted, researches can keep them in this pluripotent state indefinitely, preserving them as a kind of cellular blank slate. The therapeutic goal then is to take these blank slates and coax them into, say, liver or brain tissue. But in order to guide them out of pluripotency with efficiency, we need to know what keeps them there to begin with. ... We've uncovered a key part of the wiring diagram for these cells and can now see how this is accomplished." Oct4, Sox2, and Nanog proteins are the master regulators. "These findings provide the foundation for learning how to modify the circuitry of embryonic stem cells to repair damaged or diseased cells or to make cells for regenerative medicine."
Conservatism In Aging Research (September 08 2005)
From Penn State Live, a good example of conservatism in aging research: "As far as maximum lifespan goes, we suspect it's around 125 years. There's no evidence that humans can live any longer than that. ... I don't suspect that we'll see maximum lifespan increasing beyond 125." This is a "magic number" - and an example of magical thinking, if you ask me. Laboratories around the world are teeming with life-extended flies, mice and worms, we can make the strong case for describing and repairing the causes of aging, and rapid progress is being made in our understanding of human biochemistry and genetics - the cogs of the complex machine that is the human body. Yet the aging research mainstream insists that we will never make any meaningful progress in healthy life extension. This, not to put too fine a point on it, is utter nonsense.
Aubrey de Grey On Aging, Nanomedicine (September 07 2005)
In case you haven't seen biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's views on nanomedicine, here he is in Always On: "I think the first therapies, the 30-year-conferring ones, will probably not involve nanotech at all ... But as I've explained, the problems to be solved will get progressively harder as time goes by, and we can't afford to slow down - if any of those seven types of damage reaches pathogenic levels, it's game over. I think it's quite likely that pure biotechnology will come up against some brick walls by the time we get out to ages like 200 or 250. At that time, we'll need machinery that's fundamentally different from enzymes and vaccines and such like, let alone pharmaceuticals: machinery that we can control as precisely as we control computers. Nanomedicine will need to be at the heart of all medicine by then, but especially at the heart of life extension medicine."
Stem Cells, Science And Politics (September 07 2005)
Every change in our knowledge of embryonic stem cells is spun by the anti-research camp these days, it seems, but this is important science for the future of medicine. Ronald Bailey at Reason Online dives into the politicized mess to extract a sensible summary: "New research shows that human embryonic stem cells acquire mutations and other genetic changes over time as they grow and divide ... the new Johns Hopkins research will become a part of a standard quality control regimen that identifies and isolates genetically normal stem cells that can be safely used in therapies. ... Stem cell lines, like any other drugs, will have expiration dates. This is not the death knell of embryonic stem research as some opponents might fondly hope, it's just another problem to be solved."
Nanomedicine In The Near Term (September 06 2005)
Forbes looks at the near future of medicine, dominated by nanotechnologies for detection and manipulation and our increasing knowledge of genetics and cellular biochemistry. This is all part and parcel of the dawn of personalized medicine; it's a truism that almost any condition can be successfully treated or averted if caught early enough. "Molecular imaging agents could speed the advent of a new era of personalized medicine, in which therapies are tailored to patients' individual gene maps and doctors can monitor the treatments' impacts on a molecular scale. ... We are trying to revolutionize the way we look at the body ... In the future we will look at unique molecular beacons that signal disease."
Improving Stem Cell Technology (September 06 2005)
Medical News Today reports on an advance illustrative of the pace of progress in the well funded portions of regenerative medicine: "researchers have developed a new purification procedure that gives direct access to muscle stem cells. These cells can both repair and contribute to the progenitor cell population of damaged muscles ... 20,000 purified muscle stem cells were as efficient as one million cultured cells in muscle fibre repair, when grafted in dystrophic mouse muscles ... this higher regenerative capacity reflects these cells' ability to more effectively colonise grafted muscle. Cultured cells undergo modifications that make them less efficient, probably partly because they tend to differentiate too quickly, losing their ability to regenerate damaged cells."
The State Of Alzheimer's Research (September 05 2005)
The Life Extension Foundation reprints a review of the state of research into Alzheimer's disease: "Now, another half a dozen drugs and therapies are poised to go into trials. Yet another 300 drugs are at various stages of development, and geneticists are also at last homing in on the genes implicated in the disease. And in what promises to be the biggest development so far, a new vaccine designed to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's is due to go into human clinical trials, probably in the UK, within the next few weeks." This diversity of progress results from a mere 15 years of high levels of funding; imagine what could be done in the fields of aging and serious anti-aging research if they received the level of funding they deserve.
Free Radicals And Vitamin E (September 05 2005)
An interesting experiment is reported by EurekAlert: a form of mice suffering from accelerated aging benefit greatly from vitamin E supplementation. The researchers suggest these results "are in line with the free radical theory of aging." The more products of free radical reactions seen in the mitochrondria of these mice, the less capable those mitochondria were - and we already know that mitochondrial decline is strongly linked with degenerative aging. This is similarly the case for mitochondria in the brain: "Moreover, brain mitochondrial enzymatic activities were linearly related to mice success in the tests of neuromuscular function and of exploratory and cognitive activity and to the maximal mice life span." The caution here is the accelerated aging - the vitamin E is making up for protective mechanisms these mice lack, and this may or may not increase our understanding of normal aging.