LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
January 16 2006
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.
- Into Year Four of the Newsletter!
- The Instant-Death Third Rail of Grantsmanship
- Why the Future of Medical Research Matters to You
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
INTO YEAR FOUR OF THE NEWSLETTER!
This is the first Longevity Meme newsletter of what will be my fourth year of writing missives to those interested in present and future healthy life extension. Time certainly does fly. I hope that the next few years will see continued progress and growth in longevity science and the healthy life extension community to match the advances that have taken place since January 2003.
I invite you to take a look back at the archives when you find a spare moment or two:
THE INSTANT-DEATH THIRD RAIL OF GRANTSMANSHIP
The biggest obstacle facing the future of longevity research - work aimed at preventing and repairing cellular damage at the root of aging - is not the science or technology. That's "just" a matter of time and resources; the path ahead is as clear as these things can be. No, the problem lies in obtaining the required funding - and the obstacle here is cultural. Researcher Rafal Smigrodzki succinctly described matters in the pro-life-extension scientific community when he said, "'The cure for aging' is the instant-death third rail of grantsmanship and we stay away from it."
Most sources of funding will not even consider devoting minimal resources to serious, well-backed exploratory work, let alone anything more substantial. They have completely closed the door on any form of responsible work on repairing or preventing age-related cellular damage, on intervening in the aging process. So it shouldn't be all that surprising that comparatively little work is being done to challenge the status quo; that work requires funding, and obtaining it while sticking to your guns is certainly not the path of least resistance.
WHY THE FUTURE OF MEDICAL RESEARCH MATTERS TO YOU
If you're healthy, young, and manage to avoid appalling bad luck in the genetic sweepstakes, the future of your longevity and health over the next few decades is all up to you. The advance of medical science makes little difference one way or another - whether you wind up a wreck or not is a function of how you make use of the best strategies for healthy life extension available today - calorie restriction, supplementation, exercise, general good health practices ... the things that aren't rocket science.
As time progresses, however, your remaining healthy life span will be determined ever more by the past rate of progress in longevity research - in other words, how effective the best affordable healthy life extension technologies have become. You have a chance today to make a difference in that rate of progress, to make the future of healthy life extension medicine arrive that much faster; wouldn't it be a good idea to take that chance?
You should certainly do the best you can with the health tools, techniques and technologies of today, but also take time to consider the long-term view. Supporting medical research into extending healthy longevity is important - and it will become ever more important as time goes on that you made the effort to help the development of better longevity medicine:
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/
Antlers as a Path to Organ Regrowth (January 15 2006)
(From Medical News Today). A vast range of fascinating adaptations to the biochemistry of healing and growth can be found in the animal kingdom. Some scientists are trying to bring lizard-like regenerative capabilities to humans, while others have found a possibly shorter path to useful medical technology: "Many lower animals such as newts can renew damaged parts of their bodies but antler growth is the only [natural] example of mammals being able to regrow large complex organs. ... The research suggests that unlike the regenerative process in the newt, antler growth does not involve reversal of the differentiated state but is stem cell based. ... If we can understand how deer have adapted the normal means of development, cell renewal and repair to redevelop a complete organ, it may be possible to achieve the same outcome in damaged human tissues."
Understanding Neurogenesis (January 14 2006)
If scientists are to apply the methods of regenerative medicine to age-related degeneration in the brain, much more care and knowledge will be required than for, say, the heart - the consequences of various subtle problems and failures are so much more serious. Here, Scientific American takes a brief look at one step forward in relevant research: "brains continue to produce new neurons throughout life, helping create new neural networks. This neurogenesis only takes place in a few specific areas, such as the area in which the brain and spinal column meet. The new cells, however, can migrate throughout the brain and turn up as far away as the olfactory bulb - a cluster of nerve cells at the front surface of the brain responsible for the sense of smell. A recent study in mice has revealed that these neurons make the long and complicated journey by going with the flow of spinal fluid circulating in the brain."
Investigating Inflammatory Arthritis (January 14 2006)
A number of different strategies for dealing with arthritis are presently in the research queue. Medical News Today reports on hints of yet another potential methodology: "Mice lacking [the protein] T-bet had markedly reduced joint inflammation and T-bet-deficient mice without T or B cells were essentially resistant to disease. They also found that transfer of normal dendritic cells that make T-bet, but not T-bet-deficient dendritic cells, into mice unable to make T cells, B cells or T-bet, was able to cause inflammatory arthritis. The study shows that the ability of dendritic cells to secrete proinflammatory molecules and to prime T cells to initiate an immune response is compromised in the absence of T-bet. T-bet could provide an attractive new target for therapy in inflammatory arthritis."
Better Inkjets For Tissue Engineering (January 13 2006)
Inkjet printing technology is in the process of adaptation to tissue engineering - we've been hearing about this for the past year or two. A part of this adaptation is finding ways to improve those aspects of this technology that are substandard for the new use. From PhysicsWeb: "The advantage of this method compared to conventional ink-jet technology is that it can create droplets as small as just a few microns across from needles with diameters as large as hundreds of microns. ... The technique may have huge potential for patterning predetermined 2D and 3D biological architectures, such as tissues and organs, at the micron and nanometre scales." A number of organs are very complex at these scales - this is a promising piece of groundwork.
Hedgehog Signaling, Aging (January 13 2006)
Via Forbes, news of an interesting advance in our understanding of biochemistry: "The finding suggests that drugs that target this hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway -- a set of genes involved in determining the destiny of many cell types -- may prove effective in treating obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and lipodystrophy, a disease characterized by an absence of fat. The new insight into the Hh pathway may also help explain common traits associated with aging, the study authors said. ... As we age, two striking things tend to happen almost across the board - our bones become thinner and we gain fat ... Our findings are consistent with the idea that hedgehog signaling may diminish as we get older. Drugs that stimulate the pathway could possibly help to reverse or prevent this trend, building stronger bones while reducing fat."
Mitochondria and Aging (January 12 2006)
The New Scientist takes a look at mitochondria and their role in degenerative aging: "Pinning down the molecular changes that underlie the ageing process is not easy. But it has long been suspected that mitochondria, the energy-generating structures within almost every cell of the body, play a key role. And in the past couple of years, researchers have produced strong evidence that this is indeed the case, that the decline of mitochondria determines when our bodies begin to crumble." A number of groups are making progress in the development of biotechnologies capable of either repairing, moving or replacing damaged mitochondrial DNA. This is encouraging for those of us whose future health and longevity depends on the outcome of this research.
Calorie Restriction and the Heart (January 12 2006)
Now that funding is coming into calorie restriction studies, more detailed examinations of the health and longevity benefits have been forthcoming. EurekAlert provides one such example: "Studying heart function in members of an organization called the Caloric Restriction Society, investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that their hearts functioned like the hearts of much younger people. ... Ultrasound examinations showed that the hearts of people on caloric restriction appeared more elastic than those of age- and gender-matched control subjects. Their hearts were able to relax between beats in a way similar to the hearts in younger people. ... This is the first study to demonstrate that long-term calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has cardiac-specific effects that ameliorate age-associated declines in heart function."
Theory in Gerontology (January 11 2006)
You can read an interesting excerpt from the new Cambridge Handbook of Age and Aging online: "The field of gerontology has accumulated vast amounts of data over the past several decades, creating a goldmine of potential theoretical knowledge. Yet explicit theory development has lagged - prompting some to observe that gerontology remains data-rich and theory-poor ... Several factors may have impeded theoretical progress in gerontology [including] the difficulty of crossing disciplinary boundaries in order to create multidisciplinary explanations and interpretations of phenomena of ageing." This is a point often made by biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey - biomedical research is very much in need of cross-field pollenation, analysis and synthesis.
Weight and Risk: A Reminder (January 11 2006)
From Medical News Today, another study to reinforce the damage done of being overweight: "Of the 17,640 participants who had survived to age 65 and older, those who were overweight, and particularly those who were obese earlier in life, had significantly higher risks of hospitalizations for and death from heart disease and diabetes in older age compared with persons of normal weight with similar other cardiovascular risk factors at the beginning of the study. ... Results of the study showed that having a normal BMI in young adulthood and middle age confers significant health benefits at all levels of traditional risk factors." While the future of medical technology is bright, it would be foolish to expect it to arrive soon enough to save you from the consequences of today's negligence.
A New York Stem Cell Institute (January 10 2006)
From the Business Review: "The state Assembly has approved legislation creating a New York State Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine. The measure appropriates $300 million from the state's Health Care Reform Act over the next two years to foster research into chronic regenerative diseases." I have much the same commentary on this as on Proposition 71 and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine - it's hard to say what hinderances to serious research were slipped into that bill, deliberately or otherwise. Over a decade or more, regulation can easily cause far more economic damage to scientific progress than the tax dollars disbursed by this legislation.
DNA Repair: Inhibition and Improvement (January 10 2006)
Via the Cambridge Evening News, a piece on progress towards therapies for cancer - and potentially aging - based on manipulating the biochemical mechanisms of DNA repair: "The ideal anti-cancer drug will hit the cancer cells much harder. Cancer cells are more reliant on DNA repair than other cells, which makes it possible to target them more accurately. Of the three compounds we have in clinical trials, the one we are most excited about is the DNA repair inhibitor, PARP ... DNA repair mechanism also controls ageing, and how it works slows down as you get older. Making human cells repair DNA better could make you live longer, we are just at the tip of the iceberg with all this."
Tengion's Research Proceeding (January 09 2006)
(Via the Business Journal). Tengion is representative of a number of efforts to commercialize the first steps in tissue engineering; building comparatively simple, smaller organs such as veins and bladders. It sounds like things are moving ahead: "Wake Forest University has signed a 'multiyear, multimillion-dollar' deal with a private firm to fund research and commercialization of Dr. Tony Atala's work in regenerative medicine. ... Under the new contract, Tengion will fund research projects that focus on blood vessel and other vascular systems and urinary organs. Tengion will receive an exclusive worldwide license or option to develop the technology that results from the research." Now that venture money is involved, with its own sense of haste and profit, we should expect to see real products emerge over the next few years.
More Stem Cells Versus Heart Damage (January 09 2006)
A good European study is reported at EurekAlert: "a major breakthrough in the treatment of patients with acute myocardial infarction. Their research shows that the administration of a patient's own stem cells has a significant positive effect on the heart's recovery: in the patients studied, the size of the infarct was clearly reduced. The use of stem cells appears to be safe, and to date no side effects have occurred that can be attributed to the stem cells. ... a clear global improvement in function was found in the sub-group of patients who had been afflicted with the most serious infarctions. Moreover, the reduction of the size of infarct was significantly greater in all patients in the 'stem cell group' and correlates with a better preserved regional left ventricle function." The use of a patient's own stem cells is a very promising direction for first generation regenerative medicine.