Longevity Meme Newsletter, September 26 2005

September 26 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.



- Book Recommendation: The Singularity is Near
- Economic Growth and Life Span
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Ray Kurzweil's latest book, "The Singularity is Near" (TsiN) is now out; if you have an interest in the nature and timing of transformative future technology, including the technologies of radical life extension, then you should run out and pick up a copy. You'll find my thoughts on the book in the following Fight Aging! post:


"My own two cents thrown into the ring say that the class of future portrayed in TSiN is something of a foregone conclusion. It's quite likely that we'll all be wildly, humorously wrong about the details of implementation, culture and usage, but - barring existential catastrophe or disaster - the technological capabilities discussed in TSiN will come to pass. The human brain will be reverse engineered, simulated and improved upon. The same goes for the human body; radical life extension is one desirable outcome of this engineering process. We will merge with our machines as nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing become mature technologies. Recursively self-improving general artificial intelligence will develop, and then life will really get interesting very quickly. And so forth ... the question is not whether these things will happen, but rather when they will happen - and more importantly, are we going to be alive and in good health to see this wondrous future?"

It is an oft-repeated concern of mine that far too many people capable of fine contributions to the future of healthy life extension are convinced that everything is in hand, that the medicine is forging ahead just fine and fast enough without them. So they sit on the sidelines, and progress is that much slower for their absence. "The Singularity is Near" is a good insight in to the modern futurist consensus regarding the classes and capabilities of technology in the future. But the timeline for development is very much up in the air - the future is not a foregone conclusion, and it doesn't always arrive on time. If we devote more resources to the work, goals will be reached more rapidly. Should we fail to oppose onerous regulation and anti-research politics, medical technologies required for far longer, healthier lives will be pushed off into further into the future - many more lives will be lost. Ours are likely to be amongst the toll in this scenario; complacency is as much an enemy as aging itself:



One for the economists in the audience; I thought I would point your attention to an interesting paper on the connection between economic growth and life expectancy:


From the paper: "Analyzing a variety of cross-national and sub-national data, we argue that high adult mortality [low life expectancy, in other words] reduces economic growth by shortening time horizons." We should turn this basic concept around and ask ourselves how much more economic growth could we experience if healthy life spans were greatly extended? What long-term and potentially very profitable opportunities do we set aside because aging and death require us to hasten everything along - and because aging and death destroy more value than all the natural and man-made disasters worldwide each year?



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



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/

Boosting The Elderly Immune System (September 25 2005)
The Life Extension Foundation News is reprinting an article on yet another way to boost a failing, age-damaged immune system: "the researchers also found that [a common anti-AIDS treatment called antiretroviral therapy (ART)] dramatically boosted (up to a factor of 1,000) thymus production of cells from which the immune system makes disease-fighting T-cells. This increase in production even occurred in older people, who tend to produce few new T-cells, the researchers note." A range of other approaches to this same problem have also shown promise. In this new era of gene therapies and immunotherapies (or vaccines) for cancer or Alzheimer's, rejuvenating the aging immune system becomes even more important a goal.

People Who Want To Age And Die (September 25 2005)
I have nothing against people who want to age, suffer and die - I just think that they haven't given enough thought as to exactly how unpleasant the experience will be. A good example of the type - complete with airy metaphysical nonsense - can be found in this recent Guardian op-ed: "The idea of life extending for 1,000 years is altogether too dreadful to contemplate. Life is possible only because there is an end to it in sight. ... I would be content to live to around 100 ... but not much longer." I'd be willing to wager a great deal of money that the author, if he is lucky enough to be in good health and cheer on his 100th birthday thanks to future anti-aging medicine, will not immediately be reaching for the suicide pills. People who fear change - any change, even positive, wonderful change - more than they fear death are a strange lot.

Use It Or Lose It, Yet Again (September 24 2005)
(From Science Daily). Most age-related mental decline - at least that not associated with conditions such as Alzheimer's - can be avoided or reversed to some degree: "Mental declines are pathological for about 10 per cent of the general population over the age of 65, and not much can be done at this time to overcome the debilitating cognitive effects of diseases that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease. But for the other 90 per cent of the population, cognitive decline need not be inevitable. ... we found it is never too late to start. With a little effort, even people in their 70s and 80s can see dramatic improvements in their cognitive skills." Science may or may not advance rapidly enough to save you from the consequences of poor health practices - it would be a shame to miss out on the future of healthy life extension medicine because you didn't take care of yourself today.

FuturePundit On Research Funding (September 24 2005)
Randall Parker of FuturePundit comments on the latest figures for medical research funding: "I am not surprised that diagnostics and therapeutic devices [research and development] yielded the best returns. Drug development returns have been declining. Diagnostic devices are taking off in in part because of a shift toward miniaturized devices. Diagnostics are going to follow in the path of computer chips with smaller devices becoming orders of magnitude more powerful and at the same time orders of magnitude cheaper. ... My own take on drug research is that it is becoming yesterday's approach to medical treatments. Most remaining health problems can not be solved with drugs. We need cell therapies and gene therapies much more than new chemical molecule drugs. Most diseases of old age and the very process of aging will be cured by gene and cell therapies and not by drugs."

p53, Tumor Suppression, Aging (September 23 2005)
The p53 gene has been the subject of a great deal of scientific attention in past years; it appears to important in many fundamental biochemical processes relating to aging and cancer. As is usual in biochemistry, the closer you look, the more complex things turn out to be: "the p53 gene, the most frequently inactivated gene in human cancer, does not produce only one unique p53 protein as previously thought, but at least six different p53 proteins (isoforms). ... This suggests that, in [some] tumours, p53 activity is being lost by altered isoform expression, rather than by mutation of the p53 gene itself." Meanwhile, research into the mechanisms of Progeria suggests that "hyperactivation of the tumour suppressor p53 may cause accelerated ageing."

The State Of Stem Cell Businesses (September 23 2005)
The Economist paints a gloomy picture of the state of private and venture funding for stem cell research and commercialization: "Just over $1 billion was spent on stem-cell work last year, a mere 1% of global spending on health-care [research and development]. More than four-fifths of that investment came from governments. Venture capital, the traditional engine of biotechnology, is remarkably scarce in stem cells. Only $50m was pumped into the field last year, as private investors look for safer bets in more developed products with larger markets, where regulation and patent protection is more clearly defined. ... there are now roughly 140 stem-cell-related products in development, for various forms of cancer, liver disease and other conditions. But more than four-fifths of these projects are in early-stage development, where many a gleam in a scientist's eye dies."

A Florida Stem Cell Initiative? (September 22 2005)
Wired reports on efforts to create a California Proposition 71-like stem cell research initiative in Florida: "Embryonic stem-cell research advocates in Florida have drafted a ballot initiative that would put $200 million toward the science over the next 10 years, citing frustration with lack of interest in the promising field among federal and state agencies. Floridians for Stem Cell Research and Cures, an organization formed to promote the new measure, must collect 600,000 petition signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 7, 2006, statewide ballot. The Florida Supreme Court must also approve the measure before it appears on the ballot. ... they'll keep the effort simple, small and straightforward, hoping to avoid the red tape that has plagued Proposition 71 in California."

Royal Society On Personalized Medicine (September 22 2005)
I've mentioned personalized medicine a number of times in the past: it's a promising part of the future of medicine for many reasons. Present day treatment is all too often a hit-and-miss affair, as we understand all too little about the large variance in effectiveness of therapies between individuals. The Royal Society has issued a lengthy report on timelines for the development of the underlying medical technologies. "The Society concludes that personalised medicines also known as pharmacogenetics have a promising future. However, it will be another 15 to 20 years before their use is widespread because of the many gaps in our understanding of how genetics relates to the causes of disease."

Closer To An Alzheimer's Gene Therapy (September 21 2005)
Medical News Today has news of progress in Alzheimer's gene therapy research: "What we are showing is a proof of principle that stopping the synthesis of a protein that is necessary for the formation of the telltale plaques reverses the progression of the disease, and more importantly, the cognitive function of these mice, which had already been impaired, has now recovered ... Within a month of treatment, mice that had already suffered memory deficits could learn and remember how to find their way through a water maze ... It appears that these mice can come back from a very severe level of disease progression. This is a very important finding because humans are usually diagnosed when the disease has already progressed relatively far."

The State Of Research Funding (September 21 2005)
(From MSNBC). $100 billion a year may seem like a lot of money for medical research, but it's a drop in the bucket of medical expenditures in general - and the present regulatory environment ensures that a great deal of that money is wasted on needless hoop-jumping exercises. "The imbalance between late-stage and early-stage research is growing, the authors wrote, and is due partly to lengthy clinical trials required for new drug approval and partly to pure marketing. Companies often run costly studies to show their drugs work better than competitors' drugs." Which is disingenuous - companies are forced to run ever more costly and unnecessary studies by risk-averse and unaccountable government regulatory bodies. The best way to reduce the cost of medicine is to remove government regulation, thereby increasing the economic reward for greater research funding, and allowing that research funding to achieve results more effectively.

Fundraising For The Mprize (September 20 2005)
A great many generous folks have helped raise funds for the Mprize for anti-aging research over the past two years; here's an article on the efforts of the youngest volunteer to date: "When eight year old Avianna asks potential donors to help, they all realize that Avianna is not doing it for herself. Her approach is logical: 'Aging is bad, and it can be repaired in our lifetime.' She has caused her neighbors to consider a future in which increasing years of life doesn't have to mean becoming old and frail. Avianna's efforts have exceeded even her own optimistic expectations, resulting in $3000 of donations in just a few short weeks. Said Avianna, 'I want to help peole live longer so that they can help with the problems of the world more.'" The more people willing to help meet the Muhlestein Family Trust Challenge, the better.

Fetal Stem Cells, Spinal Injuries (September 20 2005)
From Wired, news of another step towards regenerative medicine capable of repairing damage to the spine. "Injections of human [fetal] stem cells seem to directly repair some of the damage caused by spinal cord injury, according to research that helped partially paralyzed mice walk again. ... But the new work went an extra step, suggesting the connections that the stem cells form to help bridge the damaged spinal cord are key to recovery. Surprisingly, they didn't just form new nerve cells. They also formed cells that create the biological insulation that nerve fibers need to communicate. A number of neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, involve loss of that insulation, called myelin." Embryonic stem cells have also shown promise for repairing spinal injuries and paralysis.

Revisiting Voyager Pharmaceuticals (September 19 2005)
I mentioned Voyager Pharmaceuticals in 2004 in the context of another new theory of aging. Here, JS Online presents a good article on both this theory of aging and the forthcoming trials for a related - and as yet unproven - Alzheimer's therapy. "In their paper published last year in the journal Gerontology, Atwood and co-author Richard Bowen titled the idea 'Living and Dying for Sex.' Simply stated, they say hormones that regulate sexual reproduction early in life can act in a harmful manner later in life, generally when people reach their 40s. That happens because in an attempt to maintain reproduction, the hormones futilely stimulate cells in the body to divide, resulting in cell damage and disease." It's unclear as to how much of age-related degeneration could be due to this mechanism, but it's clearly worth further investigation.

The Merits Of Killifish (September 19 2005)
If you recall the discussions last year on creating a Methuselah Fly Prize to run alongside the Methuselah Mouse Prize, then you'll probably already know the significance of killifish in aging research. From Practical Fishkeeping: "Scientists are using killifish from the Nothobranchius genus to study the effects of aging.... Nothobranchius can be used to test the effects of aging at a pace comparable to that seen with other model organisms such as the fruit fly, Drosophila. ... Because they live fast and die young, they make good subjects for studying the effects of aging upon vertebrate cells." The cost and length of mouse experiments in healthy life extension science is an obstacle: for some types of experiment, flies and fish provide much cheaper, faster alternatives.

Towards A Practical Alzheimer's Vaccine (September 19 2005)
Medical News Today reports on progress towards an Alzheimer's vaccine therapy in Austria: "The Vienna-based company Affiris is now reporting that it has succeeded in significantly reducing Alzheimer plaques by at least two-thirds in pre-clinical models by means of an innovative vaccine ... the Affiris approach not only avoids an autoimmune disease, but also offers the advantage of targeting simultaneously both the plaques and the soluble beta-amyloid fraction. Therefore, whether the soluble or plaque forms - or both - are responsible for causing the disease is not ultimately crucial for the vaccine's success." The company is aiming for human trials in 2006; the next few years should definitively show whether removing amyloid is a viable strategy for an Alzheimer's cure.



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