More and Better Multipotency?

No doubt needled by recent press attention given to multipotent adult stem cells in mice, PrimeGen Biotech claims that their mouse model "is similar to that referenced in an article published by German researchers ... But PrimeGen is further along - company researchers have already begun creating therapeutically viable cell lines from human tissue. ... PrimeGen describes the first evidence of isolation and therapeutic reprogramming of adult human germ line stem cells into heart, brain, cartilage and bone cells. ... We are very pleased to see that the laboratory in Germany has independently confirmed our results - which we first described and presented in Singapore in 2005 - on the therapeutic reprogramming of post-natal germ cells." Posturing aside, basic research for stem cell based regenerative medicine is certainly picking up speed.


Keeping Wikipedia Spick and Span

I make good use of Wikipedia as a resource, both here and in the Longevity Meme daily news; I'm usually pleasantly suprised to find that even comparatively obscure bioscience terms and references have comprehensible entries for the layman. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a large-scale wiki, it is essentially the gift economy of open source applied to reference materials. Everyone can edit, so - in theory, over time - the best and most accurate knowledge is accumulated into a sparkling whole; the wisdom of crowds at work. While this doesn't tend to work so well for contentious items - such as present day politics - or soft fields where truth is less important than oratory, the scientific community has gardened its sections of Wikipedia well.

The healthy life extension community should do the same. Many people will use Wikipedia to read up on present day efforts to extend the healthy human life span, or to understand the science and biotechnology that will shape our future longevity. All it takes is a little effort from each of us to keep things truthful, accurate, up to date and up to scratch - so make that effort the next time you're clicking through to Wikipedia. See something wrong? Correct it. Lacking a reference you know of? Add it. Missing an entry you'd like to see? Take a few minutes to start a stub article.

Wikipedia is a widely used resource; it greatly helps our cause to have it record the present state of our community and research towards healthy life extension technology.

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Phoenix Biomolecular isn't the only company digging into aging and the manipulation of telomere length, it seems. "Telomolecular develops nanotechnologies capable of delivering large-molecule proteins across human cell membranes. The corporation's primary focus is on the delivery of therapeutic agents that lengthen and repair chromosomal telomeres in living animals. Successful therapies based on this tactic may offset, and potentially reverse, many devastating age-related diseases and perhaps address the symptoms and signs recognized as human aging. ... the coporation intends to develop pharmaceutical products that deliver in vivo variant of telomerase reverse transcriptase (vTERT), and other agents known to lengthen chromosomal telomeres." Clever stuff. The old-style telomere theory of aging - that telomere shortening alone causes aging - has largely been abandoned, but it seems clear that shortened telomeres cause or are correlated with a number of common age-related diseases. The ability to manipulate telomeres is likely to be very important in tackling cancer and some other age-related conditions.


Save, Invest or Die

I stumbled upon an article the other day that manages to be quite right and quite wrong about the future of your life, insofar as finance and health go:

"As the first wave of America's 77 million baby boomers head into retirement this year, it becomes more critical for Americans to seriously evaluate how they will maintain their lifestyles as we live well into our 80s, 90s and beyond," said Stinson, president of Genworth's long-term care insurance business. "It's good news that the typical steep gains in nursing home costs have moderated this year. But the fact remains that most American households remain unprotected from the costly health challenges that come with greater longevity."

The poll also revealed most individuals recognized the need to prepare for the cost of long-term care, but were largely unprepared.

Many Americans surveyed also wrongly believed they had insurance protection, felt that their savings would be adequate to cover long-term care costs, and incorrectly believed that Medicare would cover long-term care costs.

The article is written assuming no change - all too common a fallacy these days, sadly - and that the world will proceed forward with the medical technology of the year 2006, or at least nothing much more advanced than that. Nothing could be further from the truth; even the least optimistic amongst scientists and realists are looking to large gains in healthy life span and ever less disability amongst the elderly in the years ahead.

Still, you must save and invest, or die. Harsh, but true. You will not be saving for nursing homes, however, or other equally unappetizing twilight scenarios of decay and suffering. Rather, you will be saving to afford the first and second generations of working anti-aging medicine; therapies and technologies capable of repairing age-related damage and extending your healthy life span. These will not be cheap at first, but even modest savings can net very large gains over a lifetime of diversified investment. You will need those funds. Folk have a way of believing that governments can create something from nothing, but governments are not magical entities capable of flouting basic economic truths. You shouldn't count on other people's taxes funding your healthy life extension - that way is the way to death and poverty for all. There is no free lunch, and certainly no free medicine; if you want to live healthily for longer, you will have to make sensible decisions now and work for it.

If you are forward-looking enough to support healthy life extension - in effect to make a better life for the you that will exist decades from now - then you are forward-looking enough to invest in ensuring that the future is as you would like it to be. A part of that is saving for yourself, but it is also vital to help fund present day efforts aimed at ensuring that healthy life extension technologies are developed. How you decide on that split is up to you; you will need to arrive in the future as a financially secure individual, but it doesn't matter how financially secure you are if working anti-aging therapies were not developed in time.

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Distinction Without a Difference?

Thoughts from the Speculist: "Dr. Kirkwood is a gerontologist with a very impressive resume. So it's discouraging to to see him discounting the possibility of life extension. ... I support efforts to devise 'better ways to age' the same way I support efforts to devise better ways to hit yourself in the head with a hammer. Both projects would be good, but wouldn't it be better to avoid the underlying activity? ... 'better ways to age' and 'life extension' is a distinction without a difference. ... But any treatment that directly addresses the aging problem - something that slows degeneration - will extend life. Unless Kirkwood's hopes are limited to palliatives like Viagra and Rogaine, 'better ways to age' is just 'life extension' by another name." Some unfortunately influential aging apologists discount gains in longevity when discussing "successful aging" or the like, but I don't think Kirkwood is one of them.


Longer Lives a Reality

The Sydney Morning Herald on aging, life span and healthy life extension: "We have people living now who are older than we've ever had. The question is whether we've done anything about the ageing process or we're treating diseases more effectively. People in their 70s are healthier than they were 50 years ago but, on the other hand, I don't see, unless we do something about ageing, that, 20 years from now, a 70- or an 80-year-old person will be any healthier than they are now. ... quality of life will not improve dramatically until scientists look further at the mechanisms behind, rather than the symptoms of, ageing. ... Until the past five years, there was not a lot of interest in putting money into ageing research - one reason was the belief that you couldn't do anything about it." It is clearly the case that we can do something about it - we should move ahead as rapidly as possible to alleviate the outrage that is age-related suffering and death.


Genetics of Metastasis

(From EurekAlert). Researchers "have discovered an additional member of the S100 family of protein genes - S100P - that causes the spread of cancerous cells from an original tumour to other parts of the body. ... To date, three other metastasis-inducing genes have been discovered - S100A4, osteopontin, and more recently, AGR2. ... Metastagenes are fundamental to this process and can be found in most common cancers, including breast, lung and colon. If these genes are over-expressed in the cancerous tumour, early death of the patient is much more likely. The next major step is to develop drugs that will switch off the action of these genes." While neurodegenerative diseases are likely to be the long-term obstacle to radical life extension, cancer is the toughest near-term threat. The closer scientists come to uncovering and understanding common mechanisms, the more likely we are to see effective prevention and cure within the next decade.


The Economic Case Against Aging

The economic case for curing aging is a part of the general utilitarian case for aggressive investment of time, attention and capital into healthy life extension - minimizing suffering and death makes things better all round. It's something of a sad statement on the world in which we live in that there is any debate on this truth as an axiom of progress.

Here we have two posts from Anders Sandberg, reflecting on the Longevity Dividend proposal and some thoughts on the clash of gerontology paradigms at the Tomorrow's People event:

Ageing is after all a root cause for many expensive chronic diseases like cancer, stroke, dementias, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Reducing ageing even slightly would reduce them significantly. In general it is better to go for underlying causes of illness than symptoms, as demonstrated by how the discovery of Helicobacter pylori enabled turning chronic and expensive ulcers into something treatable and rare. In fact, increasing lifespan by seven years would be a far greater gain than even totally eliminating cancer or heart disease. Beyond the medical savings longer lives also mean more productive work, more consumption and more human value - a larger economy. Many of the demographic pressures would be lessened, producing further multiplicative effects.


The basic idea is that life extension isn't just individually good, but also causes huge economic benefits - benefits likely to outweigh any costs caused by people living longer. Sure, we have to rewamp pension systems and construct a new concept of the path of life, but that is challenges far preferable to the enormous amount of suffering caused by ageing. If we could fix mortality to save the 100,000 dead each day it would be great, but even a modest gain in healthy life expectancy has a big leverage.

It was interesting to see the high noon confrontation between [Aubrey de Grey] and some of the authors of the paper mentioned above at last week's conference. On one end of the street the lone gunslinger Aubrey the Beard, on the other side the fearsome biogerontologist brothers. Of course, the real shootout has not yet started, this was just a few warning shots getting the bystanders to stand back. Much of the disagreement was due to the different conceptual approaches (engineering project vs. scientific study). But whoever is left standing afterwards, the idea that ageing is not immutable is going to prevail.

Which is a very good thing; moving healthy life extension science and debate on from "what is this" and "why do it at all" into struggles over implementation, approach and degree should be regarded as a major achievement. Once conservatives in the field traverse the hump of acknowledging that extending the healthy human life span is plausible and desirable, a defense of moderation is going to be increasingly hard to pull off in the face of ethical and scientific justifications for far more than a few years here and a few years there.

So bring on the heated debate over how scientists should proceed to enable us to live longer, healthier lives - the more people fired up and ready to get out there and prove their points, the better.

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Multipotent Periosteal Cells

Via EurekAlert, news of another multipotent stem cell population, grist for the mill of research into regenerative cell therapies: "Samples of periosteal cells were obtained from the tibia of 12 human donors, ranging in age from 24 to 83 years. Following enzymatic release and culture expansion, cell populations were tested for telltale markers of [Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)], as well as for their growth and differentiation potential. ... Regardless of donor age, periosteal cells expanded extensively, steadily maintaining growth curves over at least 30 population doublings. They also displayed the hallmarks of MSCs, including long telomeres, the sections of DNA at the end of a chromosome. What's more, the results of the animal experiments proved that expanded periosteal MSCs can contribute to muscle regeneration and form cartilage when implanted into a joint surface defect."



DNage is engaged in some interesting work: "In order to study the effect of individual DNA repair enzymes/proteins [reseachers] developed a large series of mouse models in which the genes for several DNA repair proteins were mutated. ... Although, these these models already existed for some time and showed signs of ageing (as did the patients) nobody had made an explicit connection between DNA damage/repair and the fundamental process of ageing. In 2000, Hoeijmakers first realised that the mouse models, which they had generated show all signs of accelerated ageing and that this could be linked to deficiencies in DNA repair mechanisms. ... systematic studies revealed a litany of other characteristics pointing to accelerated ageing, including early development of kyphosis, osteoporosis, neurologic abnormalities, etc." Just as for mitochondrial research, advancing our knowledge of DNA repair as it relates to aging can only be a good thing.


David Chambers on Tomorrow's People

David Chambers, one of the upstanding Methuselah Foundation folk doing good work behind the scenes, attended the Tomorrow's People event earlier this month. He had the following comments:

A few notes:

It was an interesting few days, and the conference attracted an impressive roster of the "Great and the Good", but I found the whole thing a bit perplexing. My 2c: Europeans don't look forward to a better future - but rather a managed version of the present. There's a distrust of revolutionary ideas, and the usual ritual genuflection towards equal opportunities, both societal and international. In such a conservative environment there's no place for transhuman optimism. And quite a lot of noodling on about pensions crises.

The session "Longer" clearly attracted the most interest. Speakers were [Aubrey de Grey], and three others: Kirkwood, Miller and Oshlansky. Kirkwood was urbanely dismissive of SENS and Miller displayed undisguised animus (which did him no favours). But Oshlansky unveiled his plan for US$3Bn p.a. federal research funding on aging, with the target of shifting the debilitation and death curve to the right by seven years. In the face of audience scepticism he was confident of success, suggesting that things may be progressing behind the scenes.

The magnitude of [de Grey]'s achievement really came home to me. In just a few years, and without any institutional backing, he has earned himself a seat on the sofa alongside these scientific luminaries.

While Euros and Americans might have their various hang-ups about the ethics and implications of the new biology, China doesn't. Pei Xuetao, of the Beijing Institute of Transfusion Medicine, made it very clear that China is open for business.

Miller has written an interesting paper identifying the obstacles to life extension research. He suggests that the political/scientific obstacle split is 85/15.

Miller is an interesting character; clearly very anti-SENS - as illustrated in a recent BBC article on this same event - but equally quite pro-healthy life extension insofar as he sees the realm of the possible. You can see that side in a Longevity Meme article excerpted from the Genomics Age, in his support of the Longevity Dividend proposal, and in the paper that David Chambers points out above.

So it is that debate within the gerontology community and related areas of biomedical research has progressed into the realm of "how much, how soon, how" - factions are forming and making their cases. That working technologies capable of extending the healthy human life span will come into being is a foregone conclusion, and that's a big improvement over past decades.

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The BBC looks at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) through the lens of the scientific opposition at the Tomorrow's People event: "Aubrey is trying to generate enthusiasm for a commitment and programme that, in a sense, sidesteps the practical challenges that the science faces. There are really big challenges and we are all aligned in hoping that we can harness the science to improve and extend quality of life, but it doesn't serve any useful purpose to try to extrapolate so far beyond the immediate challenges." Needless to say, there is a contingent in the scientific community who feel this is wrong-headed, and that the science is indeed far ahead of scientific politics within the gerontological community. You don't make progress by shooting down those who forge ahead.


Pledge to Join the MPrize's Three Hundred at PledgeBank

I gave a nod of thanks to the first 87 members of The Three Hundred in the latest Longevity Meme Newsletter:

Eighty-seven people have so far chosen to join The Three Hundred, generous supporters of the Methuselah Foundation and mostly folk of quite modest means. As taxes come and go in the US again, I think it's worth pointing out that The Three Hundred help to keep the foundation within the arcane boundaries of 501(c)3 nonprofit status as the larger donations mount.

While we all have our varying opinions on taxes and regulation - and I'm sure you know mine by now - I think that any excuse is a good excuse to point out just how much the Three Hundred are contributing to the future of meaningful anti-aging research and healthy life extension advocacy. I strongly suggest that you consider joining: where else can you leverage so much positive change for the future of health and longevity from a couple of dollars a day?

MPrize supporter Eric Boyd emailed me today with a positive step forward:

I have been trying to get up my dedication to join The 300, but it's a lot of money. I gave a little last year. In order to motivate/bind myself to join The 300 I have created a pledge:

With promotion on your blog I am sure that we can acheive this pledge. Help me cure aging!

I confess that I have not been following the development of Web 2.0-style philanthropic and nonprofit tools like PledgeBank as closely as I should, but this is an excellent utilization. A pledge of support for the MPrize for anti-aging research is exactly the sort of thing these services can help to enable.

So, you there in the audience, the folk who have been thinking about stepping up to make a real difference to the future of health and longevity - how about proving Eric right?

I will become a member of "The 300" at but only if 20 other people will too.


The 300 is a group of people supporting an anti-aging prize fund. Each member donates $1000/year to the prize. If 20 people signed up, that would add half a million dollars to the prize over the next 25 years, enough to make the prize significantly more attractive to researchers. Join me and help us cure aging!

$1,000 per year is a cup of coffee a day - many people of modest means lose more than that to careless finance or candy. These early years, in which advocacy is just as important as science, are a unique opportunity to leverage small amounts of money into world-changing progress. You can invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime of work, giving you comparatively good health and medical care in old age - but all that will come to naught if you haven't also invested in ensuring a future that includes working healthy life extension technologies. Suffering, aging and dying with a large 401k is still suffering, aging and dying; wealth cannot buy medical sevices that failed to come into being for lack of support.

Advocacy by organizations like the Methuselah Foundation and associated groups has had a large effect in just the past few years. You don't have to look back very far to see that a few advocates - with a few dollars, donated by people just like you and I - have engineered a sea change in the way the media and the scientific mainstream view and talk about healthy life extension.

You can help make this process even faster and more effective: sign Eric's pledge and join The Three Hundred.

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Aubrey de Grey in the Guardian

The Guardian interviews biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "The therapies he talks about will not be targeting the things that go wrong at the end of life - the degenerative diseases and loss of motor function - but their precursors, the changes that occur throughout life but which are manifested most devastatingly in old age. ... We've spent the last few millennia aware that senescence is horrible but knowing nevertheless that it's inevitable. We've had to find some mechanism to put it out of our minds so we can get on with our miserably short lives. There's nothing wrong with making the best of one's declining years, but what does annoy me is the fatalism. Now that we're seriously in range of finding therapies that actually work against ageing, this apathy, of course, becomes an enormous part of the problem."


RNAi Versus Cancer

From a piece on this year's International Business Plan Competition: "SanoGene draws on a discovery by University of Illinois researcher Jasti Rao regarding a new technology called ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi), which blocks gene expression [by] preventing the formation of proteins. RNAi is so new only three companies are experimenting with drugs based on it, but none are targeting cancer. Unlike other drugs on the market, SanoGene's experimental drug targets multiple cell origins of brain tumors, blocking the invasion of cells into other tissue. So far, it has shown extremely positive results for the drug in animal models, according to its founders." It's an insight into what is presently seen as viable biotechnology for commercialization - RNAi today is just about where gene therapy was 10 or 15 years ago.


The Potamkin Prize

Since it's been a week of Alzheimer's research news, I should point to this Senior Journal article: "Three scientists are to be awarded the $100,000 Potamkin Prize [for] their work in helping advance the understanding of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. ... Using a new technology called multiphoton microscopy we are able to [watch] plaques and tangles in the living brain and directly observe the effects of therapeutic interventions ... Our findings show that the clumps of amyloid-beta and tau proteins in plaques and tangles are not the main culprits of memory loss ... Her recent work has shown that a class of drugs known as kinase inhibitors that target an abnormal form of tau may be useful in treating tangles in Alzheimer's disease and other dementias." Until we're talking about underlying mechanisms and age-related biochemical damage at the root of it all, it's still early days - cleaning up the end results is not the way to go.


Plain Common Sense

A dose of common sense via the Life Extension Foundation News: "The life span of human beings is partially influenced by genetic factors, but outcomes of aging are profoundly influenced by lifestyle and other environmental factors. Age-related modifications of the cardiovascular system are preserved by anti-aging lifestyle interventions such as physical activity and caloric restriction. ... Accordingly, physical activity and low body mass index reduce mortality in older men with cardiovascular diseases. ... Thus, older persons can implement lifestyle practices that minimize their risk of death from cardiovascular diseases." It works over the long term for younger people too: you can choose not to damage your healthy life span, and thus have a better chance of living to benefit from real anti-aging technologies of the future.


Ageless Animals, Absent Immortality, Evolutionary Biology and Aging

The death of a very long-lived tortoise prompted thoughts on aging and immortality in the animal kingdom over at the Speculist:

We humans are, for now, the practical distinction between nature and evolution. Evolution doesn't "care" how long any individual creature lives - as long as enough members of the species live long enough to spawn the next generation. Senescence is the product of evolutionary neglect - a lack of evolutionary pressure to live longer - not part of some grand design to clear the way for future generations.

But through evolution nature produced a species that both cares about life span, and has the potential to do something about it. Senescence could not be eliminated with evolution alone. A couple more informational epochs had to come along.

But conquering senescence is only natural.

This is a sentiment that I agree with - people who argue that the fight to cure aging is "unnatural" have it all exactly backwards. Nothing is more natural than for we humans to challenge, reverse-engineer and overcome our limitations in search of a better (and longer) life.

But back to animals and aging. A somewhat better synopsis of the evolutionary explanations of aging and its oddities between species was penned by Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova:

The evolutionary theory of aging may be considered as part of a more general life history theory, which tries to explain how evolution designs organisms to achieve reproductive success (i.e., avoid extinction). Life history theory is based on mathematical methods of optimization models with specific biological constraints. Among the questions posed and answered by life history theory are. Why are organisms small or large? Why do they mature early or late? Why do they have few or many offspring? Why do they have a short or a long life? Why must they grow old and die? The latter two questions represent the entire scientific agenda of the evolutionary theory of aging. It could be said, therefore, that the evolutionary theory of aging is a subset of the life history theory.

Another worthy summary article for the layman can be found at Joao Pedro de Magalhaes' website.

A perhaps more striking, if overly simplistic, explanation for the existence of aging was given by Jaque Cousteau - no immortality because change is the lowest common denominator, and immortality in a species that cannot radically change itself spells extinction. It will ultimately find itself doomed by environmental changes, if not by evolutionary competition.

This doesn't preclude the possibility of an evolving clade of species with the necessary biochemistry for physical immortality; individual animals just won't have the chance to make much use of it. The Ageless Animals website provides an interesting view of outliers in the evolutionary processes that determine aging.

From where we sit, at the dawn of the biotech era, it is encouraging for our own prospects that species such as tortoises (and some whales) are capable of such extreme longevity. They aren't that different from us in the grand scheme of things, which would suggest that radical life extension via advanced biochemical and genetic manipulation - a large step beyond the present tinkering with metabolism - is a viable strategy for research in the decades ahead.

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Comparing the Pathways

Now that scientists have a handful of different ways to extend healthy life span in a range of lower species - largely through manipulation of metabolism - there is much to be learned through experiments that combine and contrast: "Many gene products known to affect lifespan are intimately involved in the control of energy metabolism, including the fuel sensor AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). We have shown previously that over-expression of an AMPK [alpha] subunit in Caenorhabditis elegans, designated aak-2, increases lifespan. Here we show the interaction of aak-2 with other pathways known to control aging in worms. Lifespan extension caused by daf-2/insulin-like signaling mutations was highly dependent on aak-2, as was the lifespan extension caused by over-expression of the deacetylase, sir-2.1. ... These results show that aging is controlled by overlapping but distinct pathways." Next up: the same in mice.


Cartilage Without Scaffolds

The Houston Chronicle is running an article on the tissue engineering of new cartilage as a brute force therapy for the age-related damage of arthritis: "I have been researching this area of cartilage since 1984, and this is the most excited I have ever been about the work ... Athanasiou's group describes the first successful method of growing and molding cartilage into natural forms without requiring scaffolds, trellis-like arrangements upon which cells are seeded and grown. ... Using nothing but cartilage donor cells, Athanasiou's group grew dime-sized disks of cartilage nearly identical to that in the body. ... We're no longer talking about repairing a small lesion. Potentially, we're talking about effectively treating osteoarthritis by resurfacing the entire joint. I'm not saying we're there yet, but we're beginning to see that it's doable."


Cryonics and Freedom

Via Betterhumans, a fairly compact summary of one of the lessons that supporters of cryonics should learn from recent events in France:

RAYMOND MARTINOT and his wife have just had their 20-year slumber in a cryogenic freezer brought to a fiery end. Their son discovered that they had not been preserved at the temperature needed for the planned resuscitation in 2050. Regretfully, he had to have them cremated.

What is shocking about this story is not that a French couple were kept frozen in a basement by their son; nor the couple's belief that by 2050 they would live again. What is shocking is that the French Government was not going to let them try. A court order had already been obtained for the Martinots' cremation before the freezer failure. In France a corpse must be buried, cremated or formally donated to science.


What business is it of the State to dictate how to dispose of, or preserve, the body of a loved one? None.


A State that interferes in this delicate and private area exposes its cultural and religious bias - a dangerous thing in the modern, multicultural world. A State that denies the right to try cryogenic preservation stifles scientific investigation. A State that insists on only limited options for the dead inhibits creativity and invention. A State that dictates how best the dead may lie assumes a worryingly paternal position towards its citizens.

To discover the French Government telling its people what is right for them even after they are dead is no surprise. But one might hope things would be better in the UK. They are not.

Nor are they much better anywhere else. Even the US - home to Alcor and the Cryonics Institute, and once upon a time a culture with some very definitive ideas about freedom and the state - ensuring that regulations and government employees don't interfere in your preservation is a matter of some effort and luck. I blame the slow failing of property rights for all this, as for many other things. If you are held from determining the manner and timing of your own death (say, so as to ensure a good cryonic suspension with least damage to your brain), if you are held from determining the fate of what should be your first and most important possession - your body - than how, exactly, are you free?

The other lessons to take away from this are primarily economic in nature, some of which I've previously addressed, with the help of commenters. Cryonics provision is not something you can go at alone and hope to succeed - the odds are dicey enough already for the mainstream organizations. Quite aside from the complexities of performing a suspension - and leaving aside any debate over the capabilities of future technology and whether suspension methodology matters so long as the temperature is kept low enough - this is a high quality of service operation. You can't afford mistakes, and that immediately qualifies cryonics as a venture for process, formal organization, and a professional manner of doing business. No one person working alone can succeed in the long term, no matter how dedicated or diligent.

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Searching for Articles

The articles section of the Longevity Meme has been languishing of late, largely as a result of my time sliding away elsewhere. These fine essays - generously donated by the authors - continue to provide a good introduction to aspects of healthy life extension and its culture. There is always room for improvement and expansion, however, and the times keep moving on even as an essay remains static.

I have no desire to be all-encompassing - nor necessarily to get into the business of putting out articles on a regular basis - but I certainly haven't covered a broad range in terms of providing introductory material for newcomers. I hope it isn't the case that there is nothing more to say in the healthy life extension community's 101 class; that would be a disappointment.

So: suggestions are sought. Do you know of good essays penned in the past few years that have aged well and should be included? Are there glaring gaps in the topics covered? Please do let me know.

Ever More Multipotency

Via ABC News, news of yet another population of multipotent adult stem cells: "In the report Hasenfuss and his team described how they isolated the sperm-producing stem cells from mice testes. The cells, which they call multipotent adult germline stem cells (maGSCs), under certain conditions, acted like embryonic stem cells. When the researchers injected the cells into early embryos they found the cells contributed to the development of different organs. ... However, much more research is required before the similarities and differences between these testes cells and embryonic stem cells are understood, and before their potential for use in therapy can be properly assessed."


Pin1 Enzyme and Alzheimer's

The Alzheimer's research has been rolling in of late; more progress can be found at Medical News Today: "These new findings, shown in an animal study, provide further evidence that Pin1 (prolyl isomerase) is essential to protect individuals from age-related neurodegeneration and for the first time establish a direct link between amyloid plaques and tau tangles, the two abnormal structures that are considered the pathological hallmarks of this devastating disease. ... when Pin1 was missing, neurons in the regions of the brain responsible for memory would collapse under the weight of the tau protein tangles, ultimately leading to age-dependent neurodegeneration. ... As was earlier shown with tau proteins, it appears that Pin1 acts to restore misshapen amyloid precursor proteins to their original healthy shape, possibly preventing the onset of neurodegeneration."


Virus-Armed Immune Cells Versus Cancer

(From Forbes). The weight of funding in the field of cancer research is driving promising technology demonstrations in this age of rapidly advancing biotechnology: "The technique -- which uses targeted viruses hidden in immune cells to destroy tumors -- has only succeeded in mice so far, and it's not known if it will work in humans. ... some viruses hone in on cancer cells, and they know that the immune system often swings into action whenever it detects a tumor. Blending these two potential weapons, researchers at Stanford University have taken immune cells, 'supercharged' them with a cancer-killing virus, and sent them on a mission to destroy tumors. ... the study's authors say the approach appeared to kill off tumors in mice infected with human ovarian cancer cells." The reliable prevention and cure of all cancer is vital to healthy life extension; cancer is in many ways the most threatening and pervasive age-related condition.


Regenerative Medicine for Things Other Than Aging

I don't normally give much time to research into regenerative therapies for non-age-related conditions, but it's worth glancing over the fence every so often - it helps in obtaining a feel for how fast medical science as a whole is moving. Here are a couple of recent items:

Scientists Hold Out Hope for Diabetes Cure:

Three years ago, scientists announced a new treatment had cured diabetes -- in mice. But researchers reporting in the March 24 issue of Science say three separate attempts to replicate that pioneering study have proven only partially successful. The results, while not stellar, still leave the cup of hope at least half-full for people with diabetes, experts say.

In fact, Dr. Denise L. Faustman, the scientist who performed the first study, contends the cup is still "100 percent full, because the new studies confirm that it is possible to stop the process by which the immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing islet cells." Islet cells reside in the pancreas, but are destroyed in the type 1 form of diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes generally appears early in life and is much more difficult to treat than obesity-associated type 2 diabetes, in which the body's insulin production gradually declines.


Meanwhile, she said, "We are actually elated by these studies. For 20 years, the hope has been that humans can regenerate insulin-producing cells. When we began this work we were not even allowed to use the word 'regeneration' in our papers. By 2003, we were able to use the word.

Cell therapy slows progression of an inherited neurological disease:

The new study, published in the March 22 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, may have implications for developing new therapies for metachromatic leukodystrophy, or MLD, a fatal, relatively rare inherited disorder that in humans usually begins early in life. In the disease, the fatty substance sulfatide accumulates in the brain due to the lack of an enzyme and causes loss of the white matter or myelin protecting nerve fibers. Without myelin, nerves cannot conduct impulses to and from other areas of the body, resulting in symptoms including convulsions, seizures, personality changes, spasticity, progressive dementia, motor disturbances progressing to paralysis, and blindness. There is no cure; the only current treatment is a bone marrow transplant.

Ernesto Bongarzone, PhD, and his colleagues at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, transplanted cells that produce myelin into the brains of newborn MLD mice. The researchers found that the transplanted myelin-producing cells survived in the mice brains and successfully moved to regions of the brain where they could aid in producing myelin. The transplanted cells also helped lead to production of healthy myelin and improved motor coordination.

Progress may seem slow at times, but researchers have come a long way in recent years. What happens in the laboratory today would have been - and sometimes was - science fiction back in the 80s.

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More On Alzheimer's as Type 3 Diabetes

EurekAlert follows up on the team that argues Alzheimer's could be classified as a form of diabetes: "By depleting insulin and its related proteins in the brain, [researchers] have replicated the progression of Alzheimer's disease - including plaque deposits, neurofibrillary tangles, impaired cognitive functioning, cell loss and overall brain deterioration - in an experimental animal model ... In the study, brain deterioration was not related to the pancreas, which regulates insulin for the body. When pancreatic insulin is deficient or the body fails to respond to it, the result is Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. ... postmortem brain tissue of Alzheimer's patients showed a strong link between insulin depletion in the brain and Alzheimer's disease, raising the possibility that Alzheimer's is a neuroendocrine disorder, or a Type 3 diabetes. ... We now know that if you specifically target insulin and its actions in the brain, you could develop new treatments for this disease."


The Other Uses For Vitrification

I will direct your attention to a press release on a non-cryonics use for vitrification:

Ice-free cryopreservation, or vitrification, methods for storing tissue engineered blood vessels have clear advantages over conventional freezing techniques and can accelerate the development and clinical availability of this alternate source of vascular grafts for surgical bypass procedures, according to a report in the February 2006 issue (Volume 12, Number 2) issue of Tissue Engineering


Vitrification is an ice-free alternative to conventional cryopreservation techniques. Whereas freezing of tissue samples results in damaging ice formation within cells and in the surrounding extracellular matrix, vitrification cryopreserves tissues without ice crystal formation. In vitrification, a supercooled liquid cryoprotectant solidifies, converting to a glassy state rather than to ice.

The authors demonstrated negligible ice formation in the vitrified samples. Importantly, they reported that engineered blood vessel specimens cryopreserved using vitrification had viability similar to that of fresh tissue and had contractile capability nearly 83% of fresh blood vessels, compared to less contractility of less than 11% for frozen specimens. They concluded that vitrification is a feasible storage method for tissue engineered blood vessels, which are being developed as an alternative source of vascular grafts for use in coronary or peripheral bypass surgical procedures.

All of which, of course, Alcor researchers have been demonstrating for a while now - but Alcor, like the rest of the cryonics community, is an oftimes marginal, non-profit, volunteer-driven, philanthropy-dependent organization. This is not to demean the worthy work accomplished there, but it is not a recipe for growth and long-term stability.

It is my contention that the cryonics industry needs to generate viable for-profit businesses in related areas of medical technology in order to support growth and a transition to a professional workforce for cryonic suspension services. This is clearly a possible path for the future, and is - to me, at least - clearly the best path for the future of cryonics. If we accept that cryonics is an entirely rational, responsible and ethical response to the problem of age-related death in a world on the verge of working anti-aging medicine, then the best path forward is that which generates the infrastructure capable of providing cryonics services to as many as possible who are able to pay the modest price.

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How to Read Studies, How to Read Science

This is a nice introduction to critical thinking in the face of claims made in the "anti-aging" marketplace - as well as in reputable branches of aging and longevity research: "Although there are myriad ways to undermine a research study, [readers] should be on the lookout for issues that frequent the Longevity and Aging literature. A common issue is the extrapolation of animal (or even yeast or bacteria!) longevity data to humans. Beware studies that avoid mentioning the study species in their abstract or conclusions. They may want you to over-estimate the import of their work. ... beware of surrogate markers or intermediate endpoints. Have the investigators 'cherry picked' only the markers that prove their bias? ... Look for adequate numbers of study subjects. In general one needs over 20 individuals per study arm to approach adequate approximation of a general population."


Ghandi Stage 3

If you haven't yet read Aubrey de Grey's thoughts on recent history for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), then you should do so now: "SENS is a radical departure from the approaches that biogerontologists have traditionally explored for combating aging ... Thus, it is no surprise that SENS is extremely controversial within the field. ... I am attempting to bring about a change in thinking about aging and how to combat it that is bigger than the field has ever undergone before ... there is a good deal of knee-jerk resistance from those with a large intellectual investment in the prevailing orthodoxy. Gandhi's famous description of campaigns to change people's thinking goes something like this: 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they oppose you, then they say they were with you all along.' By that measure, 2005 was the year in which SENS emphatically progressed to 'Gandhi stage 3'."


The Tithonus Error, Still Hale and Hearty

Stephen Gordon at the Speculist catches a healthy example of the Tithonus error at large in the well-linked portions of blogosphere:

Last week, after hearing a prediction of 1000-year life spans from Aubrey de Grey, Roger L. Simon expressed concern about the possibility of living too long.
112 years, say, of retirement doesn't sound exactly enthralling. That's a lot of checkers and parcheesi. One of the scientists interviewed in the article said people are living vigorous lives these days in their 70s. Ho-hum. What about in their 140s? Anybody for 120 and over tennis?

I can understand why Roger Simon wouldn't want extra drooling years. The typical response to this concern from life extension advocates is to point out that it's not just life extension, but healthy life extension that is the goal. Bill Quick commented:

Roger. the biggest problem in talking - and thinking - about news like this is shaking the three-score-and-ten mindset. The question is not "120 and over tennis," but, "tennis for 120 year olds who are physically only twenty years old?"

Advocacy is certainly a spectrum - it's quite possible to be supporting efforts to obtain large-scale funding for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) with one hand, while trying to dispel widespread and elementary myths with the other. Still, one would hope that some progress can be made in banishing the Tithonus error to the past. If half the population no longer knee-jerks in opposition to healthy life extension based on a false conception of "older for longer" - well, that can't be a bad thing for the prospects of raising a broad platform of support for research, can it?

Gordon goes on to say this:

I suspect that life extension will come in three major stages (with many, many incremental advances moving us forward). Stage one life extension will slow aging, stage two will halt aging, and stage three will reverse aging - essentially allowing us, with maintenance, to stay whatever age we choose. I think most life extension advocates would agree with this outline.

I will note that this is only most likely because of the prevailing winds of politics within gerontology and major funding sources - they are backing a slowing of aging (such as by research into the mechanisms of calorie restriction or general advances in medical technology) where they back healthy life extension at all. However, I think that the scientists associated with SENS make a credible case for reversing aging - by repairing age-related cellular damage - as an easier, faster prospect. Ramping up the funding and cultural changes to support that point of view is going to take time, however, and most likely more time that it will take the mainstream to gain further significant funding for their work on metabolism and longevity.

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Alzheimer's and the Choroid Plexus

A most interesting article from the Purdue University News Service: "an organ in the brain called the choroid plexus apparently plays a critical role in preventing the accumulation of a protein associated with Alzheimer's disease. The researchers found that the choroid plexus acts as a sort of 'fishnet' that captures the protein, called beta-amyloid, and prevents it from building up in the cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds and bathes the brain and spinal cord. Moreover, tissue in the organ is able to soak up large amounts of the protein and may contain enzymes capable of digesting beta-amyloid. ... Future research may focus on efforts to isolate possible enzymes. ... the findings suggest that aging may degrade the organ's performance."


Biochemistry of Neurodegeneration

Scientists are striving to understand the biochemical processes fundamental to neurodegenerative diseases: "There is tremendous urgency right now to determine which processes cause the destructive mechanisms that we see in neurodegenerative diseases ... oxidative stress, whatever its origin, is capable of causing the cytoskeleton of this artificial system to collapse in the same way that it does in diseased or aging brains. ... One of the future experiments planned by the team is to induce oxidative stress in the presence of key proteins thought to be involved in the underlying causes of the brain pathologies associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases to see whether these proteins accelerate the damaging effects." This is interesting in light of recent research into the biochemistry of cell death in Alzheimer's.


More Multipotent Adult Stem Cells

This sort of press release should be taken with a grain of salt while waiting for confirmation of the science, but it's a good measure of where the state of the art is seen to be at the present time: "Moraga Biotechnology Corporation [announces] the discovery in adult tissues of a very primitive stem cell with properties that are similar to embryonic cells. The Company's scientists found that these adult stem cells were able to differentiate into most tissues and organs of the body ... Moraga's scientists have also discovered that their stem cells normally reside in large numbers throughout the body. More importantly, the Company has developed a simple and cost-effective method for isolating and purifying millions of its stem cells from adult tissues without the need to expand them outside the body." A number of groups are claiming easily accessed multipotent adult stem cells, but we'll see how it all shakes out in a year or two.


How Fat Causes Inflammation

Inflammation is a form of ongoing biochemical damage; more inflammation means a shorter, less healthy life as the damage builds up and age-related conditions set in. Via Life Extension Foundation News, a look at how fat causes inflammation: "Greenberg and his colleagues found that as fat cells reach their maximum size, they eventually break down and die. ... more than 90 percent of the macrophages in adipose tissue of obese mice and humans are located around dead fat cells. ... these immune cells now appear to be rushing to fat cells after their death to mop them up. When this happens, the macrophages may emit potentially dangerous amounts of inflammatory chemicals. ... In a case of molecular rescue gone awry, the findings may explain how enlarged fat cells, as found in obesity, promote obesity-related complications such as arthritis, insulin resistance, diabetes, or heart disease."


Growth Hormone in the Press Again

The past couple of weeks have seen a wave of articles on the "anti-aging" marketplace, with an emphasis on the use, abuse, risks and culture of human growth hormone. Frankly, it'd be nice to see it all go away in favor of a focus on the future of longevity research - but this is what you get when you have a geared-up anti-aging delivery infrastructure and no real, actual, working anti-aging medicine to be delivered.

The A4Ms of the world will no doubt be sterling allies once effective healthy life extension therapies have been developed - working technology will chase out snake oil, but that will be way past the point at which sterling allies will be needed. The real fight is here and now, in building the infrastructure and support for research and development.

But back to the growth hormone and an article typical of those of the past weeks. From where I stand, growth hormone therapies appear to be a legitimate old-school style therapy for some age-related and other conditions. As for most old-school medicine, it's a roll of the dice as to whether you'll benefit or suffer - no-one can say for sure what's really going on under the hood, or how your biochemistry will take it. Use is an educated risk assessment that people have to make for themselves - and caveat emptor is a very good rule of thumb when dealing with anything associated with the "anti-aging" marketplace. If you had to stick a pin in the map for anti-aging shyster central, human growth hormone would be it - a pity that the legitimate uses have been buried beneath a cartload of marketing.

Still, in a free society, you could stick whatever you liked into your body provided you were prepared to foot the bill for the consequences. Sadly, we do not live in a free society; insofar as medicine goes, we live in a highly regulated, paternalistic, socialist enclave. A commons has been created, and every potential tragedy leads to calls for further control and expansion rather than the much more sensible abolition of the commons. From the article:

Other uses are illegal, including to turn back the clock on aging. The FDA says it is investigating violations of the law - the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as amended in 1988 and 1990 - and has sent warning letters to companies selling HGH over the Internet for other uses.

University of Illinois-Chicago epidemiologist Jay Olshansky, who co-authored a paper published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association on legal issues surrounding HGH, said anti-aging doctors were surprised to learn they were on shaky legal ground.

They now are changing tactics by redefining growth hormone deficiency and making questionable diagnoses of their patients, Olshansky said.

"They've been administering growth hormone as an anti-aging intervention for a long time. They haven't been hiding it at all," Olshansky said. "Now they're trying to redefine it as a treatment for growth hormone deficiency."

Most prescriptions for HGH should go to children, according to Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston Medical Center, but 74 percent in 2004 went to people age 20 and older.

"In my opinion, that suggests a large amount of illegal distribution," said Perls, a co-author with Olshansky of the JAMA paper and director of a project that studies people who live to age 100.

Olshansky and others have been sparring with the "anti-aging" marketplace for a while now, and over quite justifiable complaints, but I see resorting to "it's illegal" as lowering the bar for everyone. If you're going to attack, attack on the science - there's certainly enough to be going with there. FDA-defined legality, and in fact any defined legality of substances, is the tip of a large, cruel joke that wouldn't exist in a culture worth living in. Supporting these policies damages medical progress - and thus health and longevity - for everyone.

In summary: growth hormone therapies for general use are a big red lever on the slot machine, calorie restriction seems a far better bet, shysters are everywhere, and this is all a damaging distraction from the development of far better options for the future - but if you own the slot machine and are prepared to pay for the consequences, the decision to pull or wait, listen to shysters or not, should be all yours.

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AFAR's 25th Anniversary

The American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) is holding a 25th anniversay dinner and conference in May: "Please save the date for AFAR's anniversary dinner on May 15, 2006 celebrating 25 years of supporting great minds in science. The dinner will kick off a two-day conference, Imaging and the Aging Brain, that will bring together imaging scientists, those studying the aging of the brain, industrial experts and clinicians to jointly explore the most current methodologies and their application to brain physiology, behavior and age-related diseases." In addition to funding research, AFAR is responsible for the InfoAging website, a good resource for non-scientists interesting in learning more about aging science.


Understanding How Stem Cells Heal

This Medical News Today reprint illustrates the work yet to be done to determine why first generation stem cell based regenerative medicine produces results. "Our study showed that cell transplantation therapy may improve brain receptor function in patients who suffered from cerebral stroke, improving their neurological symptoms. How the transplanted bone marrow stromal cells restore the lost neurologic function is not clear." An argument could be made that the difference between therapies of the past and therapies of the future is in understanding the biochemical mechanisms involved - i.e. how it works. Early stem cell therapies straddle the line: researchers know enough to build this medical technology, but not - yet - to determine why they obtain good results.


A Couple of Items of Interest

Two unrelated items of interest today. Firstly, one of the Immortality Institute members dug up a 1972 Jacques Cousteau commentary on physical immortality in the context of evolution:

Imagine an immortal animal. ... Has evolution ever produced such a prepossessing creature? Theoretically it should be possible for the various components of the endocrine system of an animal so efficiently to collaborate that physical obsolescence is simply banished from its life program. We know of certain plants--for example, lichens and the bristlecone pines of California's Inyo Forest--that live many thousands of years, near enough to immortality so far as animal lifespans are concerned. But the oldest animal of which there is a record seems to be a tortoise that managed to struggle through 150 years (plus, perhaps, another 25 years or so)--not all that much older than many old men.

Paradoxically, if immortality has ever been attained, it has quickly been eliminated, simply because immortality cannot survive. An immortal animal would be a dead animal--the representative of a vanished species. As we saw in the first volume of this series, Oasis in Space, as least four times in the past 600 million years the reef communities around the world have all been all but obliterated by upheavals in the environment still not completely understood. Skeletons of palm trees have been discovered in Antarctica. At one time there were meadowlands on that continent, now under hundreds of feet of ice, not unlike the plains of the American West. Faced with this dimension of drastic environmental transformation any immortal animal would be helpless. His ideal adjustment to the old environment spells certain extinction in the new. Locked into this "perfection," he cannot adjust. Immortal or not, he must die.

This is somewhat of a reductio ad absurbdum in demonstration of ideas that are commonly held today by evolutionary biologists. A nice find, and a reminder that the roots of all present ideas run deep.

Meanwhile, and switching topic, this New York Times article is a good illustration of the damage done by the cancerous encroachment of intellectual property:

Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.


For example, the human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?"

If you accept that open competition under the rule of law and strong traditional property rights is the best way to harness the baser nature of humanity to produce progress, then it quickly becomes obvious that patents - and indeed any form of intellectual property - are a very bad thing indeed. Ideas, designs and data are fundamentally different from raw physical materials. Like so many other forms of governmental interference in a free market, the spread of patents provides short term enrichment for those who can buy influence, but at the dreadful cost of slowing progress for all of us.

There are any number of business models for medical science and provision - as for every marketplace - that do not require intellectual property. Look at any industry comparatively lacking in intellectual property restrictions and you'll see high levels of dynamism, creativity and competition. Stifle these things and you stifle progress.

You can be as rich as you like, but it isn't going to help you all that much if your wealth came in the form of a tax that discouraged basic scientific research on the condition that will kill you. You can't buy what doesn't exist - and you certainly can't buy what fails to exist because of your actions. Hopefully, I do not need to remind people that a day lost across the board in medical research costs 100,000 lives and another day of terrible suffering for tens of millions.

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Coming to That Time Again

It's been a good three years or so since I redesigned the Longevity Meme, and Fight Aging! has operated in its present format for two years now. That last redesign was prompted as much by changes in focus and actitivies as a desire to update the look and feel; that functional pressure for an update is growing once more.

The aims of the Longevity Meme and Fight Aging! have drifted somewhat over the years, and are usually at least a little out of sync with my own views on what would be the best foot forward at any given time. The high level goals remain much the same as they were at the outset, as expressed in the Longevity Meme mission statement:

  • Educating the general public of:

    • Benefits and possibilities resulting from the ongoing and future development and acceptance of healthy life extension technologies;

    • Ways in which ordinary individuals can make meaningful contributions to the development and acceptance of healthy life extension technologies;

    • Existing healthy life extension technologies, techniques and lifestyles.

  • Supporting the creation, publication, promotion and distribution of educational and promotional material about healthy life extension and related topics;

  • Creating, assisting and supporting healthy life extension communities, organizations and events that share objectives and purposes with the Longevity Meme;

  • Generating positive coverage of healthy life extension issues in all forms of media, with a particular emphasis on the forms of media that reach the greatest proportion of the general public;

  • Advocating the continuing and future development of healthy life extension technologies

My hierarchy of importance and details of implementation have changed with the times, however - last in that list above is presently the foremost of my concerns, for example. Also, I no longer feel much of a need to promote present day healthy life extension methodologies; other people are doing a sterling job for the few that exist, such as calorie restriction.

Beyond these points, communication processes, technologies and - most importantly - culture have shifted quite dramatically in the past few years, and continue to move at a fast pace. If the objective is to effectively deliver a message to as many people as possible as efficiently as possible, you must move with the times ... if that is even still the primary objective. Growth has been pretty flat for a while now, which means it's time to evaluate what I'm up to - and what I think "growth" means, for that matter.

Planning for a redesign moves fairly slowly in this part of the world; the purpose of this post is to let folk know that I'm open to comments and suggestions. My time and resources are limited, and so I would like to be putting them to use in ways that are efficient, effective, and neither duplicative nor wasteful. If you have constructive thoughts on the matter, let me know.

Another Adult Stem Cell Source

Scientists are now working with many populations of adult stem cells in the body, and are improving in efforts to demonstrate multipotency in these cells. Easily accessed sources of multipotent cells will go a long way to enabling the commercialization of first generation regenerative therapies. Here, ABC notes another new source: "Japanese researchers have harvested stem cells from human menstrual blood, a medical conference has heard. ... these stem cells could be coaxed into forming specialised heart cells, which might one-day be used to treat failing or damaged hearts. ... he and his colleagues at Keio University in Tokyo collected menstrual blood from six women and harvested stem cells that originated in the lining of the uterus. They were able to obtain about 30 times more stem cells from menstrual blood than from bone marrow ... the stem cells were then cultured in a way to induce them to become heart cells."


Understanding Fat and Metabolism

(From the Sydney Morning Herald). While, at root, general health is a straightforward matter - excess fat damages your health and longevity, you should eat less, exercise more, and take your supplements - it's not as simple as calories in minus calories out. More complex processes are at work under the hood: "Everyone knows exercise, such as walking, is vital ... the benefits extend far beyond the energy you burn [while exercising] ... it is easy to tell the difference in the laboratory between an active person and a sedentary one by looking at the genes in their muscles. Exercisers have more genes switched on that control enzymes that allow muscles to burn more fat. ... Dropping below an activity threshold appears to switch off some genes, reducing the number of mitochondria, the energy-producing parts of the cells that readily convert fat to energy. 'And if you can't burn fat there's only one outcome: you store it.' It takes at least three or more months of sustained activity to change this metabolism for the better."



Via the IEET blog, we have the not too inspiring results of a Zogby poll commissioned by Future Brief:

The following questions were submitted by Future Brief readers. The poll itself, given to a group of more than 13,400 likely voters, was conducted by Zogby International, an opinion research firm, on January 27-30, 2006.


QUESTION: Which of the following would you most like to see accomplished through the development of emerging technologies?


- An end to world hunger: 18.2%
- An end to disease: 20.5%
- Extended life-span: 5.4%
- Exploration of the universe: 4.7%
- An end to fossil fuels: 45.6%
- None/Not sure: 5.6%

I can only imagine the sort of survey setup that results in half the respondants prioritizing new energy production technologies over ending disease...or am I being too charitable to these folk given the zeitgeist of the moment and the casual nature of most polling interactions?

The entrepreneur in me knows that you can build a billion-dollar business - or change the world, hold a revolution, and so forth - with only 5.4% of the population as your supporters or target audience, but still. 5.4%? I think we can - must, and will - do much better than that.

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On the "Anti-Aging" Marketplace

True freedom is the freedom to sigh at the way other people spend their money - often in short-sighted and counterproductive ways. Here, BusinessWeek takes a look at the "anti-aging" marketplace, a thriving, frustrating entity that is very much the consequence of short-cuts taken by the past generation of healthy life extension advocates. They skipped right to the commercial delivery infrastructure, bypassing the much more important task of building a research infrastructure capable of delivering meaningful, working, real anti-aging medicine. Why is it that we have had three decades of a multi-billion dollar war on cancer, and the fight to cure aging has the sound of crickets, hucksters and earnest folk without a product that actually works? That will change in the future, but it could have been changed in the past - we will suffer longer because of this delay.


More on California Stem Cell Consortium

The Mercury News has more on the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine - a sign that larger institutions are confident that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine staff will overcome legal obstacles: "Four San Diego research centers said Friday they were joining forces to create a new, nonprofit institution to study stem cells. The new alliance [is] made up of the University of California, San Diego; Burnham Institute; Salk Institute and Scripps Research Institute. The collaboration is intended to bring together researchers from various disciplines to study stem cells ... A new building to house the researchers is expected to be built on the UC San Diego campus although no timetable for groundbreaking has been set."


Nerve Cells From Hair Follicles

A popular science piece from ScienCentral recaps recent research into neural regeneration via adult stem cells: "In their first experiments, they tried to, according to Hoffman, 'convert the hair follicle stem cells into brain cells in the laboratory.' ... Then we knew there was a real relationship between the hair follicle stem cells and the brain stem cells. ... From there they worked with mice with injured nerves. 'We injected these hair follicle stem cells into the area where the nerve or the spinal cord is severed [and] found that the nerve or spinal cord could be regenerated because we injected these hair follicle stem cells' ... they must still do a lot of testing, over several years, with mice before they'll be ready to see how this might apply to people."


Tissue Regeneration Article from the Life Extension Magazine

It had slipped my mind that the last Life Extension Magazine included a pop-sci article on a range of regenerative medicine research. It's a publication in which reading between the ads and junk is something of an art form - as for all the successful old school pro-healthy life extension businesses - but at least it all ends up online for folks to pick over at greater leisure:

Researchers at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, PA, are studying a unique strain of mouse that can heal wounds by regeneration. After a hole is pierced in the mouse's ear (a typical laboratory identification procedure), it closes with no evidence that a hole was ever present. These animals, known as Murphy/Roths/Large mice, or MRL mice, are so named to denote the two scientists who originally bred them, as well as their unusually large size. MRL mice are genetically unique, and scientists are researching them to elucidate the genetics of regeneration, hoping to gather information that can be used to help humans.

When the Wistar scientists induced heart injury in both MRL mice and typical mice, they found that the MRL mouse heart returned to normal, whereas the typical mouse heart was scarred. Human hearts scar following injury from heart attack, and the scarring response contributes to chronic heart disease and death. The healing response in the MRL mouse, however, differed greatly from that of the typical mouse. The MRL mouse displayed early movement of cardiomyocytes into the wound site, and DNA synthesis and proliferation of these cells. The MRL mouse heart also demonstrated better revascularization (restoration of blood supply) at the site of injury, which is necessary to help cells thrive and avoid death. According to the scientists, the MRL mouse studies demonstrate that "mammalian hearts have significant capacity to regenerate."


Millions of dollars are spent each year to develop tissue engineering products and procedures. In fact, some engineered tissues have already been approved by the FDA. One of the first tissues to be engineered and used clinically is bone. Engineered bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments may benefit people who suffer from bones that will not fuse, defective tendons, or arthritic joints, as well as those who need dental implants (which require strong bone tissue). These regenerated tissues will one day eliminate the need for standard therapy, which includes stainless steel, cobalt chrome, and bone grafting.

Scientists are also developing engineered skin, which will help treat massive burns, chronic problem wounds that are difficult to heal (common in people with diabetes), and vitiligo (a disease of discolored skin). Although heart valves have been engineered, the valves failed when they were implanted. A whole bladder has been engineered and transplanted in a dog. The bladder appeared to be normal and demonstrated normal function. An engineered bladder has not been evaluated in humans. Nearly every body tissue is being engineered for future applications in medicine.

There's more on MRL mice back in the Fight Aging! archives and at the Longevity Meme - I expect promising medical science to materialize from that discovery in the years ahead.

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Peering at Stem Cell Funding Again

Red Herring claims the venture funding environment for stem cell research is worse than I had thought was the case: "I would say the venture community has more or less abandoned this area over the last five years ... Venture capitalists are willing to take financial risks, market risks, management risks, but the one thing they are not happy to do is to take political risks ... human embryonic stem cell treatments could receive clinical validation in five years, and could potentially be looking at a five to seven year market horizon. Others, however, were more skeptical. ... I think we really need to be responsible when we talk about the time frame of the technologies, such as saying they will be available in five years, because people will use it to discredit you, particularly after what's happened in Korea."


MSNBC on Healthy Life Extension

Via MSNBC, a positive general interest article on recent developments and positions in the scientific end of the healthy life extension community: "Just how far and fast life expectancy will increase is open to debate, but the direction and the accelerating trend is clear. ... [S. Jay Olshansky] is confident that longevity and health will go hand in hand and that delaying aging will translate into later onset for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease. ... periodic repairs to the body using stem cells, gene therapy and other techniques could eventually stop the aging process entirely. [Aubrey de Grey] argues that if each repair lasts 30 or 40 years, science will advance enough by the next 'service' date that death can be put off indefinitely - a process he calls strategies for engineered negligible senescence. ... Life saving is just death postponing with a positive spin. If it is right and good to postpone death for a short time, it is hard to see how it would be less right and less good to postpone it for a long while."


Tomorrow's People Event Underway

The Tomorrow's People event is presently underway; the more interesting sessions for those interested in healthy life extension took place today. Webcasts in RealPlayer format can be found here:

  • "Longer?" with Sarah Harper, Tom Kirkwood, Aubrey de Grey, Jay Olshansky, Richard Miller and Paul Hodge
  • "Stronger?" with Bill Sharpe, Ellen Heber-Katz, Kevin Warwick, Xuetao Pei, Toshio Fukuda and Zhanfeng Cui

UPDATE: A better collection of links to video and audio streams, plus powerpoint presentations, can be found in the Immortality Institute discussion thread for this event.

Hopefully you folks have better luck than I in getting these streams to work. For the technologically challenged, there are discussion boards and PDF-format updates:

Aubrey De Grey believes that people can live much longer through a different approach - rejuvenation. "If we start repairing the damage caused by ageing early enough, we stand a good chance of reversing the devastating effects of ageing for good." For De Grey it follows that partial and periodic repair yields more ageing delay than partial prevention, thus it's more effective. But other scientists worry that such - in their view - unwarranted optimism will put off policymakers and the public.

Richard Miller fears that prospects of sufficient funding towards gerontology have been eclipsed largely by misrepresentation and lack of public trust. "We are essentially dealing with the syndrome of gerontologiphobia. That means fear of what might anti-ageing drugs do to society." Even more so, he urged us to think about the way gerontologists are portrayed by the public. "Most people think that gerontologists are crackpots and who wants to hang out with that sort of person?"

Let's be clear here: you don't engineer great strides in technological progress by watering down the message and intent so as to stay within any existing comfort zone. The way forward is to work on extending that comfort zone through education, awareness and outreach, while gathering the support of as many people as possible who are already in your camp. We have made great strides in extending the comfort zone in the past few years; articles that would have been unthinkable in 2000 appear in the mainstream press on a regular basis.

Radical life extension is a plausible medical engineering project - not easy, not cheap, but plausible. Moving away from that truth will not make our lives longer and healthier any faster; rather it will just excuse slower, less ambitious programs, and otherwise avoidable aging and death. That's certainly not the plan I have in mind for the next few decades.

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Mechanisms of Alzheimer's

Given the understanding of a critical biochemical mechanism of a disease, scientists can move much more rapidly to develop a therapy that works - precisely and efficiently - by interfering with that mechanism. From EurekAlert, welcome news of progress for Alzhemeimer's: "Until now, we didn't understand all the factors that trigger Alzheimer's disease. The discovery of the formation of amyloid-beta peroxidase provides a clear picture of why cells die in the brain of Alzheimer's patients. Our next challenge is to develop drugs that directly and selectively target the excessive peroxidase of amyloid-beta, which could lead to the first significant therapy for Alzheimer's disease."


"Life Extension" is a Narrow Brand

I'm noticing, now that the discussion of healthy life extension research is spreading, that "life extension" - as a label for the sort of results we'd like from medical science - is a pretty thin brand. Run a Google news search or blog search for the term every few days for a month or so and count the number of distinct talking heads; there aren't that many. In the past year, writers in the mainstream press have settled on any number of other terms to describe the lengthening of the healthy human life span; "life extension" has little mindshare out beyond the core community of supporters.

This means that it's pure speculation as to the banners under which the future of meaningful anti-aging research will be conducted. "Anti-aging" would be the obvious contender if not for all the history and baggage it drags with it. "Life extension" is all but falling by the wayside in the wider discussion. As an example, take a look at the Longevity Dividend article in The Scientist - each term is mentioned once, and only where it couldn't be avoided.

So what shall the brand of the future be? Speculation is encouraged.

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Aging Via Stem Cell Damage

ScienCentral is running an article on recent work on accelerated aging in mice: "We altered two bases in the gene and made it defective so that it can now function in the copying of the DNA but can no longer function as a spell-checker. As a result of that, the mitochondrial DNA accumulates mutations. ... The researchers concluded that this increased number of mutations (3 to 8 times as many as in normal mice) was the reason for the increased rate of cell-suicide that they observed in the fast-aging animals. Because of those mutations, cells that make up many parts of the body - from hair to bone to muscle - prematurely committed suicide. ... Once they're lost, the tissues which they support will no longer be able to regenerate. So the loss of stem cells is probably a critical feature of accelerated aging."


Nerve Regeneration, Nanoscale Scaffold

An interesting article from the BBC examines what seems to be a way to produce self-assembling scaffolds for nerve regeneration: "The researchers injected the blind hamsters at the site of their injury with a solution containing synthetically made peptides - miniscule molecules measuring just five nanometres long. Once inside the hamster's brain, the peptides spontaneously arranged into a scaffold-like criss-cross of nanofibres, which bridged the gap between the severed nerves. The scientists discovered that brain tissue in the hamsters knitted together across the molecular scaffold, while also preventing scar tissue from forming. Importantly, the newly formed brain tissue enabled the brain nerves to re-grow, restoring vision in the injured hamsters."


A Brief Libertarian Interlude

As a general rule, I don't feel it necessary to include the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer in everything I write. For sundry well-thought-out reasons, I'm not a supporter of government funding, and barely a supporter of the very existence of government. Freedom means far more than living in a representative democracy of eroding rights, strong property rights are necessary for progress, and the rule of law is vital. Incentives matter, and economic ignorance is the doom of cultures.

Most of the ills that beset the world can be traced back to our distressing tendency to build and support governments that destroy the roots of progress, wealth and freedom - and the remaining ills, such as degenerative aging, could be solved through sufficiently rapid advances in technology. These rapid advances depend, of course, on progress, wealth and freedom.

Most regular readers will know by now that I am a generally pragmatic libertarian:

Western style democracies are about as far as you can get from a libertarian society and still have a place that's moderately pleasant, free and safe to live in - so long as you blend in and don't make enemies amongst the powerful. Many people believe that high tax rates and lack of freedom (due to a winner-takes-all majority rule system of government and the preponderance of unaccountable, unelected officials) are the necessary cost of personal safety in a modern civilization. The only high profile modern alternatives - dictatorships - are invariably very much worse places to live, after all. But it is simply not true that we need high taxes, large government, and unaccountable officials: there are better ways of doing things.

In any case, how does this little sidebar fit in with healthy life extension? The answer is that in a world of large government, in which a good 35% of all medical research funding is provided by government grants, you can't ignore the system. It is an open question as to whether public funding for medicine speeds the rate at which real anti-aging and healthy life extension therapies are made available more than other aspects of a large government slow things down. For example, it is well known and documented that high taxes have a devastating effect on the economic engine that powers growth, commercialization and advancing technology.

As an individual, you can't change the system on a useful timescale. People are making serious organized attempts to create more libertarian societies, but this has little direct bearing on the large scale advance of real anti-aging science over the next decade or two.

Hence, we come to pragmatism. Between the two biggest problems I see in life - a) that we are aging and will all suffer and die if nothing is done, and b) that society is far less free and honest than it could be - aging is clearly the problem to be dealt with first. There's a time limit attached to it, and I am very much a first things first type of person.

So I draw my lines in a pragmatic manner. At the moment, I support working within the system to the extent of protesting government restrictions on research (although a more libertarian postion would be that any such interaction with government has the undesirable effect of legitimizing the very system you oppose). I'm not a big fan of the California stem cell research ballot initiative, but only because I think that too much (big government restriction and interference) bad is coming with the (research dollars) good on that one. Private projects like the Methuselah Mouse Prize, or any number of foundations and research groups are just fine in my book.

You folks should draw your lines where you please. I'm not a jealous libertarian, like some I could mention, and I'm certainly not telling you what to do. If you are comfortable with living in a Western democracy, more power to you; in a truly plural society you would be able to do so without forcing me to do so to as well. But we don't yet have such a thing, and probably won't until new frontiers - space, virtual nations, ocean living, floating cities in the upper atmosphere, and so forth - are opened up through advancing technology.

I'd be willing to take a first things first, utilitiarian approach to government funding if I thought it would lead to a net gain in longevity over the alternatives - better to be alive to build a libertarian society in the future, as opposed to dead, buried and no help at all. Supporting government funding means supporting massive waste and inefficiency in the use of those funds, however. It also means tacitly supporting vast damage to progress across the board; this is not good.

Why this little interlude? It seems that the absence of the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer in posts, critical and otherwise, and the last weekly Longevity Meme newsletter on the topic of the Longevity Dividend proposal caused a couple of folk to grumble about my endorsement of large-scale government funding. I can assure you that no such endorsement exists! My enthusiasm is related to the fact that the recalcitrant mainstream of gerontology has finally cracked, its core members coming out to endorse specific goals for healthy life extension in public. For any of us following matters - or pitching in to help - over the past few years, this is a terrific development and validation of our work.

As to the government funding side of the Longevity Dividend initiative - seeking $3 billion per year for defined goals in anti-aging science - well, these are mainstream scientists in the US. Did you really expect anything else to be their next step after the declaration of intent?

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SENS Challenge Panel Announced

Jason Pontin of the Technology Review has announced the $20,000 SENS Challenge review panel: "Rodney Brooks, PhD, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and chief technical officer of iRobot Corp. IRobot is one of the most successful makers of robots in the world. Anita Goel, MD and PhD, founder and chief executive of Nanobiosym. Vikram Kumar, MD, cofounder and chief executive of Dimagi, and a pathologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Nathan Myhrvold, PhD, cofounder and chief executive of Intellectual Ventures, and former chief technologist at Microsoft. J. Craig Venter, PhD, founder of the Venter Institute. Venter developed the process called whole-genome shotgun sequencing, which sped up the human genome project." Bring on the submissions for demolition!


The Fountain of Health

The Technology Review outlines some of the recent history of funded anti-aging research, with the main focus on calorie restriction mimetics, metabolism, genetics, Elixir and Sirtris: "The goal is clear: the discovery of drugs that will delay the onset of many of our most devastating diseases, the kind of illnesses that frequently turn the golden years into years of chronic ill health. ... Everybody associates caloric restriction with longevity and life span, but the effects on diseases are much more immediate and important. If only we understood how [calorie restriction] works, such knowledge would guide us in drug development. We would have a drug that would favorably impact many of the common diseases." This metabolic manipulation is very different from approaches like SENS, which aim to repair age-related cellular damage.


On Sarcopenia

(From An article on sarcopenia, age-related muscle degeneration, has been doing the rounds of late: "Sarcopenia is suddenly a hot topic in aging and geriatric research. In the coming years, sarcopenia is going to be one of the biggest health problems we face. It has a devastating effect on mobility and mortality in older adults, and we desperately want to know how to prevent it. ... sarcopenia is widespread, affecting roughly 45 percent of Americans 60 and older. Studies show that muscle loss begins in middle age and proceeds at a rate of about 1 percent a year." If you lose the ability to exercise, you lose the beneficial effects of exercise on health and longevity. Signs of a correctable root cause to sarcopenia - involving the amino acid leucine - are promising, however.


Defending the Development of Healthy Life Extension Technologies

StumbleUpon (the best tool no-one talks about, so long as they keep the paid placement to a minimum) delivered me to a good defense of applying resources to healthy life extension:

It is slowly becoming more and more clear that we are approaching a revolution just as great as the Industrial Revolution once was, and maybe even more so - the Aging Revolution. As medicine and science keeps advancing, we are approaching an era where we'll have the technology to obsolete aging and age-related death. In short, medicine will be able to make us live as young and healthy for a lot longer, perhaps even forever. The view that we'll be able to achieve an eternal youth during our own lifetimes is endorsed by the SENS project, and even many of its vocal critics think that the healthy lifespan could be increased, though they don't think aging could be entirely prevented. In any case the general direction does seem to be clear - given sufficient funding, the ability to drastically increase our lifespan will soon be upon us.


However, one argument - one that sounds like it'd make perfect sense if you didn't stop to think about it too closely - pops up every now and then. "We could cure malaria and extreme poverty and [insert disease here] whenever we wanted to - isn't it more important to concentrate on that?"

Read the whole thing to see this argument taken apart and demolished - feel free to pitch in to the discussion taking place in the comments. Thoughtful folk who support rapid progress towards healthy life extension should certainly be encouraged.

I see this class of opposition to healthy life extension as a facet of general economic ignorance and the false quest for "equality" - the desire to build at the bottom by tearing down the top. Quite aside from the fact that you'd have to stamp out freedom to do it, thereby destroying all that is good in our culture, from a pure utilitiarian standpoint this process of equalizing by building up the bottom and tearing down the top never works. Look at the Soviet Union for the logical endpoint of serious attempts to structure a society this way - or to structure a society at all, for that matter.

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Australian Stem Cell Trial In Progress

The Age is reporting on the trial of a stem cell therapy for heart regeneration: "the first in the world using rare adult stem cells known as mesenchymal precursor cells harvested from the patient's bone marrow, in this case his hip. They were then multiplied in a Melbourne laboratory and six weeks later, injected back into his heart. ... These cells have the ability to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels by secreting a variety of growth factors. They also have the potential to salvage existing heart muscle which may be threatened with death due to lack of blood supply. ... The scientists were able to isolate the cells using an antibody and grow them in the laboratory using a technique developed by Australian Stock Exchange-listed company, Mesoblast. ... the two Australian patients treated so far had shown no evidence of side effects."


Randall Parker on the War on Aging

Via FuturePundit: the MPrize "seeks to encourage development of technologies that will also extend human lives. But its most important effect will be in terms of how those advances come to be viewed by the general public. The sooner scientists extend the lives of lab animals the sooner the public will wake up to the feasibility of radically extending human lives. This realization on the part of the public will eventually lead to widespread public demand for the War On Aging. Anyone who donates to the [MPrize] is helping to make the War On Aging begin in earnest sooner rather than later. Anyone who promotes the message that 'actuarial escape velocity' (AEV) is achievable via SENS technologies within the lifetimes of most of the people alive today also is effectively arguing for the coming War On Aging. Stop being a pacifist where death is concerned. Join the supporters of the War On Aging. Time to go into battle against the Grim Reaper."


California Stem Cell Research Center

(Via the Sun-Sentinel). Large research institutions are sufficiently confident of the future of Proposition 71 in California to be collaborating on an embyronic stem cell research center: "The Scripps Research Institute is forming a new center to do human embryonic stem cell research with three other leading biomedical institutes in California ... Scripps is opening an East Coast campus in Palm Beach County, but for now the institute's stem cell plans are confined to California ... The Burnham Institute is joining Scripps to form the California stem cell center." Good news for supporters of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, frustrated by obstructionist legal efforts since the proposition passed.


Anders Sandberg's Letter to the Financial Times

Anders Sandberg - long-time contributer to the general verve of the transhumanist community and now a part of the Future of Humanity Institute - responded to a rather deary, dreadful pro-death-and-suffering column in the Financial Times with the following letter (via the IEET blog):

In his column "Why immortality would be a dead loss for humanity" (February 28) Richard Tomkins worries that a longer healthy lifespan would leave us in a boring, risk-averse society. Most evidence shows that the people who today reach high age tend to be interested in life and willing to do new things. It is unlikely that will change with better medicine except that more people will be healthy and vigorous. Longer lives might induce us to more long-range planning, but that is hardly a drawback.

Ageing and death deprives society of tremendous values and knowledge, while healthier lives provide society with increased experience, labour, consumers and producers. Longer lives would be a tremendous boon to economic growth. As shown in Measuring the Gains from Medical Research: An Economic Approach, the value of improvements in life expectancy is about as large as the value of all other consumption goods and services put together: the total value of the increased longevity that took place from 1970 to 1990 has been enormous, in the order of $2,800bn a year in the US. The sheer economic power of a more long-lived society might be a strong stimulus for adventure and growth, especially among the young who seek new niches rather than compete with their elders.

Even if successful anti-ageing would cause serious social problems, confound the religious, upset the current pattern of life (which is fairly recent, historically speaking) and cause more divorces, it might still be worth doing. Would these problems be so horrific that it is better to sacrifice more than 100,000 lives a day worldwide to avoid them? It seems unlikely.

As for life as a story with a beginning, middle and end, it is well worth remembering that there are short stories and epics. Would you rather be a Harlequin romance or Lord of the Rings?

If you like life and health, and I suspect that most of us do, more of both is a wonderful thing. We can hope that advocates for healthy life extension only have to repeat the stunningly obvious so many times before it sinks in - the ongoing toll of death and suffering is terrible, staggering, but we are entering an era in which we are within reach of preventing this horror. There is no need for self-protective justification of the inevitable any more; we should be moving towards working anti-aging medicine with the greatest haste possible.

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Promising Demographic Data

We're far enough into the biotechnology revolution for longer-term studies - such as actuarial calculations, census-based demographic data, large-scale medical reporting reviews, and the like - to begin showing resulting trends in improving health and longevity:

The report, 65+ in the United States: 2005 [PDF], was commissioned by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the National Institutes of Health, to provide a picture of the health and socioeconomic status of the aging population. It highlights striking shifts in aging on a population scale


This report tells us that we have made a lot of progress in improving the health and well-being of older Americans, but there is much left to do.


The U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double in size within the next 25 years. By 2030, almost 1-out-of-5 Americans - some 72 million people - will be 65 years or older. The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.


The proportion with a disability fell significantly from 26.2 percent in 1982 to 19.7 percent in 1999.

Another mainstream media digest of the report:

What we're seeing nationwide is, yes, people are living longer, and they're healthier


In 1900, the average life expectancy for a newborn was 47.3 years; by 2003, it had reached 77.6 years. But people who turned 65 in 2000 could expect to live much longer, another 18 years.

This progress in lengthening our healthy life spans will continue provided that medical technology continues to be made more capable, reliable and less costly with each passing year - there are no necessary limits to active, healthy human life span beyond our lack of tools and knowledge to fix the accumulated damage. We are complex machines - better means of repair and a better owner's manual will lead to less damage, fewer system failures and longer healthy lives. A very good thing!

Some systems biologists see 10-20 year extensions of healthy life spans within two decades, resulting from general improvements in medical technology based on present trends - but we think it's possible to build a much better foundation for the effective treatment and repair of age-related cellular damage than that.

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Stem Cells From Wisdom Teeth

(From the Daily Yomiuri Online). Research teams around the world are working towards regenerative therapies using an ever-wider range of stem cell sources: "A joint team of scientists from the institute and Osaka University succeeded in repairing damaged liver and bones in rats using stem cells taken from wisdom tooth germ. ... Tooth germ disappears as a tooth is formed, but that of a wisdom tooth stays in the jawbone of a human until the age of 10 to 16, because wisdom teeth grow slowly. An experiment proved that stem cells taken from wisdom tooth germ grow far more quickly than stem cells taken from bone marrow. The team discovered that the tooth germ can be turned into bone, nerves or liver cells by stimulating it with hormones."


The FDA is the Problem

BusinessWeek reports on funded companies with a focus on calorie restriction mimetics, and correctly identifies regulation as the biggest problem in the space: "A handful of biotech companies are developing drugs that produce the effects of such 'caloric restriction' in the body without depriving people of food. Anti-aging doctors would love to prescribe a medication that would extend their patients' life spans to 125 years -- extrapolating from mice. But companies would have no avenue for seeking Food & Drug Administration approval for such a treatment. 'It would be undoable,' says Stephen J. Hoffman, an investor in anti-aging biotech Sirtris Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass., who also sits on its board."


Criticizing the Longevity Dividend

Not everyone is wholly enthused by the declaration of intent on modest healthy life extension and call for a repurposing of mainstream gerontology and aging research put forward by Olshansky, Perry, Miller and Butler.

Olshansky wants you to live an astounding 7 years longer!

Direct from the 'lack of vision' department comes S. Jay Olshanksky's latest offering to the great life extension debate.


But typical of Olshansky, his limited vision for the potentials of life extension is at the point of laughability. He once told me that it is his expectation to see life expectancy decrease this century rather than increase, citing such things as the spread of diseases.

Olshansky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois, and go-to boy for the press when they need an anti-life extension sound-bite, argues that it is in society's best interest to work at alleviating the effects of aging. To this end he suggests that US congress invest $3 billion annually to life extension with the hopes of prolonging lives by a factor of -- drum roll please -- an astounding 7 years.

Yep, 7 years.

The bandwagon is open:

Now.. where have I heard this before? Oh yeah.. its just what Aubrey de Grey has been saying for YEARS!


The article however makes one significant and really quite dramatic error in putting forward the goal of fighting aging is to 'compress morbidity'. The "compression of morbidity", or the reduction of the number of years spent as a frail individual without significant extension of maximal lifespan is a non-starter and neither is it desirable. Why don't the authors simply say it like it is, that living as long as a person wants to live is the goal. The 'compression of morbidity' is a red-herring meant to assure people that they do not have to have some existential angst triggered by the fact that someday death may not come by involuntary means through aging at all.

As if to further distance themselves from any possible association with the idea of living indefinitely, "the target" of their proposed increased focus on intervention oriented aging is research is ..

...not the unrealistic pursuit of dramatic increases in life expectancy, let alone the kind of biological immortality best left to science fiction novels. Rather, we envision a goal that is realistically achievable: a modest deceleration in the rate of aging sufficient to delay all aging-related diseases and disorders by about seven years.

How disappointing it is to see the more than realistic proposals of SENS treated in such a off-hand and perjorative manner by people advocating healthy life-extension. It is even more disappointing to not even have Aubrey de Grey mentioned although it is virtually certain that without his sabre-rattling we would not be reading even this meager pronouncement. Granted these are the same individuals who have outright belittled and ridiculed the idea of living indefinitely, so I would expect no more. Seven years though.. ? How ambitious...

These are valid criticisms - that this proposal is late to the party, fails to acknowledge those who have been advocating similar approaches for some years, and touts a target for gains in healthy life span that is somewhat less than the actuaries and system biologists think will be attained in the next 10 to 20 years by present trends and research directions.

I am still enthused; these folks have taken the big step of adopting a public position on healthy life extension. It has been a long fight to get them to this point, all the way from their prior reluctance to engage on the topic at all. Olshansky, Perry, Miller and Butler and their supporters and organizations must now defend this position - and therefore debate the science - in public on an ongoing basis. Since their position is already somewhat indefensible in its moderation, and only going to get worse with time, I predict that it will shift to greater and more impressive healthy life extension as the leading edge of the research community pushes the limits of plausibility outwards. The dam has been broken, and bringing the obstinate old guard up to speed is now only going to get easier.

The Longevity Dividend proposal is primarily a political position - which should instantly explain most of its deficiencies to those who follow the way in which funding politics works. It's the first step in a long engagement with large-scale government funding sources (such as the National Institute on Aging) in an attempt to steer future funds into the sorts of moderate programs supported by its authors. That Miller, et al, are doing this at all illustrates, amongst many other things, a concern that future funding will dry up in favor of groups presently moving to advocate healthy life extension - such as those system biologists, or supporters of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. Thus this faction of the mainstream is basically on board already; competition at work!

This all acts to build a better funding environment, supporting continued advocacy and fundraising efforts for research aimed at more impressive healthy life extension. The more scientists who go on the record in support of any degree of healthy life extension, the more condusive the overall environment becomes for leading edge work.

The Longevity Dividend proposal demonstrates that avoiding the trap of moderating our message brings results: it makes the mainstream get into gear and start to see things our way. Therefore, I say it's time to step up the support for radical life extension, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, and an engineered cure for aging!

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Longevity Without Disruption

Via EurekAlert: "Within a hormone-triggered cascade of molecular signals that plays a crucial for a wide range of physiological functions, researchers for the very first time have identified a protein that functions specifically to extend lifespan and youthfulness -- without disrupting fertility, immunity or the organism's response to stress. ... meddling with this versatile pathway to exploit its beneficial effects on aging and life span inevitably invited a host of problems ... If you were to interfere with insulin signaling in humans in order to prolong life, you would induce diabetes right away ... So, the central question became whether we would be able to genetically manipulate one element of the pathway without disrupting its additional functions ... Smk-1 is the first known gene that regulates longevity without affecting other vital functions of the insulin signaling pathway."


The Future of Old Age

The Guardian examines ongoing gains in life expectancy: "following the health of 20,000 people for almost a decade [showed] that disability among the elderly was not only dropping, but it was doing so at an ever-increasing rate.
... We have people living now who are older than we've ever had. The question is whether we've done anything about the ageing process or we're treating diseases more effectively. People in their 70s are healthier than they were 50 years ago but, on the other hand, I don't see, unless we do something about ageing, that, 20 years from now, a 70- or an 80-year-old person will be any healthier than they are now. ... quality of life for the elderly will never improve dramatically until scientists look further at the mechanisms behind, rather than the symptoms of, ageing."


Thinking of the MPrize for Anti-Aging Research

While we're still in the wake of the Longevity Dividend and the implied redirection of mainstream gerontology, I should note that The Scientist gave the Methuselah Foundation's MPrize for anti-aging research a good mention:

Interested in getting in on some big cash prizes but don't have the sequencing capacity or rocketry experience to compete in the more well known X-prize competitions? If you're good with mice, all you might need is time. In putting together the March feature on aging by S. Jay Olshansky and colleagues we came across the Methuselah Mouse Prize or M-prize. Funded by private donors, the M-prize is brainchild of Aubrey de Grey, the Cambridge geneticist who contends that with proper maintenance (yet undiscovered), humans could live for hundreds or even thousands of years. The prize is awarded in two categories that have been variously named over the years but currently go by longevity and rejuvenation.

Have you given thought to the MPrize of late? There are no doubt dollars in your life that could be put to better use, encouraging scientists to develop healthy life extension technologies soon enough to benefit folk like you and I - a big long-term return on investment if ever there was one. The latest member of The Three Hundred joined just recently, generously contributing to the future of meaningful anti-aging research - how would you like to be the next in line?

What's it worth to you to live 150 healthy years? What's it worth to you to raise the average human lifespan to 150 years, just as a start? These are not idle questions! Membership of The Three Hundred is a meaningful but affordable commitment: $1,000 a year, by the end of each year, for 25 years. This amounts to $85 a month or $2.75 a day, the equivalent of a visit to Starbucks.

The Three Hundred is a classical concept, based on a battle that saved the future of Western Civilization: Thermopylae. In 480 B.C., 300 Spartan warriors fought against incredible odds to gain time for the rest of Greece to mobilize against the Persian hordes. Without the delaying action fought at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, the achievements of Greece and our culture as we know it would have been swept away.

The Methuselah Foundation is asking you to follow in the footsteps of this noble Three Hundred, not to risk your lives, but to provide some of your treasure so that we can all live ... and live ... and live. You will help to win time for the human species to beat back an enemy far more dangerous than the ancient Persians: the Grim Reaper himself.

The Three Hundred - a group strictly limited to 300 members - will live on in history, as the Three Hundred of Thermopylae are remembered even to this day. You can be one of them. The names of the 300 Spartans who fought at Thermopylae were engraved on a stone tablet in Sparta that was still legible seven centuries later. A momument stands to this day to pay homage to their sacrifice. In lending your name to this enterprise, you will be remembered for as long as the human race survives.

The MPrize is already proving its worth, as part of the advocacy that is leading modern gerontology out of its rut and into open support for healthy life extension research. We are at a real juncture in the history of medicine; success in advocacy today will lead to greatly extended healthy life spans and the defeat of age-related frailty in the decades ahead. There is so much more that can be done, and more hands make all the difference!

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The Bandwagon is Open

Kevin Perrott is a touch less charitable than I was in response to the Longevity Dividend announcement: "Now.. where have I heard this before? Oh yeah.. its just what Aubrey de Grey has been saying for YEARS! ... Why don't the authors simply say it like it is, that living as long as a person wants to live is the goal. The 'compression of morbidity' is a red-herring meant to assure people that they do not have to have some existential angst triggered by the fact that someday death may not come [through] aging at all. ... How disappointing it is to see the more than realistic proposals of SENS treated in such a off-hand and perjorative manner by people advocating healthy life-extension. It is even more disappointing to not even have Aubrey de Grey mentioned although it is virtually certain that without his sabre-rattling we would not be reading even this meager pronouncement."


Mitochondrial Leaks and Longevity

From The Scientist's present issue on healthy life extension and longevity research, a most interesting look at mitochondria: "Birds, bats, and humans live several times longer than their metabolic rates would suggest. The reason lies in the rate at which reactive oxygen species (ROS) leak out of the mitochondrial respiratory chain ... ROS leakage is so low in pigeons that they can afford to have much lower antioxidant levels than rats, and still live longer. The question is, why are pigeon mitochondria so leak-proof?" There may be other useful approaches to manipulating mitochondria for extended healthy life spans beyond outright repair and replacement of damage.


Pitching Healthy Life Extension as the "Longevity Dividend"

The past few weeks of posts here at Fight Aging! have included discussions of strategies for large scale funding, avoiding moderation in pro-radical life extension advocacy, how to pitch a moderate healthy life extension message if you must take that path, and looking at the likely future of mainstream / moderate pro-healthy life extension engagement with existing funding sources.

In essence, scientific anti-aging advocacy of the past few years, within and without the research community, is bearing fruit. Scientists who have long supported healthy life extension research in private now feel the environment to be safe enough to speak out in public without risking status and funding. This is a huge step forward, as many in the scientific mainstream strongly support the legitimacy of research aimed directly at extending the healthy human life span. But if no-one stands up to say so, funding and legitimacy cannot be established - which is why it is such a big deal that we are now moving away from healthy life extension research as the instant death third rail of grantsmanship.

You'll find a glowing neon signpost of progress in this month's issue of the The Scientist ... which, funnily enough, has the phrase "fight aging" prominently placed on the cover. The cover article is authored by S. Jay Olshansky, Daniel Perry, Richard A. Miller, and Robert N. Butler, who collectively stand as core and representative of mainstream gerontology and aging research. These are folks who, as you may have noted in the past, are usually on the other side of a timescale or plausibility debate with biomedical gerontologist and radical life extension advocate Aubrey de Grey. Here, however, they are starting a campaign of engagement with existing funding structures intended to produce programs and resources for healthy life extension research:

Gerontology has grown beyond its historical and traditional image of disease management and palliative care for the old, to the scientific study of aging processes in humans and in other species-the latter is known as biogerontology. In recent decades biogerontologists have gained significant insight into the causes of aging. They've revolutionized our understanding of the biology of life and death. They've dispelled long-held misconceptions about aging and its effects, and offered for the first time a real scientific foundation for the feasibility of extending and improving life.


People already place a high value on both quality and length of life, which is why children are immunized against infectious diseases. In the same spirit, we suggest that a concerted effort to slow aging begin immediately - because it will save and extend lives, improve health, and create wealth.


The science of aging has the potential to produce what we refer to as a "Longevity Dividend" in the form of social, economic, and health bonuses both for individuals and entire populations-a dividend that would begin with generations currently alive and continue for all that follow.

We contend that conditions are ripe today for the aggressive pursuit of the Longevity Dividend by seeking the technical means to intervene in the biological processes of aging in our species, and by ensuring that the resulting interventions become widely available.

I'm very enthused by these signs of progress. This is not support for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence or similar full-on engineering, damage-control approaches, but it is a large departure from the position of public silence on healthy life extension. The sea change in public opinion and awareness brought on by advocacy is creeping up on us, and factions within the scientific community are adjusting the cut of their sails in expectation of funding. As Olshansky noted over at the Immortality Institute:

We are calling for a massive national and international effort to slow aging in humans under the premise that by doing so, humanity would reap a series of "Longevity Dividends" -- a gift to humanity from our generation to most current and all future generations. What is new here is the articulation of the "dividends" and the "target". I'll present this idea formally at the World Forum meeting in Oxford on the 15th of this month, but this is just the beginning of our effort to make this happen.

The mainstream is moving. Progress!

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Protandim and CMX-1152 Dissected

The Scientist reports on protandim, a portion of the hyped-up "anti-aging" marketplace that I - and others - have been watching for a while: "With an insatiable desire for something that doesn't yet exist, people are using themselves as test subjects, and shelling out millions - perhaps billions - of dollars on products unsupported by science. In some cases, they may not even know what they're taking. Case in point: a product called Protandim. When a deal between two companies to sell the product fell through, one appeared to keep the name but changed the formulation, leaving a glut of information in chat rooms, blogs, and news articles that describes Protandim, but doesn't always specify which one."


Expanding the Buck Institute

The Mature Market has more on the growth of the Buck Insitute for Age Research: "For the first time in its seven year history, the [institute] is seeking philanthropic support from the local community and various foundations to fund a lab expansion project to create a new Center for Integrative Studies of Aging. ... the campaign goal is $9.3 million, with $7.3 million already raised. ... The Center for Integrative Studies of Aging will help us meet our mission of extending the healthy years of life. Deciphering the biological mystery of aging is essential if we're to discover ways to prevent and treat diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer and arthritis. This new Center will speed that basic understanding, so that our longer lives are healthy lives." It is very gratifying to see more and more researchers and research coordinators coming out of the closet to talk openly about healthy life extension.


Reminder: Tomorrow's People, Webcast

By way of a reminder, Tomorrow's People will be starting on March 14th; a conference in which "leading scientists, scholars, business executives, policy makers, religious leaders and citizens will come together to explore the promises of technology for life enhancement and extension in different parts of the world." The program is far more complete than when I last mentioned the event, of course, and much of the conference will be webcast - which should please a great many people. It still has the sound of an event with modern luddite leanings (i.e. the hard work of progress is marginalised in in favor of discussions on slowing things down, poorly assessed "risks," and the "need" for governance), but the scientists attending are, for the most part, a high class act. You should recognize many of the names from headline research of recent years.


Two Genes for Most Age-Related Macular Degeneration

It is pleasant to be presented with the prospect of a comparatively simple mechanism at the root of an extremely complex array of age-related medical conditions. Simpler roots to a range of complex biological failure mechanisms are what we would expect to find if approaches like the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence are to be much more cost effective - and produce results more rapidly - than treating the end results of age-related cellular damage. While the complexity of failure modes should be greater than the complexity of multiple root causes, it's not always the case that knowledge of biochemical processes and the capabilities of modern biotechnology are up to sorting out all the loose ends and chains of causality. Yet.

In any case, various news outlets are reporting on the possibility of comparatively simple mechanisms at the root of most age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a collection of conditions causing progressive blindness:

The researchers found 74% of the people with AMD had either the Factor H or Factor B risk factor or both - but no protective variants of either gene.

Lead researcher Dr Rando Allikmets said "I am not aware of any other complex disorder where nearly 75% of genetic causality has been identified.

"These findings are significant because they absolutely confirm the roles of these two genes and, consequently, the central role of a specific immune response pathway, in the development of AMD.

"In just a few short years, we've gone from knowing very little about what causes AMD to knowing quite a lot. We now have clear targets for early therapeutic intervention."

The researchers are now searching for the specific triggers that set off the immune response, and subsequent inflammation.

Considering that AMD is a catch-all category for many variant medical conditions, this is a surprising and pleasing finding. In this day and age of rapid research, a clear target for intervention is only a year of lab work away from good preliminary results in the development of a therapy.

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The Mainstream Discovers SENS

NorthernStar Online looks at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and the work of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "Imagine living to age 50 sans wrinkles, without relinquishing any youthful gaiety, to maybe even see your great-granddaughter's high school education. Sounds implausible, but science is working on it. ... Approaching aging via engineering, SENS is designed to deal periodically with routine damage done to human cells, keeping it at a level low enough to prevent pathology. ... I use the phrase ['War on Aging'] to describe the period starting when we get results in the laboratory with mice that are impressive enough to make people realize that life extension is possible, and ending when the first effective therapies for humans are developed. I estimate that the War On Aging will start 10 years from now, subject to funding of research, and will last for 15 years, but this latter estimate is extremely speculative."


A Prediction on Healthy Life Extension Research and Political Engagement

For all that a number of folk, myself included, don't see big government funding as the way forward for healthy life extension research, I think it's safe to predict increasing political engagement by the gerontology community on this topic. The advance of advocacy and plausible science backing radical life extension acts to bring the mainstream out of their conservative ways and into the realm of supporting modest healthy life extension of a few decades ... but at least they're willing to get to work on the problem now!

The mainstream of early stage science or basic research in most Western countries is heavily funded by government sources - perhaps 30% of total funding in the US, for example. Once the mainstream research community gets behind a particular idea, they'll seek to craft an environment that awards funding for related research. From there, support tends to spread out to more conservative patient advocate groups, and then out into the wider political ecosphere. At some point healthy life extension research will no doubt become yet another ball for politicians to misuse in their power games.

The gerontology and broader aging research community is sufficiently taken with modest healthy life extension - as of the moment, at least - that we'll soon be seeing organized attempts to engineer government funding. Admittedly, I get to hear these things a little in advance, but it shouldn't suprise anyone that initiatives of this sort are in the pipeline.

We are calling for a massive national and international effort to slow aging in humans under the premise that by doing so, humanity would reap a series of "Longevity Dividends" -- a gift to humanity from our generation to most current and all future generations. What is new here is the articulation of the "dividends" and the "target". I'll present this idea formally at the World Forum meeting in Oxford on the 15th of this month, but this is just the beginning of our effort to make this happen.

I'd say that by the end of 2007, the more forward-looking segments of the longevity research community will be obtaining fair-sized grants of public money as a result of two years of effort in the political arena.

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Anti-Research Legalistics

An LA Times op-ed looks at the present legal fight over public funding for embryonic stem cell research in California: "parties sometimes advance novel legal theories in a good-faith effort to change the law. Sometimes, however, they make frivolous arguments in an effort to obscure issues or just to create delay. ... The latter strategy is just abusive. The lawsuit challenging Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, is an example of the latter. ... What is most troubling is not that the plaintiffs' arguments lack legal heft but that they no doubt realize this, yet argue anyway. The three groups fighting Proposition 71 - two pro-life associations and an anti-tax organization - are not what you would describe as passionate about technical governance issues. But because they know the state cannot issue the bonds to fund research while litigation is pending, they are using weak legal justifications to delay the inevitable."


New Thinking on Telomerase

While the telomere theory of aging is largely discredited, resources presently dedicated to understanding telomeres and telomerase are starting to produce some new thinking: "Lack of telomerase activity in human somatic tissues and concomitant telomere erosion correlate with age-related pathologies. Mouse models either lacking or overexpressing telomerase support the notion that short telomeres cause premature aging. Recent evidence suggests that telomerase might have other functions besides maintaining telomere length. Here, we propose a possible role for telomerase in delaying the aging process, which is independent of telomere length." Who knows where our understand of telomere biochemistry will be five years from now, but it is a hopeful thought that all the groundwork to date could lead to anti-aging technologies after all - as well as, of course, effective cancer therapies.


12th Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology

(Via Frank at Anti-Aging Medicine and Science, who has a sharper eye than I for these things). The roving Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology (IABG) will next be held in 2007 in Greece, by the the look of it, under the auspices of the Institute of Biological Research and Biotechnology of the National Hellenic Research Foundation. This congress is titled "Molecular Mechanisms and Models of Ageing," and the Institute has a focus on systems biology:

The Institute of Biological Research and Biotechnology (IBRB) was established in 1977. The mission of the Institute is the acquirement of new knowledge in biological research and its socio-economic valorization, through biotechnological applications, the education of new researchers, the substantiated scientific documentation and information about the progress in biological research of the public and specific target groups (politicians, public and private organizations, press etc.)


Progress in Systems Biology, is crucial for a molecular understanding of many diseases and for development of novel biotechnological applications. The feedback between this iterative modelling and testing which is a key feature of Systems biology, to the study of diseases with a multi-factorial aetiology such as cancer and diabetes, will transform dramatically biology and medicine in the 21st century, radically modifying therapeutic practices and developing new ones (predictive, preventive and personalized medicine).

You might recall that Leroy Hood - of the Institute for Systems Biology in the US - believes this field is the path to 10-20 year healthy life extension over the next 20 years of research. This would come about through general improvements to medical and biotechnological capabilities across the board, not through any great sea change in the way the medical and research community address the mechanisms of aging.

The 11th congress of the IABG took place last August in Denmark. The 10th congress was held in the UK back in 2003, organized by biomedical gerontologist and healthy life extension advocate Aubrey de Grey:

The purpose of the IABG is (1) to make the general public more aware of the potential of biomedical aging research to increase the span of healthy productive life and to decrease the social and economic problems of age; and (2) to promote greater communication among the worldwide community of individuals engaged in biomedical aging research.

Mark your calendars accordingly.

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Five Year Goal: Engineering a Finger

Skipping over the politics and posturing in this piece from PittsburghLive, we find this interesting timescale: "Among the consortium's partners are the McGowan Institute, the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Regenerative Medicine Foundation. The consortium's five-year goal is the creation of a fully functional finger." This is ambitious, but not out of the realm of possibility with the right level of funding. The capabilities of tissue engineers will accelerate greatly once a robust solution to the problem of blood vessels is widely accepted. Fingers are a place to start, but replacements for more vital organs are the path to extended healthy life spans through this field of medicine.


Damaging High Blood Pressure

From Forbes, a look at the mechanisms by which high blood pressure can cause ongoing damage to the complex machinery of your body - more damage means more age-related disease sooner in your future. "Blood pressure and vascular disease are associated with dementia. Other researchers have shown that kidney function is a predictor of mortality and of heart attack and stroke. Experts have since been playing with the idea that damage to the small vessels in the kidney and brain as a result of high blood pressure are responsible for these connections. ... Large amounts of white matter in the brain, along with enlarged open areas filled with spinal fluid, appear to be linked to cardiovascular disease and shorter life spans for the elderly. ... It suggests that very tight control of blood pressure throughout life is a major determinant of longevity."


Potassium Channels, Neurodegeneration

(From ScienceDaily). Age-related neurodegenerative diseases are failure modes of an exceedingly complex machine - so it shouldn't be surprising to find that many different mechanisms contribute to the sad end result: "[The gene] KCNC3 forms a potassium channel, part of a biochemical mechanism that regulates the electrical impulses of bursting neurons. Although potassium channel mutations have previously been linked to episodic disorders such as seizures, this is the first time they have been identified as causative factors - and potentially therapeutic targets - in neurodegenerative diseases. ... This is the first time neurodegeneration has been directly linked to potassium channel mutations."


If We Fail, It Will Be From Ignorance

Economic ignorance, willful or otherwise, is the death of cultures. The systematic destruction of incentives for progress - engineered by those who do not care to realize they are pulling the house down around their ears - will be the death of you and I as well if it continues. If we permit the ignorant to rule over medicine and medical research, destroying it in the process, then we deserve our fate:

A plan to outlaw private health insurance in California has been proposed by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles). Senator Kuehl's bill, SB840, proposes to create the California Health Insurance Agency, a state government run single payer system for financing the health care of all Californians. Her bill, if enacted, would abolish all private health insurance in the Golden State.


Remarkably, Kuehl's proposal to socialize California's health care is being made just at the time when the Canadian system it resembles is falling apart at the seams. For instance, Canada's single payer system is projected to absorb more than half the budgets of most Canadian provinces. In addition, the amount of time a Canadian patient must wait before receiving medical care is notorious. "This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years," said Dr. Brian Day in a recent New York Times article on Canada's health care crisis.

Looking at the fine print, you find that Kuehl's government-run single payer system will be cheaper because it will actually ration health care. In other words, decisions about what treatments will be available to Californians and when they will become available will be in the hands of government health care bureaucrats. Just like the Canadian socialized health care system, the new California Health Insurance Agency will determine how much it will pay pharmaceutical companies for new more effective medicines. This means that Californians, like Canadians today, will wait a long time, possibly forever, to get access to modern therapies.


Doctors are like anybody else; they work less when they get paid less. If Kuehl's system is adopted, you will eventually see waiting lines lengthening and doctors treating fewer and fewer patients. California doctors and other health care workers will leave for other states where they are better compensated, and few new doctors, nurses and other personnel will be attracted to California. Another side effect will be that many of California's innovative biotech companies will relocate to friendlier business environments.


Today, as the Canadian health care system implodes, more and more Canadians are seeking private medical care across the border in the United States. Within a decade after Kuehl's single payer system has been adopted, I predict that many Californians will similarly be fleeing across the border into Arizona and Nevada looking for modern private medical care in state-of-the-art hospitals and clinics.

Why put your life and health into the hands of people who have no interest in helping you? Why think that socialism in medicine will work this time, when it has failed miserably everywhere else? As time moves on, those of us reading this now will become increasingly reliant on the new medical technologies of healthy life extension for health and longevity. If the future of medicine is socialist, then we won't be seeing much of that future - the destruction socialism and centralized, regulated systems bring to research and progress will see to that.

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A View of Alzheimer's Drug Development

Modern insight is informing the old school process of finding chemicals that help more than they harm - this BBC article gives a good idea as to the present state of business: "In tests on mice, the drug, AF267B, reversed the symptoms of memory loss and problems with learning associated with Alzheimer's. ... Further analysis showed it also reduced levels of protein clumps and tangles often found in Alzheimer's patients. ... The drug was developed to activate receptors for a brain chemical called acetylcholine. ... AF267B appears to mimic the action of acetylcholine, binding to its receptors and boosting levels of enzymes involved in breaking down the key protein that forms clumps and tangles in brain cells."


Better Scaffolds, Better Regeneration

The Harvard Gazette reports on advances in scaffold technology for regenerative cell therapies: "We transplant the cells on a scaffold that keeps them alive, then directs them to leave in a controlled manner and migrate into the surrounding tissue. This is the first time that has been done. ... I think the basic concept is a very powerful one that will likely have application in humans in some form. We demonstrated the concept with muscle, and this could be useful to treat wounds and, perhaps some day, muscular dystrophy. In addition, it could be very useful in transplantation of cells to the heart to treat coronary artery diseases, to transplant cells that promote blood vessel formation, to transplant cells to the brain to treat various neurological conditions, and to transplant cells to promote bone generation."


Selling Healthy Life Extension Via Suitable Moderation

As I have outlined in the recent past, I think that toning down and self-censoring advocacy for radical life extension is a really bad idea. It does no good to remove instances of a suitable outrageous extreme from the discussion; rather, this makes it harder to direct support and resources towards plausible healthy life extension research.

Is there a way to be both moderate and an effective advocate for healthy life extension? I'm not convinced, but if there was a way to make it work, it might look something like this:

Greater knowledge about aging should bring better management of the debilitating pathologies associated with aging, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and Alzheimer's. Therapies targeted at the fundamental mechanisms of aging will be instrumental in counteracting these age-related pathologies.

Therefore, this letter is a call to action for greater funding and research into both the underlying mechanisms of aging and methods for its postponement. Such research may yield dividends far greater than equal efforts to combat the age-related diseases themselves. As the mechanisms of aging are increasingly understood, increasingly effective interventions can be developed that will help prolong the healthy and productive life-spans of a great many people.

Personally, I find it hard, sometimes, to understand just why longevity is such a hard sell. Pick one: a) suffer and die before your time, or b) live a long, healthy, active life. Why, in a world in which longevity is much admired, do so many people reflexively chose option (a)?

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Aging Biomarkers For Skin

From The Reporter, news of a potential biomarker of aging: "We initiated this project with the idea that perhaps there was a specific mitochondrial DNA deletion signature that would be associated with tumor development in the skin ... Sligh and colleagues were surprised to find a panel of mitochondrial DNA deletions in the tumor-free skin that was adjacent to the tumors, but not in the tumors themselves. ... The mitochondrial DNA mutations in the tumor-free skin correlated with the aging process ... It will be interesting to see if the mitochondrial DNA mutations we've found are markers of aging in other tissues or if they are specific to tissues exposed to ultraviolet light ... the newly identified biomarkers will provide another tool for studying mitochondrial damage that contributes to aging and cancer, and for screening compounds that prevent or reverse the process."


Start Saving Now

Most people presently in middle age or early old age in developed regions of the world are going to have the opportunity to live longer than they presently expect. They haven't been paying close attention to trends in science and research. If we advocates of SENS and similar strategies have our way, the purposeful advance of biotechnology will deliver potential additional decades of healthy life, ever more as time moves on - but at a fair cost.

At some point, most folk have had the effects of compound interest on invested savings dramatically illustrated by example. A ten year difference between the date of initial savings is a very real difference to your purchasing power down the line - it doesn't take much of a rate of return on your investments to make that difference a factor of two. You'll need that purchasing power for newly commercialized anti-aging therapies - medical technology that actually repairs age-related cellular damage in vital organs. But so what? More healthy, vital years beat out just about anything else you could be doing with your savings.

Look at the wealthiest folk you know: real wealth, and the freedom it brings, is in the form of savings and investments, not income. You're going to have the opportunity to live healthily for longer than you think - which means more compound interest and an even greater reason to save aggressively now. So liberate the self you'll be three decades from now - it's within your power.

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Towards Engineered Blood Vessels

(From ScienceDaily). It is encouraging to see continued progress towards tissue engineered blood vessels - vital to continuing development in this field. "Yale biomedical engineers have created an implantable system that can form and stabilize a functional network of fine blood vessels critical for supporting tissues in the body ... For body tissue to survive it must receive oxygen delivered through the finest of blood vessels ... this study shows that the fine network of blood vessels can be formed. Further, detailed microscopic studies showed that the vascular networks were stable as implants for up to six weeks and were able to connect with larger blood vessel structures."


Glenn Reynolds, Healthy Life Extension

Glenn Reynolds has penned another TCS Daily article on healthy life extension and longevity research: "Therapies targeted at the fundamental mechanisms of aging will be instrumental in counteracting [age-related pathologies] ... Such research may yield dividends far greater than equal efforts to combat the age-related diseases themselves. As the mechanisms of aging are increasingly understood, increasingly effective interventions can be developed that will help prolong the healthy and productive life-spans of a great many people. ... It seems to me that there's a lot of political support out there waiting to be tapped, for a program that would address the root cause of old age's ills -- the aging process, what the scientists call 'the fundamental mechanisms of aging,' rather than just treating the symptoms." I can't say I'd like to see government involved, but we all know I'm in a minority there.