LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
November 14 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.
- Bad Ideas That Refuse to Yield to Evidence
- A Week of Fascinating Discussions
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
BAD IDEAS THAT REFUSE TO YIELD TO EVIDENCE
There are any number of bad ideas in the world that seem very resistant to overwhelming evidence of their poor nature - Malthusianism, Communism, and so forth. One such widespread misconception is that life extension will not lead to longer, healthier lives, but rather to additional years spent in even-increasing decrepitude. I call this the Tithonus Error, after the Greek legend:
The evidence continues to roll in to support the contention that all life extension is, by necessity, healthy life extension - even inadvertent life extension brought about by general improvements in medical technology and capabilities:
The advocacy of healthy life extension suffers greatly from mistaken, Malthusian opposition, wherein overpopulation and lack of resources are touted as a reason not to save lives, to force people to suffer and die rather than seek a cure for aging. Overpopulation resulting from longer lives is a myth today and will remain so in the future:
We can hope that the Tithonus Error will prove more yielding to the increasing weight of evidence demonstrating it to be false, and thus that more people will lend their support in the years ahead to the attainment of real, working anti-aging medicine.
A WEEK OF FASCINATING DISCUSSIONS
It has been a week of very educational discussions on healthy life extension, biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Senescence (SENS), funding and goals within the gerontology community. I am very pleased to see the SENS critics start to level their criticisms in public forums - such as the EMBO Reports journal - even if the tone and tenor needs some work. It is by meaningful criticism and debate that science advances; the chief battle facing the champions of new paradigms is often simply to have the incumbents debate you at all.
With that in mind, here are two Fight Aging! posts from the past week that you should definitely take the time to read. We'll start out with satire from researcher Richard Miller and a reply in kind from Aubrey de Grey, and move on to a critique from Rafal Smigrodzki, a member of the mitochondrial protofection team:
"Dear Aubrey: I saw you on TV the other day, and was hoping that now that the aging problem has been solved, you might have time to help me in my publicity campaign to solve a similar engineering challenge, one that has been too long ignored by the ultra-conservative, fraidy-cat mainstream scientific community, the problem of producing flying pigs. A theoretical analysis of the problem, using the fastest available modern computers, shows that there are a mere seven reasons why pigs cannot, at present, fly."
"I am warmly supportive of SENS in its general philosophy though I have many objections to various details, as may expected when dealing with ideas on the cutting edge. There is however one general issue related to SENS that keeps bothering me: the escape velocity."
This has been a good year for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, as events continue to validate its use as a vehicle to rouse the scientists and funding agencies to aggressively tackle degenerative aging. Progress towards working anti-aging therapies could be much, much faster than it is at present, and winning over the scientific community is one of many waypoints on the road to far longer lives in our lifetime:
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/
Broadening Regenerative Medicine (November 13 2005)
A great deal of interesting work is presently taking place in the broadening field of regenerative medicine - these are the barnstorming years, or at least as close to barnstorming as we're going to get in this overregulated environment. From News-Medical.net: "We are able to rescue neurons [from the results of a stroke] at a time when most research suggests they are already dead. ... The USF study challenges the notion that nerve cells inevitably die quickly in the core region of the brain most severely deprived of oxygen and nutrients when a stroke hits. Instead, the researchers suggest, many nerve cells within ground zero of the attack, like those in mild to moderately damaged outlying areas, may succumb over several days through a slower, more orderly process known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death. ... This delayed death would permit more time to deliver neuron-sparing treatments than originally thought."
Exercise: Still Essential (November 13 2005)
We may not possess demonstrated, working anti-aging medicine (yet), but you and I still have a great deal of control over how much we cut our health and lifespan short through neglect and poor choices. As noted at EurekAlert, and should be plain common sense, exercise is a principle key to maintaining your health for as long as is possible. "The implications of our work are that not only will physical activity potentially add years to your life as we age, but the quality of those years is likely to be improved by regular physical activity." Given the rapid pace of biotechnology and medical research these days, why would you risk shortening your life and missing out on healthy life extension technologies that will be introduced in the decades ahead?
Tithonus Fails To Materialize (November 12 2005)
(Via IrishHealth). Healthy life extension means what it says - advances in medicine lead to longer lives, and also lasting health in later life: "data on hospital admission in older people in the UK and Europe has shown that older people do not spend a longer period in hospital in the decade or so before death compared to people dying younger. ... advances in medicine had allowed for the postponement of disabling illness when people get older. ... there is still huge untapped potential for postponing disability in old age in areas such as health promotion, illness prevention, the appropriate use of existing therapies and the feasibility of future technologies." This process of healthy life extension is presently ongoing in an incidental, indirect fashion - it is up to us to speed it up by ensuring that directed anti-aging research is funded.
Scientific Thoughts on Aging (November 12 2005)
From ScienceWeek, a grab bag of mainstream scientific thoughts on the mechanisms of aging; Klotho, oxidative damage, and senescence. "A defect in Klotho gene expression in mice accelerates the degeneration of multiple age-sensitive traits. The authors demonstrate that overexpression of Klotho in mice extends life span. ... overexpression of human catalase in the mitochondria of mice extends median and maximal lifespan by about 20%. Catalase prevents the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage cellular constituents. ... Cellular senescence is also thought to contribute to aging, although how it does so is poorly understood. In addition to arresting growth, senescent cells show changes in function. Because senescent cells accumulate with age, they may contribute to age-related declines in tissue function."
Building New Nerves (November 11 2005)
Tissue engineering of nerves is moving forward nicely, as this News@UofT piece notes: "The design used coil-reinforced hydrogel tubes that promoted nerve regeneration equivalent to that of nerve autografts; a polymeric coil embedded within the wall structure of the nerve guidance channel created a reinforced polymeric channel that significantly enhances regeneration by ensuring that the tube stays open, allowing severed peripheral nerve ends to regenerate both inside and beyond the tube. ... What was innovative about this design was that it used a coil-reinforced hydrogel, a soft material. Nerve is a very soft tissue, and we wanted to match the mechanical properties of soft tissue to the channel we're implanting."
Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Diabetes (November 11 2005)
From Medpage Today, an interesting look at the roots of age-related diabetes: "when type 2 diabetics have children, those offspring may get stuck with an inheritance of reduced mitochondrial activity in muscle cells. That, the researchers said, can lead to insulin resistance even when the progeny are young, lean, and have normal glucose levels. The finding adds to the weight of evidence suggesting that mitochondrial dysfunction in insulin-resistance pathways may play a major role in the development of type 2 [usually age-related] diabetes. ... These data provide new insights into the earliest defects that may be responsible for the development of type 2 diabetes."
Stem Cell Trials Grow In Number (November 10 2005)
Betterhumans notes another new trial of regenerative medicine for heart damage: "The trial is one of three ongoing studies in the United States to use bone marrow stem cells to treat chronic ischemia. The procedure will include harvesting stem cells from a patient's bone marrow, capturing the stem cells, and then infusing the stem cells through a coronary artery so that new blood vessels will grow ... The hope is the new blood vessels will replace or supplement those blood vessels that fail to adequately supply oxygenated blood to heart tissue ... Upon acceptance in the study, patients with blocked or damaged heart vessels will be assigned to one of three groups, each made up of three to four patients who will receive a preset dose of stem cell therapy."
The Biggest Idea (November 10 2005)
Healthy life extension is one of the "big ideas in science" listed by Salon: "In a recent issue of the journal Gerontology, Aubrey de Grey, a computer scientist turned biogerontologist at Cambridge University, predicts that some people now in their 60s will still be alive in the year 3000. De Grey is merely one of the more flamboyant members of a growing corps of scientists who believe we are on the verge of solving that quintessential aspect of the human condition, mortality. ... De Grey advocates an approach he calls Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, or SENS, which involves attacking aging on every possible front: with genetic engineering, stem cells, telomere intervention, cloning, antioxidants and caloric restriction." Degenerative aging will one day be prevented and repaired with advanced medical technology - it is entirely up to us to ensure that this day arrives rapidly enough.
Premature Aging And DNA Repair (November 09 2005)
Accelerated aging conditions (such as Progeria or Werner's syndrome) have provided insight into the mechanisms of normal aging in the past. From the LEF News, a technical reprint on insight into DNA repair and aging-like processes of degeneration in Cockayne Syndrome, "an extreme form of accelerated aging that is inevitably fatal early in life. ... In this first in a series of papers on the mechanisms of [transcription-coupled repair (TCR)], Cooper and her colleagues have shed early light not only on how the mysterious process of [TCR] works at the molecular level, but also on the underlying cause of the transcription defects that accumulate after birth in Cockayne Syndrome, which result in cell death leading to CS's characteristic neurological decline and wasting. Further work may provide insight into the processes of aging itself."
Failing Stem Cells, Failing Arteries (November 09 2005)
(From EurekAlert). A common age-related condition has been linked to age-related deterioration in your stem cells: "The progression of the artery-clogging disease atherosclerosis is linked to the inability of specialized bone marrow cells to continuously repair damage to the arterial lining ... It appears that the disease progresses as the body's intrinsic ability to repair and rejuvenate itself somehow becomes deficient. It is exciting for us think that if we as physicians could somehow stimulate or maintain a successful repair process in heart patients, we might be able to prevent the development of atherosclerosis even if we can't completely control other risk factors, such as high lipid levels or hypertension. ... The key is the body's reaction to tissue injury, which appears to be governed by certain sets of genes."
Stem Cells And Zebrafish (November 08 2005)
Zebrafish are a popular option in basic biomedical research; this piece from This Week @ USCD gives an overview of one such research program: "Embryonic stem cell researchers are trying to coax pluripotent cells down a particular lineage. In order to do this efficiently and reproducibly, both of which are critical requirements of clinical use, one must fully understand the cues that cause cells to commit to one particular fate. ... Attempting stem cell therapy without this understanding could lead to a failure of therapy, or worse, an uncontrolled growth of cells commonly known as cancer. ... Current evidence suggests that most major organ systems are replenished by tissue-specific stem cell populations. However, at this point, the scientific community does not have enough information regarding the stem cell basis of every organ system to know if adult stem cells can be used instead of embryonic stem cells."
Geron, Stem Cells, Spinal Injuries (November 08 2005)
The Mercury News reports that Geron is looking to move embryonic stem cell therapies for paralysis from rats to humans, and is aiming at trials in 2006. "For its test, Geron proposes to turn human embryonic stem cells into the precursors for specialized nerve cells, called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Surgeons then would inject the cells into the spinal injury with the help of a special stabilizing frame the company has developed. If everything goes as planned, the progenitor cells would help form new axons and also turn into oligodendrocytes, which help form an insulating sheath for the axons, called myelin. The test probably would involve a few dozen patients, all of whom would have irreversible spinal injuries."
An Overview Of SENS (November 08 2005)
The latest American Aging Association Newsletter contains Aubrey de Grey's overview of SENS for biogerontologists - a good read for the rest of us too. "Possibly unaware of what he may be unleashing, Norm Wolf has asked me to outline in the AGE newsletter the approach to postponing aging that I have been developing for the past five years [1-3]. It goes by the acronym SENS, standing for 'Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence', and I have given it this provocative name without hyperbole: I claim that it genuinely has the potential to convert a species that ages (namely humans) into one that, at least within the limits of statistical detectability, does not." A high-profile exchange of views on healthy life extension is brewing in the gerontological community - a very good thing for those of us who wish to see more directed research into working anti-aging medicine.
Biopaper For Tissue Printing (November 07 2005)
(From deseretnews.com). The use of inkjet printers in tissue engineering is an intriguing adaptation of technology. Biological printing would of course benefit from biological paper: "A hydrogel or 'bio-paper' developed by a University of Utah College of Pharmacy professor is a key component of a $5 million National Science Foundation-sponsored study that includes organ printing. ... Think of taking a blood vessel - a cylindrical object - and trying to reconstruct it in 3D with two-dimensional slices ... He likens the resulting slices to a 'non-nutritious doughnut' with muscle cells on the outside and endothelial cells inside. To make the cylinder, those flat doughnut sections are literally printed, one thin layer of cells and hydrogel at a time, the platform moving away from the printer's 'bio-ink'-delivering needles as the cylinder grows."
More Early Nanotech Versus Cancer (November 07 2005)
Wired looks at how early stage nanotechnology - largely clever applications of improved materials science - will be employed in the fight against cancer, one of the many age-related conditions we must prevent or cure on the way to longer, healthier lives. "Nanotech gives us the opportunity to detect cancer tumors at 1,000 cells, whereas we're now seeing them at 1 million cells. By the time you detect some cancers today, there's no option of curing them, only of prolonging life. ... Researchers also hope to make particles that combine all these functions. 'We call this the mother ship. You can put multifunctional particles on it, like an aircraft carrier transports choppers and planes. It goes into the body, and if it encounters a suspicious region, finds out what that area is about and delivers the therapeutics.'"
Cancer Immunotherapy, Progress (November 07 2005)
Via EurekAlert, news of one portion of the funding coming into immunotherapy research to cure cancer. "A pre-clinical research project [which] will advance understanding of how cancer cells evade the immune system, has been awarded nearly [12m Euros] by the EU. The European Union Framework Programme (FP6) will enable doctors to improve 'T-cell mediated immunotherapy', which has the potential to fight a broad range of cancers. ... an international consortium of 16 partners, who will collaborate on the process of engineering T-cells. T-cells are part of the body's immune defense machinery which naturally protects against infections and some cancers and can be used to treat some malignant disease, but many cancers avoid destruction by the immune system. The project team hopes that state of the art technologies can be used to modify the T-cells, to hunt down and destroy cancer tumours."