LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 10 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.
- Coverage of the Calorie Restriction Society Conference
- Ronald Bailey, Stem Cells, Research and the Future
- The Evils of Inflammation
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
COVERAGE OF THE CALORIE RESTRICTION SOCIETY CONFERENCE
The 4th annual Calorie Restriction (CR) Society conference was held in Tucson, Arizona this past weekend. Early coverage and reports from community blogs and local media are already online; you'll find a selection linked in the following Fight Aging! posts:
More will be coming as folks return home and get settled; keep your eyes on the CR blogosphere. As always, you can learn more about calorie restriction and its health and longevity benefits at the Longevity Meme, in the Fight Aging! archives, and at the newly colorful CR Society website:
RONALD BAILEY, STEM CELLS, RESEARCH AND THE FUTURE
While you have Fight Aging! pulled up in your browser, you should take a look at a number of worthwhile articles and posts referenced over the last week. The Scientist has a great deal of commentary on the present state of stem cell research and regenerative medicine from the Keystone meeting at the start of the month:
Ronald Bailey has been his normal prolific self of late on the topic of medical research, longevity, and those who want to shut it all down and force us to live short lives, suffer and die young:
"The highest expression of human nature and dignity is to strive to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution and our environment. Future generations will look back at the beginning of the 21st century with astonishment that some well-meaning and intelligent people actually wanted to stop biomedical research just to protect their cramped and limited vision of human nature. Our descendants will look back, I predict, and thank us for making their world of longer, healthier lives possible."
They will thank us if we soundly defeat those who work to oppose progress, advanced medicine and longer, healthier lives. They will thank us if we stand up to make sure that working anti-aging medicine arrives in time - so don't just read about it, make a contribution!
THE EVILS OF INFLAMMATION
The more scientists discover about our biochemistry, the more inflammation begins to sound like a gremlin in the machinery, sticking its paws into all sorts of unfortunate places:
Scientists can draw connections between inflammatory processes and the mechanisms of most high-profile age-related conditions: cancer, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and so on and so forth. It all ties back to fat - the most common source of chronic inflammation. More fat means more inflammation, more age-related damage and disease, and thus a shorter, less healthy life: "No one would have thought these things were related. Fat cells used to be thought of as storage depots for energy, as metabolically inactive. Now we know that fat cells are little hotbeds of inflammation. Excess fat in the belly is a great source of inflammation."
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/
MLH1, a Longevity Gene (April 09 2006)
The gene MLH1 "provides instructions for making a protein that plays an essential role in DNA repair. This protein fixes mistakes that are made when DNA is copied (DNA replication) in preparation for cell division." From the abstract: "MLH1 is a mismatch repair enzyme that acts to maintain genomic stability, and a loss of MLH1 increases cancer incidence and apoptosis resistance, which suggests a link between MLH1 and longevity. We found here that MLH1 is associated with longevity by comparing a centenarian group with a control group. Our data indicate a critical role for MLH1 in longevity." DNA damage (or mutation) is one of the underlying causes of age-related degeneration, so it would be expected that absent MLH1 reduces longevity. This paper demonstrates that more is better, however, and thus many people could have a more efficient biochemistry in this regard.
Linking Cancer, Inflammatory Diseases (April 09 2006)
(From Medical News Today). As scientists continue to decipher our biochemistry, we'll be seeing more discoveries of this sort: "There is a fundamental molecular connection between diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Their protein cascades are connected; one stimulates the process of the other ... researchers looked at tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a substance produced by the immune system that promotes cell death, and two prosurvival hormones, epidermal growth factor (EGF) and insulin ... Drugs that inhibit TNF are used to treat debilitating chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Yet TNF, which causes inflammation, also leads to generation of the EGF signals that play a role in many cancers. ... We are finding that things that once appeared to be biologically independent are closely connected. We are not just collections of independent parts."
On Umbilical Cord Blood (April 08 2006)
The National Geographic looks at research into the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood: scientists "recently announced that they were able to largely reverse the effects of stroke in lab rats using stem cells found in human umbilical cord blood. In the experiment, conducted by neurologist Walter Low and his colleagues, the transplanted stem cells took on properties of brain cells and seemed to spur the rats' brains to "rewire" themselves. The researchers almost fully healed the rats 48 hours after the animals sustained brain damage. Typically doctors need to act within three hours to treat a human stroke patient successfully. Cord-blood cell transplants are already becoming common as a therapy for diseases of the blood. Now scientists like Low are finding that stem cells from umbilical cord blood - once thought capable only of turning into blood cells - may be able to grow into other kinds of cells as well."
Stem Cell Transplant, Stroke Damage (April 08 2006)
Even comparatively unsophisticated stem cell therapies, such as transplants, show potential: "Using a commonly utilized animal model for stroke, researchers administered a dose of 200,000-400,000 human stem cells into the brain of animals that had experienced significant loss of mobility and other functions. ... Treated animals experienced at least 25 percent greater improvement in motor and neurological performance than controls. ... A single dose of the cells produce robust behavioral recovery at an early period post-transplantation and the recovery was durable, lasting up to two months, which was the entire length of this study. Furthermore, animals continued to show improvement over time. ... The mechanism that we are putting forward is these donor cells are secreting nourishing trophic factors that are helping the host brain cells survive and stimulating stem cells from the host to multiply."
Bone Regrowth Stem Cell Trial (April 07 2006)
The Herald Sun has news of the trial of a first generation stem cell therapy for bone regrowth: "About seven weeks ago, Mr de Steiger harvested bone marrow from Mr Stevens' pelvis. The adult stem cells were then separated from the other cells. A sub-group of stem cells called mesenchymal precursor cells -- those that can transform into tissues including bone, cartilage and heart -- were isolated and grown. Last week, about 30 million of these cells were implanted into the 5cm x 3cm hole in Mr Stevens' thigh bone. The cells were coated on to pieces of calcium phosphate that act as a scaffold for the cells when they are placed inside the bone. The cells are expected to regenerate new bone and grow through the calcium phosphate."
Interview With Ray Kurzweil (April 07 2006)
Via KurzweilAI, an interview on radical life extension - and re-engineering the human body - that I missed the first time around. I think it illustrates Kurzweil's viewpoint fairly well - for all that Fantastic Voyage is a good introduction to optimizing health, I can't say I think he's performing a wonderous service by getting into the supplement business. Kurzweil's advocacy for rapid progress towards the technologies of radical life extension is a far more valuable contribution: "The golden era will be in about twenty years from now. There will be some applications earlier, but the real Holy Grail of nanotechnology are nanobots, blood cell-size devices that can go inside the body and keep us healthy from inside. ... Whatever we don't get around to finishing with biotechnology, we'll be able to finish the job with these nano-engineered blood-cell sized robots."
Unreasonable Speculation (April 06 2006)
It is reasonable to plausibly speculate on the further usefulness and direction of your research, but there are always those who cross the line. This short note from UPI is a good example. You simply cannot say that vitamin C will slow aging in humans from this study on accelerated aging in mice. As the quote goes, you can shorten life in mice by means of a blunt instrument, but that doesn't make hammers a part of the aging process, nor absence of bludgeoning a way to extend life. Scientists "analyzed a specific protein that decreases as aging proceeds and found it was the same as an enzyme that synthesizes vitamin C ... After six months of observation, researchers said normal mice without the protein were all still alive, but half of the ones lacking the protein had died of old age. ... Since humans are unable to produce vitamin C in their body even if they have the protein, the results of the experiment do not directly indicate vitamin C is effective in preventing aging in humans." I'll say.
Ashkenazi Jew Centenarian Studies (April 06 2006)
Science has an update for those following the study of longevity genes in the Ashkenazi Jew population: "In 2003, [scientists] discovered that people with a certain polymorphism of the cholesterol-influencing gene CETP lived longer than those without it ... Now the researchers have identified another part of the longevity code. ... 25% of the centenarians carried a particular variation of the gene APOC3, which helps determine cholesterol levels. ... A drug that mimics the function of the CETP gene is already in development [and] the same could happen with APCO3. Eventually multiple gene functions could be simulated by a single pill." This is a similar approach to that followed by calorie restriction researchers - start with what works, find the genes, find the mechanisms, influence both to slow the rate of damage. SENS supporters would claim there are more effective paths forward to the goal of extended healthy life spans, however.
The Staggering Cost of Aging (April 05 2006)
Via EurekAlert, another look at the benefits that come from extending healthy life span; by curing cancer in this case. Think about the flip side of the coin; the ongoing economic devastation caused by aging, frailty and death: "Even a modest one percent reduction in mortality from cancer would be worth nearly $500 billion in social value ... Social value of improved health and longevity is the amount in dollars that additional life years or other health improvements are worth to people ... The value of improved longevity is based on what individuals gain from the enjoyment of consumption and time during an additional year of life, rather than how much they earn. During the 20th century, average life expectancy of Americans increased by 30 years, due in large part to medical advances against major diseases ... this increase in life expectancy is worth more than $1.2 million for each American alive today. From 1970 to 2000, gains in life expectancy added about $3.2 trillion per year to national wealth."
Aging Apologism, Alive and Well (April 05 2006)
You'd think that in a world in which people want to live longer, healthier lives - and a world on the verge of working healthy life extension technologies - there wouldn't be much of a market for apologism for aging, disease and death. Sadly, you'd be wrong; here's a dose of the "lie down and die" school of thought from MSNBC: "What we need to do is to recognize that we can't necessarily prevent some degree of disability or frailty in old age. But we can try to make sure that old age is as good a time - despite disabilities - as it can be." Acceptance made sense when there was no plausible way forward to deal with the underlying biochemical damage that causes age-related degeneration - but that isn't the case anymore. Apologists, no matter how well intentioned, are only hurting public support for serious, plausible efforts to extend healthy life span and repair age-related damage.
Stem Cells Repair Tendons (April 04 2006)
First generation regenerative medicine continues to move ahead, as noted by EurekAlert: "Until the present time, therapeutic options used to repair torn ligaments and tendons have consisted of tissue grafting and synthetic prostheses, but as yet, none of these alternatives has provided a successful long-term solution. ... [Researchers] engineered mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which reside in the bone marrow and fat tissues, to express a protein called Smad8 and another called BMP2. When the researchers implanted these cells into torn Achilles tendons of rats they found that the cells not only survived the implantation process, but also were recruited to the site of the injury and were able to repair the tendon. ... BMP and Smad proteins are involved in other tissues such as nerve and liver, suggesting that this type of delivery technology may be helpful for other degenerative diseases."
New Scientist on Calorie Restriction (April 04 2006)
News on calorie restriction from the New Scientist: "People who substantially cut their calorie intake develop some of the traits associated with longevity discovered in animal tests ... these subjects had reduced fasting levels of the hormone insulin, a trait associated with longevity in animal research. They also found that volunteers who restricted their caloric intake by 25% or achieved similar results by cutting calories and upping exercise had a reduced average core body temperature at the conclusion of the six month trial. Lower body temperatures are also associated with longevity. Each of the low calorie groups also showed a small but statistically significant reduction in DNA damage in their blood cells, when compared with the control individuals. This is noteworthy, the researchers say, because some of the chemical by-products of food metabolism attack DNA, which might contribute to cancer and accelerate the effects of ageing."
Onwards to Replacement Organs (April 03 2006)
The Times Online brings welcome news of progress: "Entire human internal organs grown in the laboratory have been successfully transplanted into patients for the first time ... Seven people suffering from a serious bladder condition received replacement organs engineered by a team of American scientists using the patients' own cells. The engineered tissue was created by taking a small sample of bladder from a patient and growing muscle cells and urothelial (bladder) cells in a nutrient bath in a laboratory. The cells were then encouraged to grow over a specially designed biodegradable bladder-shaped scaffold made out of collagen. After a further two months, the full organ had formed, ready for transplantation." Bladders today, but lungs, hearts, kidneys and more a decade from now - onwards!
Blackford on SENS (April 03 2006)
Russell Blackford, who should be familiar to the transhumanists in the audience, has the following to say about serious scientific efforts to cure aging, such as the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence: "de Grey believes that it is already possible in principle to 'cure' ageing, and that to hold back from doing so is to fail to save some lives that could have been saved if we'd acted otherwise. Saving lives is as important, morally, as resisting impulses to kill. Thus, we are in a position where failing to fund and conduct research on a cure for aging is morally comparable to killing, or so it will inevitably seem to us once we understand the situation clearly, and provided that we hold to our central moral convictions. It appears to follow that, if we are rational, we must accept that there is a moral imperative to quest for a cure for aging. Such an imperative coheres with central moral ideas so powerful as to override any imaginable countervailing considerations. To deny this imperative would involve a logical rupture within the structure of our morality."