LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
March 20 2006
The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.
- $20,000 SENS Challenge Moves Forward
- Tomorrow's People: Video, Audio, PowerPoint
- A Redesign is in the Cards
- The Standard Libertarian Disclaimer
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
$20,000 SENS CHALLENGE MOVES FORWARD
Jason Pontin, editor of the MIT Technology Review, has announced the panel for his $20,000 SENS Challenge; assembling judges had been somewhat more of a challenge than anticipated:
"In July 2005, Technology Review announced a prize for any molecular biologist working in the field of aging who could successfully meet the following challenge: demonstrate that SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), Aubrey de Grey's prescription for defeating aging, is so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate. We pledged to pay $10,000 to the authors of a winning submission. Not to be upstaged, The Methuselah Foundation, an organization founded by de Grey and devoted to promoting anti-aging science, pledged an additional $10,000 to anyone who meets the requirements of the challenge. We also pledged to form an independent panel to judge the submissions, and there we had some difficulty. The prize has languished, not for a shortage of submissions, but because we wanted to assemble a suitably distinguished group of judges."
Scientific criticism is vital to advancing a program or proposal, and so I'm pleased to see that the challenge both moving ahead and eliciting entries critical of SENS. We can hope that one or more of these criticisms are sound pieces of work that actually find problems to be addressed - I'm certain that no-one can demonstrate SENS to be so wrong that it shouldn't even be debated, but no portion of modern science is perfect:
You can tell that other factors are at work whenever scientists avoid open debate - this is the typical tactic of the old guard in a changing field, plain old human nature at work, and a point of failure for the practice of the scientific method. Criticism and open debate on the points are absolutely necessary for any scientific program of any size or maturity to prosper. Given the high stakes for all of us in the development of real, working anti-aging technologies, it is a point of some frustration that tactics such as a $20,000 challenge have to be employed to move gerontologists opposed to SENS to do their ethical duty as scientists.
TOMORROW'S PEOPLE: VIDEO, AUDIO, POWERPOINT
As a general rule, I'm skeptical of the merits of bioethics-heavy events, even those bearing a futurist, pro-longevity sheen, such as Tomorrow's People, held this last week:
I get the impression that some folk favor pontification over progress, and value pontificators over those who work hard to develop the enabling medical technologies of tomorrow - not an attitude conducive to actual progress. Still, the back channels tell me that the sponsoring organizations of Tomorrow's People are where the pro-healthy life extension action is likely to be in Bioethical Pontification, UK. The young Future of Humanity Institute in particular is one to keep an eye on - regular readers familiar with transhumanism might recognize a name or two:
The attending pro-longevity scientists were a solid crowd, for all being sandwiched between bioethics and big government in the program. Being a modern event, it has the merits of freely available video, audio and PowerPoint via the miracles of the internet - so you don't have to accept my doleful assessment and aversion to bioethics. Investigate, listen and make up your own mind! Follow the links below to find streams and downloads:
A REDESIGN IS IN THE CARDS
It has been a good few years since the Longevity Meme was last redesigned, and Fight Aging! has looked and functioned much as it does today since its launch two years ago. Form follows function follows process - while the high level goals of this modest operation in support of healthy life extension remain much the same, details of implementation have drifted with time. As culture and technology change, as scientists and advocates make progress, as my priorities shift, these websites fall out of sync with what is presently the best foot forward:
Planned change is slow in this neck of the woods; you have plenty of time to read the Fight Aging! post linked above, think about it, and let me know if you have suggestions for the future.
THE STANDARD LIBERTARIAN DISCLAIMER
I've never felt the need to attach the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer to everything I write. Some folk took my happiness with the Longevity Dividend proposal as an endorsement of government funding (or just plain government for that matter), as opposed to support for a sea change in the outlook of mainstream gerontology. So here it is, the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer:
I will continue as I was, and refrain from attaching it to everything I write.
The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.
Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward it on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!
Founder, Longevity Meme
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
To view commentary on the latest news headlines complete with links and references, please visit the daily news section of the Longevity Meme: http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/
AFAR's 25th Anniversary (March 19 2006)
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 (March 19 2006)
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.
Another Adult Stem Cell Source (March 18 2006)
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 (March 18 2006)
(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."
On the "Anti-Aging" Marketplace (March 17 2006)
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 (March 17 2006)
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 (March 16 2006)
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."
Peering at Stem Cell Funding Again (March 16 2006)
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 (March 15 2006)
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."
Mechanisms of Alzheimer's (March 15 2006)
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."
Aging Via Stem Cell Damage (March 14 2006)
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 (March 14 2006)
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."
SENS Challenge Panel Announced (March 13 2006)
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 (March 13 2006)
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.