LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
February 06 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.
- An Aubrey de Grey Roundup
- Demos and Better Humans
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
AN AUBREY DE GREY ROUNDUP
A number of items related to biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, his Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), the Methuselah Mouse Prize or MPrize, and other related topics have surfaced in the past week - and that's quite aside from all the exciting behind-the-scenes activities that will have to wait for a later date to be told. It's a good time to be watching progress in longevity advocacy and research; the waters are starting to rise!
One of the Immortality Institute volunteers has been busy formatting and uploading interviews with and presentations by de Grey on the topic of radical life extension and the state of modern biogerontology to services like YouTube and Google Video. You'll find a brace of links in the following Fight Aging! post:
Share them liberally! The media interviews in particular would make an excellent introduction for friends who are unfamiliar with the concepts of radical life extension, or just how close we could be to large gains in healthy life span through appropriate medical research.
As you'll see in the headlines at the end of this newsletter, recent publications have included two profiles of de Grey and the prospects for greatly increased healthy longevity in our lifetimes through advances in medical science. Both are good; it's nice to see that the bar continues to be raised:
From Life Extension Magazine
DEMOS AND BETTER HUMANS
The openDemocracy profile of Aubrey de Grey is written by a couple of fellows from Demos, a pro-transhumanist UK think-tank that's far too "large government is wonderful" for my tastes, but that many of you may find interesting:
Demos staff are presently talking up a report entitled "Better Humans: The politics of human enhancement and life extension," not to be confused with the Canadian online pro-transhumanist venture Betterhumans (with no space):
"Advances in biotechnology, neuroscience, computing and nanotechnology mean that we are in the early stages of a period of huge technological potential. Within the next 30 years, it may become commonplace to alter the genetic make-up of our children, to insert artificial implants into our bodies, or to radically extend life expectancy."
We can certainly hope for these things to come to pass! In fact, we can do far more than merely hope, which is perhaps the one and only point I would like to ensure that I make with any lasting success. Demos, like so many other explicitly political ventures, has the air of operating in a world in which new technology simply falls from the sky or arrives by conveyor belt - ergo all efforts must go to simply responding to it. This is a nutty worldview, but one that is sadly all too prevalent. In fact, medical and healthy life extension technologies are far from certain, and the timetable for their arrival is even less determined. The future of our lives, of the length of our healthy life spans, is very much determined by what we do today - by how effectively we support medical research, and perhaps more importantly, the freedom to conduct medical research and make use of the resulting healthy life extension technologies:
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/
A Look at Telomere Research (February 05 2006)
(Via EurekAlert). The tools of modern biotechnology are becoming ever more capable, as illustrated by this narrow view into telomere research: "Cancer researchers have long sought a way to subdue telomerase, an enzyme whose excessive activity contributes to the unchecked growth of as many as 90 percent of human tumors. ... In most healthy adult cells, telomerase is shut off, and telomeres slowly shrink during cell division - a normal process that helps limit cells' lifespan. Cancer cells, however, usually find a way to turn telomerase back on, achieving a dangerous immortality. ... We now have a detailed picture of the part of telomerase that forms this anchor site, and in fact have identified a groove within the protein that is what is really holding on to the end of the chromosome ... A molecule that would sit in that groove - even though it's far away from the active site - looks like it would completely abolish the ability of telomerase to work."
$100 Million For Stem Cell Research (February 05 2006)
What's the point of success and wealth if you don't use that wealth to make a difference? There's certainly something to be said for the era in which governments didn't tax to the hilt and so more wealth could go to philanthropy rather than waste. Forbes reports that Michael Bloomberg has donated $100 million to research: "It is thought the donation will support research at the school's Institute for Cell Engineering, where scientists are doing work that could lead to the use of stem cells - undifferentiated cells which retain the ability to differentiate into other cell types - as treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries."
An Impressive Jump In Efficiency (February 04 2006)
The limiting factor in much of modern biomedical research - beyond government interference, that is - is the rate at which biochemical mechanisms, compounds and genes of interest can be identified as starting points or linked to medical conditions. Given such a starting point, research is startlingly fast, but obtaining that starting point can be slow indeed. So this news from EurekAlert is a very welcome and impressive advance: researchers have "developed a method that could speed up the process of identifying novel protein molecules for medical or biological research hundreds of times over. ... Searches that now take a year to complete can be done in a matter of days. ... The results from a screen completed in one afternoon were equivalent to those previously obtained through several rounds of mutation and screening - a several-month process."
On Epigenetics (February 04 2006)
(From CMAJ). Things are always more complex than you think in biochemistry and medical research; if you have a grasp of genetics as it relates to aging, the next thing to add to your plate is epigenetics: "Epigenetics refers to the study of heritable changes in gene expression that occur without a change in DNA sequence. Research has shown that epigenetic mechanisms provide an 'extra' layer of transcriptional control that regulates how genes are expressed. These mechanisms are critical components in the normal development and growth of cells. Epigenetic abnormalities have been found to be causative factors in cancer, genetic disorders and pediatric syndromes as well as contributing factors in autoimmune diseases and aging. In this review, we examine the basic principles of epigenetic mechanisms and their contribution to human health as well as the clinical consequences of epigenetic errors."
Aubrey de Grey in openDemocracy (February 03 2006)
A long and interesting profile of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and his work can be found at openDemocracy: "Ageing isn't much fun, getting decrepit and senile. You have to find some way of putting it out of your mind. But we're talking about the extension of healthy life, not just extending old age. Psychologically it's terribly difficult for people to take on board that this is something worth fighting for ... He thinks people will eventually come round to his way of thinking, arguing that the media's fascination with his theories tells you something about the pent-up demand for longer, youthful lives. ... the secret to longer life lies in the research lab. ... De Grey's media persona, reflected in the growing canon of articles about him, fails to do justice to the subtleties of his position, and the strategic flair with which he is influencing a debate that may, just may, turn out to be one of the defining issues of our time."
Aging and Senescent Cells (February 03 2006)
Here we have research to support the role of accumulated senescent cells in degenerative aging: "There is good evidence that senescent cells are not benign. But until now, no one has been able to confirm that they exist in appreciable numbers in old animals. ... the Brown team began to study aging animals - baboons living on a research preserve that ranged in age from 5 to 30. In human years, that age range is roughly 15 to 90. ... For replicative senescence, the most important biomarker is telomere dysfunction-induced foci, or TIFs. Presence of these structures signals that the protective chromosome caps called telomeres have dwindled enough to halt cell division. ... What they found: The number of senescent cells increased exponentially with age. TIF-positive cells made up about 4 percent of the connective tissue cell population in 5-year-olds. In 30-year-olds, that number rose as high as 20 percent."
TED2006, February (February 02 2006)
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be at this year's TED conference, a sort of networking event for the hyper-networked. "It brings together more than 800 thought-leaders, movers and shakers. ... This unique breadth of content, and the quality of people who deliver it, are what make TED special. After four days, you gain an understanding of how your own work fits into the larger web of knowledge. And you get the chance to connect with extraordinary individuals who are helping create a better future for us all." I certainly can't think of a better recipient for the TED Prize, but I might just be a little biased in my choice of priorities for the future - better medicine, greater research, far longer, healthier lives.
The Importance of Medical Tourism (February 02 2006)
(Via Medical News Today). Competition with other regions is one of the few things likely to slow the sad decline of Western medical research and development of commercial therapies into an over-regulated, motionless morass. Efforts like FasterCures are also important, but only the overwhelming evidence of being left in the dust - with inferior medical technology - is likely to motivate bloated modern governments. So rising medical tourism is a very good thing; it's the most visible sign that someone, somewhere has escaped from crushing regulation in order to make real progress in curing disease, bringing costs of treatment down, and extending healthy life spans.
Mitochondria Under Calorie Restriction (February 01 2006)
(From PubMed). The practice of calorie restriction (CR) makes for better, more efficient mitochondria it seems: "Age-related accumulation of cellular damage and death has been linked to oxidative stress. ... Mechanisms responsible for the antiaging effects of CR remain uncertain, but reduction of oxidative stress within mitochondria remains a major focus of research. ... We have focused our research on a related, but different, antiaging mechanism of CR ... mitochondria under CR conditions show less oxygen consumption, reduce membrane potential, and generate less reactive oxygen species than controls, but remarkably they are able to maintain their critical ATP production."
Aubrey de Grey in Life Extension (February 01 2006)
Life Extension Magazine profiles biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "Dr. Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University is widely considered the fastest-rising star in the field of biogerontology, the area of science devoted to what happens to organisms as they age. Dr. de Grey (everyone calls him 'Aubrey') stands out not only because of his brilliance and dedication to the elimination of aging, but also because of his exceptional energy and organizational abilities. He serves as editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Rejuvenation Research, has established a scientific prize (now approaching $2 million in value) for extending the lives of mice by rejuvenation or other means, and has recently held a second international conference of first-class researchers in biomedical gerontology at Cambridge University."
A Strategy for Autoimmune Disease (January 31 2006)
(Via EurekAlert). Researchers have demonstrated an apparently viable strategy for dealing with autoimmune disease: "The patients' own bone marrow stem cells were harvested from their blood. ... Next, in a process that usually requires a few weeks of hospitalization, patients immune systems were virtually destroyed through high doses of chemotherapy. Then the cleansed stem cells were returned to the bone marrow to repopulate the marrow and body in an effort to regenerate a healthier immune system. ... 50 percent of the 50 patients in the study had disease-free survival at five years with an overall five-year survival rate of 84 percent." Chemotherapy will be replaced with more effective, less unpleasant methodologies in the future, such as nanoscale delivery systems demonstrated by cancer researchers.
A Look at Calorie Restriction (January 31 2006)
The Post-Gazette is carrying a nice piece on the practice and science of calorie restriction. The author manages to avoid most of the poor characterizations of CR that crop up in the mainstream media: "New research shows that calorie-restriction diets - which cut calories by as much as 40 percent of your normal intake - may help you live a longer life. ... What is so surprising is that people who follow calorie-restriction diets in hopes of living longer are still eating a lot of food. They indulge in huge breakfasts and big dinners, but eat few or no snacks in between. The main difference in their diets compared with most people typically is in the nutritional quality of food they eat -- whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less animal protein and saturated fat. They avoid refined foods, sugary desserts, soft drinks and other sources of 'empty' calories."
On Artificial Skin (January 30 2006)
The LA Times takes a long look at the state of research into artificial and tissue engineered skin: "This technology is taking us many steps closer to real skin, which is our goal - to make something in the laboratory that is as close as possible to the structure and function of natural skin ... To reach that pinnacle, the skin will need some other, crucial ingredients it doesn't yet contain: pigment cells to restore skin color, and - especially - endothelial cells to form blood vessels that are required to supply the skin with oxygen and vital nutrients. ... Although an ideal artificial skin is still years away, scientists can see real, tangible progress in their efforts to mimic the hugely complex mesh of fibers, sweat glands, hair follicles and blood vessels ... We've learned a lot in the past 10 years. A real critical mass is forming around this technology."
The Public Face of A4M (January 30 2006)
It's interesting to see where the American Academy for Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) is going with their messaging these days: "By Klatz's definition, anti-aging is any intervention that has to do with early detection, prevention or reversal of age-related conditions and diseases. ... Klatz envisions an era of technologies that will slow or even reverse the 'dysfunction' he calls aging - or what everyone else simply calls the process of life." This Digital Journal article is an interesting mix of right on the money and a conflation or papering over of the old, bad "anti-aging" marketplace - a staple of the A4M conferences - with the meaningful science of the future. Some mix of rebranding and repurposing at work, in other words; A4M has always been an organization with the potential to do far more good for the future of real anti-aging medicine than they are in fact doing.