Longevity Meme Newsletter, March 13 2006

March 13 2006

The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.



- The Longevity Dividend, Launched
- Criticizing the Longevity Dividend
- Debate the Longevity Dividend
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The big news from this past week is the start of a serious campaign within the gerontology community to drum up large-scale government funding - to the tune of $3 billion per year - directed to achieve modest healthy life extension:


"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."

The Longevity Dividend is put forward by figures emblematic of the conservative mainstream of gerontology, people who have previously opposed healthy life extension funding or maintained public silence on the topic, to the detriment of progress. This sea change in public position is what I see as the big news; the many advocates for healthy life extension within and without the scientific community are producing real results.


For all that the Longevity Dividend is a breakthrough in the process of bringing mainstream gerontology into the 21st century, there is much to be criticized. I provide a brief roundup of critical responses and some of my own comments in the following Fight Aging! post:


"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."

This is all best read in conjunction with my thoughts on the merits of avoiding moderation in our campaign to bring large-scale funding to longevity research:


It is by avoiding moderation - staying true to what we know can be plausibly achieved through advances in medical science, rather than what is politically convenient to say - that we have arrived at this point. We should continue forward with even more enthusiasm, even while others try the track of political engagement with public funding sources:



Drop by the Immortality Institute forums to discuss the Longevity Dividend proposal with S. Jay Olshansky, Aubrey de Grey, and other scientists and advocates:


Read the articles and see what you think. Is this wonderful? Terrible? Could it be better, different, more interesting? Have your say!


The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.

Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward it on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!


Founder, Longevity Meme



To view commentary on the latest news headlines complete with links and references, please visit the daily news section of the Longevity Meme: http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/

On Sarcopenia (March 12 2006)
(From FortWayne.com). 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.

Australian Stem Cell Trial In Progress (March 12 2006)
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 (March 11 2006)
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 (March 11 2006)
(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.

Stem Cells From Wisdom Teeth (March 10 2006)
(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 (March 10 2006)
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."

Longevity Without Disruption (March 09 2006)
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 (March 09 2006)
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."

The Bandwagon is Open (March 08 2006)
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 (March 08 2006)
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.

Protandim and CMX-1152 Dissected (March 07 2006)
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 (March 07 2006)
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 (March 06 2006)
By way of a reminder, Tomorrow's People will be start 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.

The Mainstream Discovers SENS (March 06 2006)
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."



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