LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 17 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.
- Pulling the Big Red Lever and Hoping for the Best
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
PULLING THE BIG RED LEVER AND HOPING FOR THE BEST
All too much of present day medicine - and especially in the more aggressive brands of anti-aging medicine - is a matter of pulling the biochemical levers we think we know enough about ... and hoping. An enormous variability exists between individuals in responses to drugs and other therapies, and our lack of knowledge in this respect is quite profound. The goal of work on personalized medicine, based on a greater understanding of genetics, biochemical mechanisms and our cells, is to try and fill the gaps - leading to the use of tailored therapies that are much more likely to work. This is in our future. But back in the present day, while I'll support the freedom of anyone to do whatever they see fit to their own body, it really does seem smarter to wait if you can rather than roll the dice.
Two news articles prompted this line of thought. The first on the sort of activities taking place at the disreputable fringes of stem cell medicine:
"The Barbados clinic's claims are based on the theory that this process can be used for cosmetic purposes. It takes stem cells from aborted foetuses that have gestated for six to 12 weeks, and injects these into the patient's arm. According to the institute, the new cells may search out damaged and dead cells in the body and work to repair and replace them." I've mentioned these sorts of adventurous stem cell "therapies" before at Fight Aging! - the Barbados venture is almost reputable compared to what is going on in Russia:
The second article is a (thankfully) sensible, grounded discussion of hormone therapy. It's more respectable medicine, but still hyped and used as a money making tool in absence of a level of surety I'd be willing to accept regarding effectiveness and problems:
In my eyes, the differences between the topic under discussion in the first article and that of the second are only a matter of degree; it all has to do with the level of scientific knowledge, the level of certainty, the weight of scientific work behind each position. If you're looking at having levers pulled, take a long, hard look at just how much - or little - is known about what could happen. Caveat emptor.
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/
The Latest From ACT (October 16 2005)
(Via Genetic Engineering News). Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), now funded again, is refining the technology and capabilities of stem cell research. Most of the press has focused on entirely the wrong part of this research: "We have shown in a mouse model that you can generate embryonic stem cells using a method that does not interfere with the developmental potential of the embryo." The more important story here is the advances in basic technology and degree of control that enable this sort of work: "In the past, stem cell lines have been isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts and in a few instances, from earlier, cleavage-stage embryos. We generated five [embryonic] and seven trophoblast stem (TS) cell lines from single mouse embryo cells. The stem cells were able to generate all the cell types of body, including nerve cells, bone, and beating heart." This year ACT, next year all the leading research groups.
Not Just Better, But Faster Too (October 16 2005)
The BBC reports on a clever direction of research in tissue engineering: "UK scientists say they can cut the time it takes to grow new tissue from days to minutes. ... The next stage is to test whether this method could help repair injured tissues. Ultimately, the goal is to design a rapid, inexpensive, automatic process for creating strong tissues which could supply hospital surgical units with a tool kit of spare parts for reconstructive surgery. The speed and control it offers means that our method could one day be used to produce implant tissue at the bedside or in the operating theatre." It's only a first demonstration on one specific tissue type, but it's still impressive.
Closer, But Still Missing The Point (October 16 2005)
An op-ed in the Australian has fun with the imagined nuts and bolts of a 1000-year life span and actuarial escape velocity - the result of advancing medical technology. "I think I last gave you an update on my busy life two years ago, on the occasion of my 300th birthday. At that stage, the human lifespan was understood to be an all-too-brief 500 years or so. But now that new advances in gerontology have stretched our fleeting time on this earth to a full millennium, I feel all sorts of new possibilities - and difficulties - opening before me." The missed point? That the long-lived character is alive and healthy rather than suffering the alternative - and that even an op-ed columnist can plausibly imagine enjoying a full and rewarding life for hundreds of years. Boredom is an entirely elective activity, no matter how long your life.
Alcor's "Limitless Future" (October 15 2005)
Folks at the Immortality Institute have recommended the Alcor Life Extension Foundation's latest outreach book and video. Alcor, the largest cryonics provider, has become more focused on publicity in the past two years; my view is that this is a very necessary part of growing the cryonics industry beyond the niche it currently occupies. If the potential for cryonics to save millions of lives over the next few decades - lives that will be lost waiting for working anti-aging medicine to be developed, no matter how fast the research community can make that happen - is to be realized, then meaningful organizational and industry growth must get underway as soon as possible.
Transcending Red Tape (October 14 2005)
Sonia Arrison's latest article from TechNewsWorld restates this week's unofficial Longevity Meme theme: present overregulation harms our prospects for future health and longevity. "Right now in the United States, we have a five-to-ten-year delay on new health technologies for FDA approval (with comparable delays in other nations). The harm caused by holding up potential lifesaving treatments (for example, one million lives lost in the United States for each year we delay treatments for heart disease) is given very little weight against the possible risks of new therapies ... The FDA has done enormous harm to the health of the American public by greatly increasing the costs of pharmaceutical research, thereby reducing the supply of new and effective drugs, and by delaying the approval of such drugs as survive the tortuous FDA process."
Calorie Restriction, Metformin (October 14 2005)
ScienCentral outlines some of the current scientific thinking on calorie restriction (CR) and drugs that might mimic its beneficial effects on health and life span: "The most common drug used in managing Type 2 diabetes, generically known as Metformin, was a standout - it sparked a very similar pattern to calorie-restriction. ... Metformin did a wonderful job of reproducing those effects. It looks almost exactly like calorie restriction in its effects. And so we're hopeful that that one drug might have similar effects on lifespan and on health. ... Unfortunately we don't really know yet whether that will mean that metformin will extend the lifespan of healthy animals or healthy people." The future of healthy life extension is not calorie restriction - but CR the best option available today for people who want to remain healthier for longer.
Calorie Restriction, Nitric Oxide (October 13 2005)
WebMD takes a look at a recent study on the biochemistry of calorie restriction: "The results showed that mice that were fed 30% to 40% fewer calories produced more nitric oxide than those who followed an unrestricted diet. Calorie restriction also caused the mice to increase production of another chemical messenger that stimulated production of new mitochondria (the main energy source in cells) and increased oxygen consumption and expression of a protein previously shown to play a role in calorie restriction's effect on life span. These beneficial effects of calorie restriction were not found in mice that lacked the enzyme necessary to synthesize nitric oxide. Therefore, researchers say the findings suggest that nitric oxide may play a critical role in calorie restriction's effect on longevity."
Surveys, Surveys (October 13 2005)
For those who like to follow such things, EurekAlert reports on a recent survey of support for embryonic stem cell research in the US: "The survey found wide support for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research that cut across political, religious and socio-economic lines, with two-thirds of respondents either approving or strongly approving of human embryonic stem cell research. Even Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians – long considered to be the most hard-line opponents of embryonic stem cell studies -- split evenly on approval for embryonic stem cell research." We can hope that anti-research groups have done their worst: scientific and medical progress already suffers from the consequences of overregulation, never mind the efforts of those who would turn back the clock and have us all suffer and die needlessly.
UK Funding For Limb Regrowth (October 12 2005)
The Guardian reports that a UK team has received further funding to explore salamander-like regeneration in humans: "British scientists have been awarded £10m to develop genetic treatments that could enable humans to regrow limbs damaged by accidents or surgery and allow patients to recover from wounds without scarring. The ambitious project aims to unravel the genetic quirks that allow certain amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, to recover from severe injuries by regenerating fresh body tissues. ... Dr Amaya's team hopes to identify the genetic factors at work and develop drugs that would coerce the human body to heal itself when damaged ... the goal of regrowing limbs was not beyond human grasp. 'It's an achievable future, it will eventually happen.'"
The FDA Must Go (October 12 2005)
Ronald Bailey takes a somewhat more polite and moderate tack on the FDA over at Reason Online. As do I, he thinks it must go or change greatly: "In the new era, patients who want to take advantage of the latest treatments will also have to agree to take more responsibility for the risks that come with using them. This century's biomedical revolution will sweep away the FDA's outmoded regulatory rituals; it's just a question of whether it will be sooner rather than later." The views at FDAReview.org or of other libertarians are also a helpful illumination of the damage that unaccountable FDA-style regulation does to medical progress and our prospects for future health and longevity. We don't have the luxury of time in the fight to defeat aging - those who block the path must get out of the way.
The Future For CIRM (October 11 2005)
The New York Times looks at what lies ahead for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine: "In a nondescript temporary office across the bay from San Francisco, Zach W. Hall is about to lay the groundwork for the largest biomedical venture since the Human Genome Project. With $3 billion committed by the voters of California, his task is to shape the strategy that will best translate the promise of stem cells, which scientists hope will generate novel treatments for many intractable diseases." The article goes on to discuss the high level options, constraints and difficulties for scientific development in the years ahead; a good introduction for people new to the science beneath the debate.
Killing Cancer With Stem Cells (October 11 2005)
ScienceBlog reports on a new usage of embryonic stem cells - employing them to construct immune cells capable of taking on cancer. "This is the first published research to show the ability to make cells from human embryonic stem cells that are able to treat and fight cancer, especially leukemias and lymphomas ... We hear a lot about the potential of stem cells to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. This research suggests it is possible that we could use human embryonic stem cells as a source for immune cells that could better target and destroy cancer cells and potentially treat infections." This is good science, and a good example of the sort of doors opened by increased knowledge of and control over cellular processes.
It Just Makes SENS (October 10 2005)
A good op-ed from Kevin Perrott: "In regards to my interest in [the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Sensencence], I've always believed science would be able to address the fundamental challenge of aging. ... I realized that this could happen in mine, and perhaps my parents' lifetime as I tracked the developments in biotechnology. With this realization came the conviction to play a role in helping bring real anti-aging therapies to the clinic faster. Thus I became involved with the Methuselah Foundation and Executive Director of the Mprize, both efforts spearheaded by [biomedical gerontologist Aubrey] de Grey. I attended the SENS II conference because it is cutting edge and its focus, different from other aging conferences I've been to, is to highlight those technologies which can be used to actually do something about aging now, rather than just examine it."
2006 CR Society Conference (October 10 2005)
Registration has opened for the 4th Annual Calorie Restriction (CR) Society Conference in April 2006. The speakers list is still a work in progress, but researchers Aubrey de Grey, Steven Austad and Caleb Finch are already confirmed. The 2004 CR Society conference was a very worthwhile event for those interested in healthy life extension, and this should be just as good. "We are very excited about having our fourth conference in Tucson. Set aside the dates, meet fellow CR Society members in person, participate in an enjoyable, interesting, and educational conference. We are looking forward to meeting you." You can find out more about the CR Society - and the practice of calorie restriction - at the society website.