Longevity Meme Newsletter, October 10 2005

October 10 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.



- Warnings Taken As Predictions, and Vice Versa
- Mentioned On C-SPAN
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


All too many heralded prognostications on the nature of future health, life span and medical technologies are wrong. They are wrong because they do not or cannot account for radical changes in medical science - whether in directions of funding, new breakthroughs or simply changing trend line slopes.


Take this prediction from a respected group, for example: "40 percent of us will suffer from some form of dementia (most frequently Alzheimer's disease or a disabling stroke). Our gradual, unrelenting path toward death will take 8 or 10 or even 20 years, during which we will cease to become the person we were. We will linger on, in some new state, depending on the care of others." This shouldn't be taken as a prediction - it should be taken as a warning. This is what we face if we don't stand up and do something about it. This is what we face if we fail to make that radical change in funding priorities for medical science.

As biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and others ably demonstrate in their work, we are close enough to the technologies of radical life extension to make a serious attempt at defeating degenerative aging and age-related disease within our lifetimes. Whether or not the attempt is even made - and whether or not it succeeds - is largely up to us. It is public support, awareness and education that are missing, not the knowledge or will to work:



Those of you with longer memories may find it interesting that Aubrey de Grey was name-dropped by Sherwin Nuland on C-SPAN this past week. See the following Fight Aging! post for details:


Nuland is, of course, the author of the rather obnoxious Technology Review article on de Grey that caused much umbrage at the start of this 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/

A Contrarian View (October 09 2005)
From the Scientist, here is a contrarian view on the effects of restrictive US legislation on global progress in stem cell research. The author seems to be suggesting that change in the status quo of US government policies for medical research in this area spurred scientific groups to seek new opportunities for funding, more vigorous effects by pro-research groups to engineer other forms of public and private funding, and opportunistic development programs in other countries. I could craft a more libertarian version of this argument, but don't think it would hold together any better - the real damage to progress was not due to a lack of public funding for traditionally slow and unaccountable public research, but rather a result of threatened criminalization that scared away private funding from competitive, effective research.

Inflammation Gene Found (October 09 2005)
EurekAlert reports that "a specific gene on chromosome 15 regulates inflammation, a finding with implications for a wide range of disorders, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's, and infections. ... this discovery will be of great interest to biomedical and pharmaceutical researchers because of an already heightened understanding of the role of inflammation in so many human disorders. ... [the gene is] a type of 'garbage truck' that helps clear cells of misfolded proteins that build up when cells are placed under stress, Blangero said. Inflammation develops when those faulty proteins accumulate in a cell. People with a genetic variation that impairs [the] ability to purify the cells by clearing out the bad proteins tend to suffer higher levels of inflammation."

Tissue Engineering With Fetal Stem Cells (October 08 2005)
From Forbes: "Using cells from amniotic fluid, [researchers] were able to reconstruct defective tracheas (windpipes) in fetal lambs. ... This is one of several tissue-engineering methods developed at Children's Hospital Boston that uses the fetus's own cells - taken from the amniotic fluid that surrounds it - to create tissue to repair birth defects ... amniotic fluid, which is easily collected, contains unspecialized cells called mesenchymal stem cells. These stem cells can be used to make many of the tissues [needed to] repair a malformation while the baby is still in the womb or after birth - potentially even many years later." Based on this and other research, the storage of all these traditionally discarded materials sounds like a good plan. A pity it's too late for most of us - other methods must be developed for this sort of regenerative therapy in adults.

The Age On Aubrey de Grey, SENS (October 08 2005)
The Age is running an article on biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and his Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. As the article notes, advocacy for serious efforts to address the root causes of age-related degeneration is working: "De Grey's profile among biomedical researchers has gone from crank to useful crank to 'controversial theorist' over the past five years, with grudging admissions that some of his ideas may work. Last year, the US National Institute on Ageing - intrigued by de Grey's idea of using genes from soil microbes to clean up dangerous metabolic garbage that loiters in cells - subsidised a de Grey workshop. Yet the head of the institute continues to call some of de Grey's extrapolations 'silly'." We have a way to go yet, but the march towards high levels of funding and support for real anti-aging medicine continues - the sooner we get there, the more lives will be saved.

Understanding Nerve Regeneration (October 08 2005)
From the Scientist, sounds of progress towards towards nerve regeneration: "Turning off a well-known chemical switch may allow severed nerves in adult mammals to regenerate, according to a report in this week's Science. By jamming the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, the authors blocked harmful signals known to limit repair of damaged axons in the central nervous system. Their finding points to a promising new target for restoring neural function following injury. ... The beauty of this observation is that some drugs that will block this pathway have already been approved for the treatment of cancer. If further animal studies prove promising, the clinical work will move forward very quickly."

Tuning p53 Performance (October 07 2005)
More interesting research into the p53 gene is ongoing; Medical News Today reports that scientists can now control its performance level. We know that the mechanisms associated with p53 suppress cancer by destroying cells with damaged DNA, but it may also be the case that upgrading its level of performance could cause accelerated aging - rather than extending life by giving us greater resistance to the detrimental effects of accumulated damage to nuclear DNA. We are entering an exciting era in biotechnology; the black box of the cell is opening up to inspection, manipulation and experimentation. Understanding a machine implies the ability to control, repair and improve that machine - and certainly the ability to extend its operational life span.

Reminder: Imminst Conference (October 06 2005)
Via KurzweilAI.net, a reminder that the Immortality Institute conference is coming up soon: "'Enhance and Protect the Brain for Life Extension' is the theme of the Immortality Institute's Life Extension Conference scheduled for Nov. 5 in Atlanta. Speakers including leading gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, developer of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), will discuss anti-aging, cryonics, brain-computer interfacing, [general artificial intelligence], suspended animation, the legal rights of conscious computers, and biological immortality." There's still time to register; have a look at the list of speakers for a better idea of the flavor of the event, and drop by the Immortality Institute forums if you have questions.

Stem Cells Repair Liver Damage (October 06 2005)
Life Style Extra reports on more progress in regenerative medicine: "British scientists have successfully repaired patients' damaged livers by using bone marrow stem cells from their own blood. The [patient] is first injected with a drug which stimulates their bone marrow to produce extra stem cells. The stem cells are then harvested from the blood and injected into a vein or artery leading directly to the liver. Although the researchers are unsure what the cells then do they seem to help repair any liver damage." As for many adult stem cell therapies, it is still an open question as to the mechanism by which stem cells regenerate damaged tissue.

Yet More Reasons To Exercise (October 05 2005)
We don't know how long it will take for science and business to develop and deliver working rejuvenation therapies capable of reversing age-related damage and significantly extending our life spans. So it makes sense to take the best possible care of ourselves today - the longer you live in good health, the more likely you are to benefit from the future of medical technology. With that in mind, take a look at what the Scotsman has to say about exercise and neurodegeneration: "Middle-aged people can reduce their risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life by remaining physically active, according to a new study. Researchers found people who exercised at least twice a week in sessions lasting 20 minutes or more reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by 60 per cent, compared with those who did a small amount of training. The active group also lowered their odds of having dementia by 50 per cent."

More On Hair Stem Cells (October 05 2005)
Researchers have been moving steadily towards stem cell based regenerative medicine for hair over the past few years. From EurekAlert we have more signs of progress: "In 2001, Barrandon was part of a French research team who reported in the scientific journal Cell that stem cells could be used to generate skin containing hair and sebaceous glands in mice. But at that time it was unclear whether the stem cells in hair follicles were true stem cells, capable of long-term renewal, or multipotent progenitor cells that would not permanently engraft in the follicle. ... Swiss researchers have answered that question, using rat whisker hair follicles to demonstrate that the clonogenic keratinocytes in hair follicles are true stem cells. ... With the progeny of a single stem cell, it would be theoretically possible to generate the complete hair bulb of a human being, and one that would last for years."

Similar Mechanisms Mean Faster Research (October 04 2005)
Good news from Betterhumans: scientists have found that another longevity gene exists in mice as well as nematode worms. The more mechanisms of aging are similar between species, the more rapidly basic aging research can proceed - this is because it is much cheaper and faster to work with worms, flies and yeast than with mice or other mammals. If work in lesser organisms has greater value, then this is good news for us. From the article: "the longevity-promoting effect of reducing clk-1/mclk1 activity that was initially observed in C. elegans is conserved in mice, supporting the idea that some molecular mechanisms of aging are shared throughout the animal kingdom."

On Telomerase (October 04 2005)
The latest article from SAGE Crossroads focuses on telomerase: "Like a next-door neighbor who turns out to be a spy, a protein once thought to mete out life span is doing a few surprising things inside its cellular home. Telomerase, a cellular operative made of protein and RNA, keeps chromosome ends from shrinking each time a cell divides. Researchers used to think that this erosion could drive organismal aging. Although this idea has largely fallen out of favor, many scientists hold that corroding telomeres might hasten the demise of tissues and organs ... Now, a clutch of studies reveals that telomerase's talents go beyond replenishing the far reaches of our chromosomes and might include stimulating stem cells to replace tissue."

The Logic Of Calorie Restriction (October 03 2005)
The Times is running a good article on calorie restriction and its potential as a tool to extend the healthy human life span. "Of course, I can't tell you if my subjects will live to 130. So many uncontrollable factors affect length of life. I don't have enough evidence to prove these people are ageing more slowly, but it looks like it. ... No one wants to die now. So why think you'll feel different at 80? I want the extra years CR can offer. If I get to 110, then they may have tools that will fix ageing. A kind of rejuvenation procedure. People may call me obsessive, but this is logical behaviour." Very logical: your best shot at radical life extension is to stay ahead of the medical technology curve, by using the best presently available techniques and helping to accelerate healthy life extension research.

Profiling Kenyon, Nematode Worms (October 03 2005)
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profiles Cynthia Kenyon's work on extending the life span of nematode worms: "Aging doesn't occur simply because parts wear out, but also because our genetic code is programmed to reduce the body's repair work after a certain age. ... Dr. Kenyon showed that tweaking a gene called daf-2 'in just the right way' resulted in extraordinary increases in lifespan. ... adjusting the action of daf-2 in roundworms can extend life even if this tweaking doesn't occur until the worm has reached mid-life. Again, no one can say whether this applies to humans, but it has to be encouraging for anyone facing a mid-life crisis. ... How soon any of this can be translated into a hormone or drug therapy that extends life is not clear."



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