LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
February 20 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.
- Winning in the Cultural Conversation
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
WINNING IN THE CULTURAL CONVERSATION
We - supporters of healthy life extension - win in the cultural conversation about medicine and medical research when serious discussion on extending the healthy human life span is commonplace. We're getting there; much more has been coming out of the scientific community in the past year, for example. Take the well-publicized panel on the outer limits of human life span at this year's annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, for example:
The conservative position is becoming that future healthy life extension of a few decades or more is possible in the years ahead, building on general advances across the board in medicine and biotechnology. For those of us with longer memories, this is a huge step forward over the state of affairs even a decade ago, when to suggest the possibility of extending the healthy human life span by just 20 years was outrageous and fringe.
I attribute this changing view of the future to the success of people like Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil, those who are relentlessly pushing the concepts of radical life extension out to a large segment of the public - backed by a growing community who feel the same way. When a plausible scientific argument is made, broadly and forcefully, for medical technologies and a path to development that could lead to 1,000-year healthy life spans, then present-day researchers are far less likely to run afoul of conservative funding organizations if talking about 20 year healthy life extension through near future advances. Make no mistake, there are many more scientists who strongly support healthy life extension than are willing to speak publicly on their views; conservatism tied to research funding is an obstacle we must overcome:
"This whole situation must - must! - change if we are to see great strides in extending the healthy human life span, in fighting the horrors of degenerative aging and winning, within our lifetime. I do not believe that any plan relying on a sea change in human nature will work, however. Conservatism and wealth go hand in hand, and this will continue to be so while humans still think, feel and interact much as they do today. Rather, we advocates must work to turn what were once seen as unthinkable goals for radical life extension into the conservative, mainstream position on the future of medical research."
The hurdles on the way to a future of longer, healthier lives are far more cultural than technological - if the public will and understanding is there, if large-scale funding follows, then working anti-aging therapies will crystallize from the great breadth and energy of modern biotechnology. But first, enough of us must decide that we want to defeat age-related suffering and disease, and speak out to say as much.
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/
Telomere Length and Aging (February 19 2006)
Researchers have been retiring the telomere theory of aging for a while now, but telomeres do play an important role in many processes and medical conditions. "decreasing telomere length in a number of different tissues in humans with age, have led to the suggestion that telomeres play a role in cellular aging in vivo and ultimately even in organismal aging. ... Telomere length was measured [in] blood cells from 812 persons, age 73 to 101 years ... analyses revealed that longer telomeres were associated with better survival ... This longitudinal study of the elderly and oldest old does not support the hypothesis that telomere length is a predictor for remaining lifespan once age is controlled for." This sounds like shorter telomeres are not good, but the sum of all other progressive age-related cellular damage is worse.
Calorie Restriction In Primates (February 19 2006)
We already know that many of the beneficial effects of calorie restriction observed in short-lived mammals (such as mice) also show up in humans - which is good enough for most practitioners, who expect to see gains in life span carry across as well. Primate studies have been ongoing, and ABC News reports on one set of results: "Hansen has long studied the effects of calorie restriction in roughly 300 rhesus monkeys. Cutting calories can pay off when it comes to longevity: Monkeys fed 30 percent less over the long term extended their lifetimes to 30 years from an average of 23 years, Hansen said. The slimmer monkeys staved off the diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and other weight-related ailments that typically shortened the lives of their heavier peers." In fact, it's not clear that healthy life extension due to calorie restriction can be completely ascribed to less fat and lower weight - a lot more is going on under the hood.
Progeria Continues to Illuminate (February 18 2006)
Research into the rare accelerated aging condition progeria continues to provide insight into the degenerative processes and failure modes associated with normal aging: "In children with progeria, a mutant protein accumulates in blood vessel cells, hampering their ability to grow and multiply or killing them outright. In mice that produce this same toxic protein, the effect is similar: These vascular cells become damaged or die. These are the findings of two research reports published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Both shed important new light on the progression of progeria, a rare and fatal genetic condition that causes accelerated aging in children. But they may also illuminate the cause of atherosclerosis in adults. Also known as hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes."
Views of the Future (February 18 2006)
From the Kansas City Star, competing views - both within and without the scientific community - on the future of human longevity and working anti-aging medicine: "Halting the aging process completely is far beyond the current understanding of science, de Grey said. Instead, researchers should act like engineers, repairing damage to the body's cells and tissues before it progresses to disease. The techniques for doing that are within reach ... Austad dismissed de Grey's ideas as mere 'thought experiments.' Austad agreed, however, that progress in delaying aging would come in the next couple of decades. People will live to be 150, he predicted. 'I think that person is alive right now,' he said. ... Scientists may be able to apply some of the lessons learned from basic anti-aging research to develop drugs that prevent metabolic damage or that mimic the beneficial effects of restricting calories ... But those advances are more than a decade away, Michaelis said."
Healthy Aging and Longevity Conference (February 17 2006)
The call for abstracts has been made for the 3rd International Conference on Healthy Ageing and Longevity, to be held in Melbourne this October: "The primary aim of the conference is to promote interdisciplinary collaboration and facilitate the exchange of ideas, information and practical solutions in relation to the prevention and treatment of age-associated disease across the lifespan, the delivery of optimal care to ageing individuals, and understanding and intervening in the ageing process and determinants of longevity. ... All areas of research in health, ageing and longevity are welcomed, including social sciences, public health, basic science, clinical science, translational research, and health and social services." The first two conferences were worthwhile affairs.
Calorie Restriction Studies (February 17 2006)
A Sun-Sentinal article looks at the beneficial effects of calorie restriction in humans: "The 25 subjects, who had consumed about one-third less calories than most people would normally eat for an average of 6 1/2 years, had heart walls that were more elastic, with ventricles that relaxed more readily to fill with blood ... a promising sign that a science rooted in animal data might help humans extend their life span. ... Fontana thinks reducing inflammation may be key. Inflammation usually increases with age and induces effects similar to wound healing, which makes tissues stiffer. Fontana's study found reduced blood levels of two inflammation-linked proteins ... the National Institute on Aging has initiated a clinical trial that will randomly assign either a caloric restriction diet or a normal diet to 240 people. The trial will follow people on caloric restriction for two years and examine the health benefits and risks. Recruitment is expected to start in August."
Cord Blood, More Pluripotent Stem Cells (February 16 2006)
(From Medical News Today). The disadvantage of therapies based on stem cell transplants (rather than the use of adult stem cells from the patient) is the need for a reliable, scalable source of cells. Some researchers are digging into cord blood, with signs of early progress, such as "a small population of cord blood cells with the characteristics of more primitive stem cells that have the potential to produce a greater variety of cell types. ... Transplantation of these human cord blood stem cells into laboratory rodents with experimental strokes resulted in significant reductions in the size of brain lesion, and improved these animals' use of their limbs. ... Some of the transplanted stem cells developed into 'neuron-like' cells that are typically found in the brain. In addition, the transplanted cells also induced an unanticipated reorganization of host nerve fibers within the brain."
Microglia Versus Alzheimer's (February 16 2006)
From the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a potentially useful insight into existing defense mechanisms against Alzheimer's amyloid plaques: "Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid proteins in the brain. These proteins form plaques around which microglia, the central nervous system's immune cells, aggregate. These microglia appear to be incapable of eliminating the plaques ... although the brain's resident microglia do appear to be poorly equipped for combating amyloid plaques, an entirely different case prevails for another type of microglia: those derived from bone marrow stem cells. ... bone marrow-derived microglia infiltrate amyloid plaques and succeed in destroying them most efficiently. These newly-recruited immune cells are specifically attracted by the amyloid proteins that are the most toxic to nerve cells."
A More Promising Column (February 15 2006)
(From the Sunday Herald). There's hope for columnists yet - for every knee-jerk pro-death and suffering reaction, I see someone who understands the prospects for the future of health and longevity, even if not necessarily wholly supportive. "Do we really want to more than double the allotted biblical span? Most would say not, but most, I'm prepared to bet, are lying. After all, the predictions of increased life expectancy do not presume incapacity. ... Age, they report, is just another disease, and curable. What about that? ... If it implies a society that prefers conservatism to creativity and the occasional rebellion the game will have been worth less than the candle. ... But if it means centenarians saying that they are too busy to fight a stupid war this week, or that they remember only too clearly where the last political rebranding led, or that they have had it up to here with fads and social trends, I might just take the pills."
Collagen On Demand (February 15 2006)
Another step forward for tissue engineering appears at innovations-report: collagen "is the most important structural protein in the body ... collagen has defied the efforts of biomedical researchers who have tried mightily to synthesize it for use in applications ranging from new wound-healing technologies to alleviating arthritis. The reason: Scientists were unable to synthesize the human protein because they had no way to link the easily made short snippets of collagen into the long, fibrous molecules necessary to mimic the real thing." Now, the problem has been solved. "We can make collagen that duplicates nature exactly, but we can diverge from that when it is desirable ... Now we can make synthetic collagen that's longer than natural collagen. We just don't have to take what nature gives us. We can make it longer and stronger."
On Centenarians (February 14 2006)
(Via the Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study gives an interesting perspective in this paper: "Many people believe that the older a person gets, the sicker he or she becomes. The result can be quite a pessimistic view of very old age. If this were true, most if not all centenarians would have significant disability. However, ~90% of centenarians in a population-based study were functionally independent at the average age of 92 y. Thus, to achieve extreme old age, a much more enabling point of view emerges: the older an individual gets, the healthier he or she has been. Centenarians thus have the potential to represent a model of relative resistance to age-related diseases and slower aging." Of course, a more modern school of thought states that it'll be far more efficient and effective to jump straight to reversing aging rather than trying to slow it or cure the end results, one by one.
Stem Cell Now Excerpt (February 14 2006)
NPR is carrying a long excerpt from Stem Cell Now; looks like a good tabletop book for those seeking to better understand the science and prospects for therapies and healthy life extension: "Much of the promise of stem cells rests on a scheme for replacing parts worn out by age, injury, or infirmity. ... And thus may 21st century patients extend their lives - through a kind of patchwork medicine, held together by a fabulous, potent cell. ... Ten years ago, they said human organs couldn't be built. Now the challenge is unraveling the knotty problem of solid organs, like the liver, pancreas, heart, and lungs. ... He claims he can build a hollow organ in just five weeks: four weeks to expand the number of cells and one week to seed and build the 'construct,' the three-dimensional structure that becomes the organ."
Olsen Interviews Kurzweil (February 13 2006)
(Via KurzweilAI). This Sander Olsen interview with futurist Ray Kurzweil touches on radical life extension in the process of looking ahead at the coming technological singularity: "Nevertheless, the common wisdom is quite strong - even among friends and associates, the common wisdom regarding life cycle and the concept that life won't be much different in the future than it is today - still permeates people's thinking. Thoughts and statements regarding life's brevity and senescence are still quite influential. The deathist meme (that death gives meaning to life) is alive and well. ... By 2015, we will have real traction with nanotechnology. I believe that we will be well on the way to overcoming major diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes through the biotechnology revolution that we talked above. We will also make progress in learning how to stop and even reverse the aging process."
Autophagy and Aging (February 13 2006)
Autophagy is the process by which internal cell structures are dismantled; this PDF-format article from the end of last year takes a long look at the relationship between autophagy and aging: "A decrease in the turnover of cellular components and the intracellular accumulation of altered macromolecules and organelles are features common to all aged cells. Diminished autophagic activity plays a major role in these age-related manifestations. ... we review the molecular defects responsible for the malfunctioning of [two forms of autophagy] in old mammals and highlight general and cell-type specific consequences of dysfunction of the autophagic system with age. Dietary caloric restriction and antilipolytic agents have been proven to efficiently stimulate autophagy in old rodents. ... other possibly experimental restorative effects are discussed."