LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 15 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.
- More on Cancer-Resistant Mice
- Roundup on the Singularity Summit
- Change the World, This One Way
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
MORE ON CANCER-RESISTANT MICE
You may have noticed all the attention recently directed towards a breed of (very) cancer-resistant mice; researchers have demonstrated the cancer resistance can be transferred to other mice via a form of immune therapy:
You'll find a good conversation on the topic presently ongoing at the Immortality Institute; links, some background and highlights are in the following Fight Aging! post:
This is an exciting time to be watching cancer research. Great strides are being made, especially in the area of immune therapies. It shows what can be done with a large research infrastructure, modern biotechnology and widespread desire for success - I'm sure that advocates for healthy life extension research are taking notes. Here's another good example of work in progress:
ROUNDUP ON THE SINGULARITY SUMMIT
The Singularity Summit at Stanford was held this past weekend; a fair amount of attention was generated in the blogosphere. You can find a roundup of the coverage most relevant to healthy life extension over at Fight Aging!:
The point to take away, I think, is that we have a way to go in terms of helping people to change the way they think about aging and the possibility of extending the healthy human life span. Conservatism, habit and the unexamined preconception are human nature; gathering support for new forms of change requires time and effort, but the first of those two items is ticking away for all of us:
CHANGE THE WORLD, THIS ONE WAY
We need more advocates, more supporters, more flags stuck in the ground and bold positions taken when it comes to supporting the future of medical research and healthy life extension. A world absent these things is a world stuck in the conceptual rut of today's medical science, in which aging and its attendant suffering are accepted without question. All the while, resources pour into the impossible task of shoring up the increasingly decrepit aging body - rather than finding out how to prevent the root causes of decline.
This world must change; rather, we must make this world change. If we do not, then we will age, suffer greatly and die. If we do not, another 100,000 age-damaged people will die each and every day. There was a time when nothing could be done about aging, but the ongoing biotech revolution ensures that today is past that time. Do the smart thing; support those who have made it easy for you to help change the world in this one, vital way. Take the few minutes needed to lend your support to the Methuselah Foundation and the MPrize for anti-aging research:
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/
Update On Amniotic Stem Cell Work (May 14 2006)
I've previously mentioned tissue engineering for the unborn or very young based on the use of stem cells from the amniotic fluid. Here is an update from the Boston Globe: "Fauza's work focuses on the trachea and the diaphragm because the structures needed to fix them are relatively simple. If all goes well, he said, he can imagine fixing birth defects that affect the intestines, the bladder, and blood vessels in the heart. He is trying to coax the amniotic fluid cells to make the type of neurons that could help fix spinal cord defects in patients with spina bifida." That progress is being made here should provide greater incentive to find - or create - viable, easily gathered sources of multipotent stem cells for those of us who have left our amniotic fluid far behind.
Growth Factor Regenerates Nerve Fibers (May 14 2006)
Via AScribe, news of a promising discovery: scientists "have discovered a naturally occurring growth factor [called oncomodulin] that stimulates regeneration of injured nerve fibers (axons) in the central nervous system. Under normal conditions, most axons in the mature central nervous system (which consists of the brain, spinal cord and eye) cannot regrow after injury. ... Out of the blue, we found a molecule that causes more nerve regeneration than anything else ever studied. We expect this to spur further research into what else oncomodulin is doing in the nervous system and elsewhere ... there is another side to the nerve-regeneration problem: overcoming agents that act as natural inhibitors of axon growth. ... Now that Benowitz has isolated oncomodulin, he believes even greater regeneration is possible by combining it with agents that counteract growth inhibitors."
Nothing Fails In Isolation (May 13 2006)
Via Reuters, a good illustration of the interconnected nature of the body. It degenerates in the same general way as any complex system - nothing fails in isolation. "The results of a new study suggest that there is an association between heart failure and an increased risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease in the elderly. ... it may be worth looking at possible biological pathways linking heart failure to dementia, specifically to Alzheimer's disease. The markedly impaired cerebral circulation that results from chronic heart failure, for example, may play a role in the neurodegenerative process, especially in the elderly population. Poor blood circulation in the brain could further promote neurodegeneration by depriving the brain of oxygen." This is why the most effective approach is to prevent or repair the root causes of failure, rather than to continually develop patches for the far greater range of resulting problems.
Billion Dollar Proposals All Over (May 12 2006)
Politicians trying to get elected are pretty free and easy with future public money; government always means bribes and corruption some sort, but for some reason buying votes isn't usually seen as such. In any case, following Spitzer's recent announcement in New York (and the 2005 precedents elsewhere in the country), here we have another billion dollars proposed for stem cell research: "Gabrieli will outline his plan Thursday for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. The proposal calls for the state to borrow 100 million dollars a year over ten years. The money will go into a fund that would provide grants to scientists selected by a board of experts." It seems clear that research infrastructure for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering will continue to grow - hopefully as little as possible will be of the inefficient, regulated, steered-by-the-ignorant public variety.
Register for TransVision2006 (May 12 2006)
TransVision2006, a gathering of transhumanist-minded folk from around the world, will be held in August in Helskinki, Finland. "This year the theme of the conference will be Emerging Technologies of Human Enhancement. We'll be looking at recent and ongoing technological developments and discussing associated ethical and philosophical questions." The event tends to reflect the biases of the World Transhumanist Association, so your milage may vary. Personally, I prefer a greater focus on the hard work of creating technological progress rather than inventing ways to slow and hinder advancement under the banner of "ethics" - how is it in any way ethical to attempt to slow down development and adoption of life-saving technologies, such as working anti-aging medicine? Early registration ends on May 31st, so you still have some time to read up on the early edition program and list of speakers.
Why CR Would Work For Human Longevity (May 12 2006)
The latest issue of Biogerontology contains a number of articles on calorie restriction (CR), reflecting the spectrum of positions with regard to its likely effects on human longevity. From the optimistic side of the fence: "To delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms of CR's efficacy on human longevity, this review elaborates on the modulation of CR on the inflammatory process, a common risk factor for many chronic diseases. Discussions also include evidence from human data on the effect of CR in the loss of body weight, known to suppress inflammatory cytokines, subsequently leading to the reduction of chronic diseases known to compromise the functional longevity of humans." The strongly positive effects on human health have been handily demonstrated in recent years - you owe it to yourself to look into calorie restriction.
Nanoengineering, Cardiovascular Disease (May 11 2006)
(From EurekAlert). The most notable effect of advancing biomedical and nanoscale engineering technologies is the sharp fall in cost of understanding biochemical processes - and of creating ways to intervene in those processes at earlier, more effective points: "researchers propose a way to combat clogged arteries by attacking how bad cholesterol triggers inflammation and causes plaque buildup at specific blood vessel sites. Their approach contrasts with today's statin drug therapy, which aims to reduce the amount of low density lipids, or LDLs ("bad" cholesterol), throughout the body. ... researchers propose a way to combat clogged arteries by attacking how bad cholesterol triggers inflammation and causes plaque buildup at specific blood vessel sites. Their approach contrasts with today's statin drug therapy, which aims to reduce the amount of [LDLs] throughout the body."
Human Enhancement and Longevity (May 11 2006)
The New Scientist looks at the future of human health and longevity, amongst other enhancements that biotechnology could bring: "It is 2050, and Peter Schwartz is deciding what to do with the rest of his life. He has already had two successful careers and he wants another one before he dies, which he expects to happen in around 50 years. By then he'll be about 150, which isn't bad for a baby boomer, but he expects his son, now 60, to live a lot longer than that. The world that Schwartz lives in is radically different from the one he grew up in. The industrial and information age has passed into history, overtaken by a revolution in bioscience." This wonderous future of radical life extension is by no means a sure thing, however - a great deal of work is needed just to create the culture and infrastructure required for significant progress towards longer, healthier lives. If we do not stand up and help, we will certainly age, suffer and die all too soon.
A Reminder of the Cost of Aging (May 10 2006)
Kevin Perrott provides a reminder of the cost of degenerative aging - a cost we are doing far too little to mitigate: "our ability to reduce the suffering of the aging process will require the use of technologies that have yet to be developed ... The need for such technologies is great. In Canada, according to the Insitute on Aging, the cost of age-related disease is growing rapidly. In 1993, musculoskeletal degeneration led to costs of more than 20 billion dollars, exceeding those of cancer ($13b) or cardiovascular problems ($19.8b). In the U.S. over 220 billion dollars per year is spent on giving the dependent elderly some quality of life as they deal with debilitating conditions. ... The benefits to slowing or preventing the degeneration that eventually occurs to even those who live the healthiest of lifestyles are obvious."
Understanding Blood Vessel Growth (May 10 2006)
Via Medical News Today, news of an advance in understanding of blood vessel formation: "Up till now, we've been looking for a 'missing link' in the process whereby blood-forming cells in the marrow head to the site of injury to rebuild and sustain the vasculature. [The protein stromal-derived factor 1 (SDF-1)] looks like it could be that missing link ... The finding could explain why [existing] therapies have only been partially effective in restoring proper blood flow to limbs affected by peripheral vascular disease. ... Without SDF-1, you've only got a part of the mechanism." Given the importance of blood vessel formation to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, a full understanding of the mechanisms involved will assist a wide range of further research.
Transferring Cancer Resistance (May 09 2006)
Via WESH.com, a look at transferring cancer resistance between mice and what that could mean for human cancer therapies: "Three years ago, Wake Forest researchers discovered a mouse that could not get cancer no matter how hard they tried to give it the disease. ... white blood cells from that mouse's descendants were injected into ordinary mice with cancer and their disease was completely wiped out. The treatment worked with a variety of cancers, including those similar to end-stage human cancers. ... The goal now is to find a human treatment that could avoid the rejection problem by using a patient's own cells. White cells from a cancer patient would be combined in a test tube with the specific anti-cancer gene and then given back to the same patient." Scientists do not yet know how this cancer resistance works in mice - this is early stage work, for all its promise.
Senescence or Cancer: Pick One (May 09 2006)
A good popular science article on telomere biology from Innovations-Reports: "Without the enzyme [called telomerase] that 'regenerates' telomeres (the ends of DNA), stem cells lose functionality and the organism rapidly ages, while it acquires cancer resistance. ... the lack of telomerase causes a severe defect in the fundamental functions of stem cells. ... in genetically modified mice that did not express telomerase, stem cells lost their functionality and became unable to regenerate the damaged epithelial tissue. On the whole, these mice aged more rapidly than normal mice. But, there was a very interesting side effect: without telomerase, mice showed a marked cancer resistance. ... Further experiments on telomeres structure showed that every time the shortening process is altered, the result is either 'early aging and cancer resistance' (if shortening is boosted), or 'aging inhibition and more cancer occurrence' (if shortening is reduced)."
Interview With Nick Bostrom (May 08 2006)
The Guardian is running a short interview with Nick Bostrom, author of The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, amongst other works: "Now the discussions tend to start from the position that, yes, it will be increasingly possible to modify human capacities. ... For healthy adult people, the really big thing we can foresee are ways of intervening in the ageing process, either by slowing or reversing it. ... what you would need to do is either slow the rate at which this damage accumulates, or, even better, go in after the damage has accumulated and remove it. Stem cells, for instance, can be used to regrow cells that we have lost. And we might develop new enzymes which could break down those substances that the body, unaided, cannot deal with."
A Little Less Means More (May 08 2006)
Even slight calorie restriction is good for you, as noted at ScienceDaily: scientists "have found that eating a little less food and exercising a little more over a lifespan can reduce or even reverse aging-related cell and organ damage in rats. ... even small reductions in calories could have big effects on health and shed light on the molecular process responsible for the phenomenon, which until now has been poorly understood. ... This finding suggests that even slight moderation in intake of calories and a moderate exercise program is beneficial to a key organ such as the liver, which shows significant signs of dysfunction in the aging process. ... feeding rats just 8 percent fewer calories a day and moderately increasing the animals' activity extended their average lifespan and significantly overturned the negative effects of cellular aging on liver function and overall health." File this under "how good health practices actually work."