Longevity Meme Newsletter, February 27 2006

February 27 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.



- Much More Good Press From the AAAS Meeting
- Scientist's Open Letter on Aging Research
- Aubrey de Grey's Presentation at TED2006
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


As you'll notice from this past week's headlines, good press is still rolling out as a result of the panel on healthy life extension (and the prospects for radical life extension) held at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). As more people stop to think seriously about healthy life extension it will become ever easier to build the case for large-scale funding and progress towards working anti-aging therapies.

Widespread public support and an environment in which the fight to cure aging is accepted and understood is vital. Massive funding projects, however they are brought about, cannot exist without this groundswell.



Speaking of building the case, another Immortality Institute project has gone public: the Scientist's Open Letter on Aging Research, signed by 54 leading researchers in the field and other noted scientists:


Regular readers will no doubt recognize many of the signatories from science news of the past few years. Kudos to Bruce Klein and the Immortality Institute volunteers for getting this on the road - I expect more signatures to be forthcoming as healthy life extension advocacy makes further inroads in the scientific community.

You can find out about other Immortality Institute activities, such as film and book projects, or the open letter on cryonics, at their website and forum:



The TED conferences are an annual networking event for hyper-networked (and often very wealthy and successful) folk, and as such are off-limits to the mainstream press - you won't have seen much beyond news of the TED Prize articles. Fortunately bloggers get everywhere, and so we have reporting and impressions of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's presentation at TED2006:


"How do you make a car last for 50 years? Either you can build it like a tank, or you can take very good care of it. When cared for and repaired by enthusiasts, cars can last indefinitely. Vintage cars die because people don't care about them. De Gray is interested in an 'engineering approach.' It suggests letting metabolism 'lay down damage,' then correcting it with a variety of techniques. He lists a set of different techniques to combat basic cellular damage, arguing that many of these techniques are right around the corner' - in trials in mice, possibly usable in humans in 10 years. Hence, this isn't a 'research' project, but a 'development' project."

You can be sure that there was much networking with the philanthropic community going on in the backdrop. You can find out more about de Grey's proposals for the development of working anti-aging medicine - and more importantly, the development of the research infrastructure that will get us there - in the following places:



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



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/

More Signs of Commercialization (February 26 2006)
The Sun-Sentinel reports on progress in yet another variety of first-generation stem cell therapy for heart damage: "Bioheart focuses on cell therapy, in which healthy cells are injected into the heart to replace dead tissue that forms after a heart attack. Called MyoCell, the company's product is derived from immature skeletal muscle cells, called myoblasts, taken from the patient's thigh. ... Cells naturally travel from other parts of the body to help a damaged heart, but that only lasts for a few days - not enough time for sufficient healing ... The technique we developed makes this happen for a couple to three weeks, and that produces a better recovery ... The procedure is in late-stage testing in Europe [and] Bioheart could apply for commercial approval there before year's end. Testing in the United States has not progressed as far."

Removing Cancerous Stem Cells (February 26 2006)
You may recall that accumulated mutations leading to cancer within embryonic stem cell lines were identified as a potentially serious problem - if lines became unusable at a fast rate, it would greatly impede progress. The Australian reports that the problem is on the way to being solved: "scientists have overcome a hurdle in the evolution of embryonic stem cell technology by devising a means of weeding out cells that are potentially cancerous. The [research] represents a breakthrough for the technology, whose critics have used this instability to argue stem cell research be halted. ... the research team also believes the discovery may allow abnormal cells to be identified and then purged, maintaining the health of stem cell cultures."

Towards Tissue Engineered Taste (February 25 2006)
Tissue engineers are working on a surprising breadth of of research, for all that most of the press focuses on major organs. Here, EurekAlert reports on early progress towards regenerative therapies for a damaged sense of taste: researchers "have succeeded in growing mature taste receptor cells outside the body and for the first time have been able to successfully keep the cells alive for a prolonged period of time. ... aims to help people who have lost their sense of taste from radiation or diseases. Identification of factors that promote taste cell regeneration and growth may provide new avenues of treatment for these patients. Researchers also hope to gain insight into how taste cell function changes across the lifespan, from infancy and childhood through old age."

Stem Cell Funding in Maryland (February 24 2006)
WJZ Baltimore reports on movement towards state funding of embryonic stem cell research in Maryland: "Two House committees approved legislation Friday to provide $25 million a year in state funds for stem cell research, with a high priority given to research on cells extracted from human embryos. Approval by the House Health and Governmental Operations Committee and the Appropriations Committee was the first step in what is likely to be a protracted and contentious debate in the legislature over one of the most emotional issues of the 2006 General Assembly session." Similar battles over comparatively small scale research funding - at least compared to Proposition 71 in California - are underway in other state legislatures around the US.

Death Before "Inequality" (February 24 2006)
(From TechNewsWorld). Sonia Arrison catches the same dangerous views that I noticed coming from researcher Shripad Tuljapurkar: "The political viewpoint that anti-aging technologies are problematic because not everyone gets them at the same time is either blindly impatient or a thinly concealed argument in favor of death. Some individuals might conclude they are too old to benefit from the technology. If they can't live longer and healthier lives, the thinking goes, then no one else should either. That view may offend some people's sensibilities, but it does exist. It remains unclear what drives Dr. Tuljapurkar's worry that anti-aging technologies won't spread like other advances. Whatever the motive, we should be wary of irrational solutions that call on governments to limit important scientific work. Longer lives will help us generate solutions to potential longevity problems."

Universal Superlongevity (February 24 2006)
Via Betterhumans, an essay on the likely future of radical life extension: "He predicts that the initial preference for radical life extending technology will be somewhere at in the 30 to 50% range. He suspects that there will be some initial opposition in the first generation from those who are unaccustomed to it. However, writes Walker, for the first generation that grows up in a world where there are superlongevitists, the preference rate will likely jump up dramatically to about 80% or more. ... Given that superlongevity is technically possible, and this is starting to look more and more the case with each passing year, Walker believes that our descendents will opt to use this technology and that it is, morally speaking, a good thing." The fight we must win is the fight to bring this future close enough to save ourselves from suffering and death by aging.

Considering Working Anti-Aging Medicine (February 23 2006)
The Economist digests recent discussions from the scientific community: "the point at which age turns to ill health and, ultimately, death is shifting - that is, people are remaining healthier for longer. And that raises the question of how death might be postponed, and whether it might be postponed indefinitely. ... if ageing humans can be patched up for 30 years, he argues, science will have developed sufficiently to make further repairs more effective, postponing death indefinitely. ... It would thus appear that death can be postponed by various means and healthy ageing extended by others. Whether death will remain the ultimate consequence of growing old remains to be seen." It's good to see these discussions moving further into the mainstream - all very necessary in order to craft an environment in which healthy life extension research is funded.

Comments on Stem Cells, Heart Regeneration (February 23 2006)
Some commentary from one of The Scientist blogs: "The Keystone Symposium I'm at this week in Santa Fe is billed as being about two related subjects: the molecular mechanisms of cardiac disease and the molecular mechanisms of regeneration ... the use of stem cells to regenerate the heart is already the loud buzz at poster sessions, and is at least a whisper in talks whose subjects suggest they about pure molecular mechanisms. ... I want to inject a note of caution. The ongoing clinical studies essentially support not the differentiation of stem cells into beating cardiomyocytes, but a paracrine effect. ... It may not be the stem cells themselves, but some factors they secrete, or an environment they create."

Prostate From Embryonic Stem Cells (February 23 2006)
EurekAlert reports on an impressive step forward for tissue engineering and the control of embryonic stem cells: "Melbourne scientists have grown a human prostate from embryonic stem cells. ... the discovery will allow scientists to monitor the progression of the prostate from a normal to a diseased state for the first time. ... We need to study healthy prostate tissue from 15-25 year old men to track this process. Understandably, there is a lack of access to samples from men in this age group, so to have found a way we can have an ongoing supply of prostate tissue is a significant milestone. As nearly every man will experience a problem with their prostate, we're very excited about the impact our research will have." Much of embryonic stem cell research at this time is aimed at understanding the progression of disease.

Sinclair, Guarente on Longevity Genes (February 22 2006)
The latest Scientific American takes a good look at research into the genetics and biochemistry of calorie restriction: "Because people have sought to slow aging for tens of thousands of years without success, some may find it hard to accept that human aging might be controlled by tweaking a handful of genes. Yet we know it is possible to forestall aging in mammals with a simple dietary change: calorie restriction works. And we have shown that Sirtuin genes control many of the same molecular pathways as calorie restriction. Without actually knowing the precise, and potentially myriad, causes of aging, we have already demonstrated in a variety of life-forms that it can be delayed by manipulating a few regulators and letting them take care of the organisms' health."

Future Anti-Aging Drugs (Or Not) (February 21 2006)
Red Herring gets into the act with a rather traditional research mindset: "Every five years for roughly the last three quarters of a century, life expectancy in industrialized countries has risen by about one year in a phenomenally regular manner ... brought about by medicines that either cure a problem or increase the length of time people can live with chronic diseases. But drugs that prevent aging itself are on the distant horizon, and with them could come dramatic social changes. ... While many scientists agree immortality through pharmacy is not yet worthy of serious debate, and many are cautious of even making hard and fast predictions about life-extending therapies, most agree they are worthy of discussion and tentative planning." I doubt that effective therapies for aging will look anything like present-day drugs. Drugs are old school; the future is stem cells and gene therapy, engineered bacteria and nanomedical robots - and more.

NYT on Cancer Stem Cells (February 21 2006)
The New York Times reviews the state of research into cancer stem cells: "stem cells are the source of at least some, and perhaps all, cancers. At the heart of every tumor, some researchers believe, lie a handful of aberrant stem cells that maintain the malignant tissue. ... It's a very challenging population of cells to identify, but thus far in every cancer in which cells have been carefully screened they have been found ... If the notion of cancer stem cells is correct, how can they be eliminated without also killing the normal stem cells that are vital for maintaining the body's tissues? Researchers hope that the cancer stem cells, because of their excessive activity, may be more dependent than normal cells on certain cellular processes and thus will be more vulnerable to drugs that block those processes."

More From the AAAS Annual Meeting (February 20 2006)
The Senior Journal has another article on discussions of healthy life extension at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting: "While future models seem bleak to some, [there] is much to be learned from the past. It may be more difficult to adjust to abrupt fertility changes than to anticipated increases in life expectancy due to mortality change ... Thus, since the developed world has already dealt with rising and subsequent falling fertility rates, she believes the future may not be as problematic as some believe. ... Now the question is: What will the adverse consequences of living a long life be? I think they will not be anything we cannot deal with." Being alive and healthy to tackle issues is far better than being dead - I hope this is as obvious to most folk as it is to me.

Xenotransplantation Versus Diabetes (February 20 2006)
Under competition from stem cell based regenerative medicine, work on viable xenotransplantation therapies moves forward. From EurekAlert: researchers "have successfully reversed diabetes in monkeys using transplanted islet cells from pigs. ... Researchers have already had success reversing type 1 diabetes in humans through islet transplantation, however, the demand for islet cells grossly outweighs the supply. ... a safe and reliable source of islet cells must be found. ... These results suggest it is feasible to use pig islet cells as a path to a far-reaching cure for diabetes. Now that we have identified critical pathways involved in immune recognition and rejection of pig islet transplants, we can begin working on better and safer immunosuppressant therapies with the eventual goal of bringing the treatment to people." This strategy may also be of use in treating type 2 (age-related) diabetes, but it's worth remembering that preventation is an effective alternative in this case.



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