LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 31 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.
- Pro-Healthy Life Extension Investors Exist
- Understanding and Controlling Our Cells
- Left Hand, Right Hand, Knowledge
- Live Online Discussion With Aubrey de Grey
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
PRO-HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION INVESTORS EXIST
Investment is at the root of all progress - you can have the greatest idea in the world, but never get anywhere if you fail to find someone to fund your plans. So it's always reassuring to see that the venture investment community contains its share of healthy life extension advocates. See the following Fight Aging! post for more - what would you do with $10 million to push healthy life extension science forward and get a good return while doing it?
UNDERSTANDING AND CONTROLLING OUR CELLS
In the long term, the best results of cancer, stem cell research and other similar fields are the increased knowledge of human cellular processes, genetics, life cycles, biochemistry and other behaviors. When it comes to the capabilities of modern biotechnology - what can be accomplished in the laboratory - scientists are far more constrained by unknowns, money and time than by simple inability to act. Modern tools are already good enough to keep a legion of scientists busy for decades, and they keep getting better.
Much of the most interesting scientific news these days is of the form "scientists have figured out how another important cellular process actually works." This is the foundation for the medicine of the next two decades - the more we know about our cells, the more we can do to fight the results of aging. Two examples:
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a crucial cellular signal that controls the fate of stem cells in the brains of adult mice. ... Many investigators have begun to explore the potential use of neuronal stem cells for the repair of circuits damaged by traumatic injury or degenerative disease, such as Parkinson's, stroke, epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease and well as depression. Identifying the molecular instructions that push neuronal stem cells down a certain path of specialization is a first step towards generating exactly the cell types needed to replace lost brain cells.
Scientists have made a breakthrough in cell research that they believe brings the prospect of drastic improvements in the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. According to reports yesterday they have discovered the chemical trigger that causes stem cells from embryos to start developing into organs, raising the possibility of parts of the body being able to repair their own damage.
LEFT HAND, RIGHT HAND, KNOWLEDGE
One of the biggest challenges facing modern medical science is the management of the knowledge explosion. Even the most dedicated researcher today cannot be an expert for more than a small fraction of a field, and has problems finding or evaluating relevant research from other areas. The left hand of biotechnology all too often knows nothing about what the right hand is up to, which means that progress is that much slower. As more and more of human biochemistry is uncovered and understood, it becomes ever more important for that information to be grasped and used by every research group that would benefit. Difficulties in the management of knowledge are why I think that Ray Kurzweil's timelines for radical life extension are optimistic:
Medical science, like many other areas of human activity, tends to go through alternating cycles of specialization and synthesis as it progresses. We are presently moving from the former cycle to the latter, although the synthesists and knowledge managers have some catching up to do. The medical explorers hacking their pathways through the jungle are all coming to the same large clearing: an understanding of all deviations from health in terms of molecular biochemistry. In this paradigm, there is little difference between aging and disease; all medicine will become a matter of determining how cells and the cellular environment are abnormal - and then repairing the problem.
LIVE ONLINE DISCUSSION WITH AUBREY DE GREY
Mark your calendars: a live online discussion with biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be taking place at the Chronicle of Higher Education website on Tuesday November 1st at 1PM EST:
For more on Aubrey de Grey, his work and the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence - a serious proposal for the scientific way forward to a cure for aging - you should visit the following pages:
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
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/
Growth Hormone Furor (October 30 2005)
(From ScienceDaily). The latest upset in the "anti-aging" marketplace revolves around the legality of growth hormone treatments. You'll hear much light and noise from all sides, so let's just cut to the chase: people should be free to do whatever they like to their own bodies, provided they take responsibility for the consequences. Growth hormone therapies appear to be helpful for some people under some circumstances, but the level of scientific backing for general use that I'd be comfortable with is not there (unlike for, say, calorie restriction). Like many present day therapies, in this era prior to widely available personalized medicine, it's pulling the big red lever and hoping for the best. Results and side effects vary widely, and there are many voices out there making money from hyped, false claims. But none of that is grounds for governmental restriction of choice.
More On Centenarian Studies (October 29 2005)
(From the New York Times). Centenarians and centenarian studies are popular topics in the media this month; one would hope that this indicates an increasing interest in the prospects for future healthy life extension. "From the approximately 50,000 centenarians counted in the 2000 census, demographers expect the number to soar; one census estimate is that there will be about 800,000 by the middle of the century. Whatever the number, Mr. Olshansky said, centenarians are going to seem less extraordinary as improvements in medicine and other factors make it easier to live longer. 'Centenarians today had to survive an incredible array of environmental insults and infections that make them a much more highly selected group of individuals than we're going to see in the future.'"
Near Future Medicine (October 29 2005)
Here is a compact look at the near future of medicine from newindpress: "By 2010, both nanotechnology and stem cell research will have advanced to a point where they become integral, rather than radical, aspects of medicine and healing. ... But the really gigantic strides will come, most probably, from the world of stem cell research. These little prototype cells - which have not fully developed and taken on the characteristics of specific cells - can be manipulated to form any type of tissue - blood vessels, heart tissue, bone marrow, organs, you name it." I think that this neatly captures the appearance of progress in medicine - hot new fields become just another tool in the toolkit, and what was once amazing and unheard of becomes commonplace and relied upon.
More On Cell Therapy By Cytokine (October 28 2005)
Randall Parker of FuturePundit has comments on the recent Italian demonstration of regenerative medicine by biochemical messaging: "Mind you, this is a news report on only 8 patients and not a journal article with a larger number of patients with controls and a detailed comparison of outcomes. Still, the approach is at least plausible. ... The technique might work less well in the really old because stem cell reservoirs in older people are aged and do not divide as quickly. However, one study found that elements in the blood of the old mice caused their stem cells to grow less rapidly. So it isn't so much that the stem cells are old but that they are getting signals telling them not to grow. Perhaps cytokines or other compounds can override those suppressor signals. So Marra's approach might work even for old folks."
Alzheimer's: Fixated On Drugs (October 28 2005)
(From MyDNA). The latest research news has a cancer drug demonstrated as beneficial for Alzheimer's sufferers. In "studies of mice that are genetically altered to be vulnerable to a disease that mimics Alzheimer's, the medicine increased the production of enzymes that break down beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates and destroys cells in the brains of humans with Alzheimer's. In these studies, 80 percent of unmedicated mice were dead within five months; after five months, 80 percent of the medicated mice were still alive." This isn't as interesting as it sounds - it's by no means clear that this will help people - yet it received more press interest than progress towards viable immunotherapies that could actually cure the disease. Drugs are not the path to the future of medicine - they are a 20th century tool.
Novel Stem Cell Therapy (October 27 2005)
From ANSA.it, news of a novel approach to stem cell based regenerative medicine: rather than extracting, culturing and reinjecting stem cells for autologous therapies, instead simply use appropriate biochemical signals that make the patient's body and stem cells themselves do all the hard work. "In the new technique, hormones called cytochines are injected into the body during the 24 hours after emergency heart surgery and immediately spur the production of stem cells in spinal fluid. The stem cells race to rescue the damaged heart ... The acute inflammation of the heart attracts the stem cells whose role in the body is to repair cardiac tissue ... Tests on eight patients who were operated on immediately after a heart attack have produced 'amazing' results."
Chasing Biomarkers Of Aging (October 27 2005)
Practical biomarkers of aging are an important agenda item for most gerontologists: how do you tell whether a potential anti-aging therapy works without waiting years and counting deaths? Some would debate that you can even validate a potential biomarker without waiting years and counting deaths - which is a problem for those of us who would like to tackle the problem of aging on a shorter timeframe. Fortunately, it seems likely that you can't go far wrong by simply addressing as much cellular damage as you can - just as we go about repairing or maintaining any complex system. This Newswise release discusses a slightly different sort of biomarker of aging; one useful for establishing actual age. This is beneficial for a wide range of animal studies - and potentially for validating the ages of human centenarians.
More Promising Stem Cell Medicine (October 26 2005)
Via EurekAlert: "Left ventricular function and exercise capacity increased, while the area of heart muscle damage shrank, in 18 patients given infusions of their own bone marrow stem cells up to eight years after a heart attack ... The main results were at least threefold: an improvement in global left ventricular function by 15 percent, infarction wall movement velocity rose 57 percent, and there was a significant reduction of infarct size by 30 percent. Concerning all those parameters, no significant changes were seen in a representative control group ... The stem cell therapy demonstrates that restoration is possible, clinically feasible and associated with an improvement of the performance of the heart by approximately 20 to 30 percent. This therapy is safe, similar to an 'own blood injection or transfusion,' and has no side effects."
NanoBioEthics (October 26 2005)
Ronald Bailey makes sensible points on the immorality and waste of bioethics at Reason Online: "Nanotech integrated into the very cells of our bodies will dramatically lengthen our life spans, give us superhuman mental capacities, and enable to us manipulate literally every aspect of the material world including the material that makes us. ... Waiting until the ethicists catch up with scientific and technological progress is a recipe for technological stagnation. Slowing innovation is not cost free. It makes a difference to tens of millions of people whether a cure for cancer or heart disease is found in 2010 or 2020." Or whether healthy life extension research and real, working anti-aging technologies prosper.
Truth In Satire (October 25 2005)
The satirists at the Spoof craft a better class of article on attitudes towards longevity and healthy life extension research. Best read out loud in a Groucho Marx voice: "People are sick of dieing. They feel that things will be too uncomfortable without existence. People would rather live to be 100 or older, even if it means having to buy a whole new wardrobe. ... In a poll taken recently, most Americans said they don't want to live to be so old that they cannot wash their armpits without help. If researchers could make it possible to live to 120, other Americans said they would accept that. However, most worry that they'll become unable to use a bow and arrow or have problems running. 'Old age isn't so bad if you can still run at a decent speed.'" For a more serious look at poor attitudes towards longevity based on misconceptions about health, turn to the Fight Aging! blog.
On The A4M Lawsuit (October 25 2005)
The Scientist gets up to speed on the lawsuit filed by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) against aging researchers Olshansky and Pearls. "Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research, a Washington, DC-based non-profit that seeks increased funding for aging research, said he does not hold much stock in A4M's findings, and hopes the lawsuit doesn't give the organization more attention than it deserves. "Since we want to have the public understand aging better, and how to age with health and vitality, we want them to be getting their information from credible sources. To create an equal standing for some who are at least as interested in moving products as they are in providing unbiased evidence-based information to people is counterproductive.'" You'll find more on the roots of this dispute here at the Longevity Meme.
USA Today On Calorie Restriction (October 24 2005)
Mainstream reporting on calorie restriction and longevity has improved greatly over the past few years - the results of education and advocacy in action. We can hope that a similar trend will show in reporting on the future of radical life extension and the development of real anti-aging therapies capable of preventing and reversing cellular damage. From this USA Today piece: "'It is the only nutritional regimen thought to retard aging,' says Richard Weindruch at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His studies have suggested that middle-aged mice can start the diet and still get the longevity benefit. ... In an ongoing study of monkeys, Weindruch has found that the very low-calorie diet seems to shield these animals from type 2 diabetes, a common disease of old age."
A Profile Of Aubrey de Grey (October 24 2005)
The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, originator of the SENS proposals for producing actual, working anti-aging medicine: "de Grey is a serious, thoughtful, sincere, prolific, even brilliant researcher and thinker who seems to have devoted every last ounce of his intellect to conquering the single biggest medical menace facing mankind. Along the way, he has acquired plenty of supporters and detractors - and gained the respect of some of the top scientists in the world. ... One hundred and fifty thousand people die every day, and two-thirds of those die of aging in one way or the other. If I speed up the cure for aging by one day, then I've saved 100,000 people."