LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 12 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 Update
- Primary Aging, Secondary Aging
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
$20,000 SENS CHALLENGE UPDATE
The SENS Challenge issued by the MIT Technology Review is moving forward again, following on the announcement of the panel of judges in March, including luminaries such as Craig Venter and Nathan Myhrvold:
The objective of the challenge - at least in the mind of editor Jason Pontin - is to obtain a robust scientific demolition of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). Such a demolition was expected but not forthcoming in support of those contentious, and rather obnoxious, articles on SENS and biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey published early last year.
When Pontin ran into the same problem as the rest of us - i.e. that the conservative end of mainstream gerontology is playing King Canute against the tide of progress by holing up and refusing to publicly debate the new paradigm for scientific anti-aging research on the merits - he was sufficiently irked to set this Challenge in motion. No one likes to be hung out to dry by his or her sources.
For a more detailed examination as to why we're still largely stuck with conservatism and silence in public from mainstream gerontologists - the Longevity Dividend proposal aside - you might try these pieces:
In any case, enough background reading! Pontin may not be a supporter of healthy life extension, but he is helping to overcome a known obstacle to progress in this field. The latest update is that the first three challenge submissions have been made, and are available to read, along with Aubrey de Grey's rebuttals and counter-responses from the challengers. The judges are now deliberating and will issue their decision by July 11th:
A number of folk, myself included, have posted some first thoughts already. You'll find links and discussion in the following Fight Aging! posts:
Lots of opinions out there - but take a look at the submissions and the numerous commentaries and make your own mind up. The consensus to date would seem to be that an award of the $20,000 pot is unlikely if the judges have their heads screwed on right, and that public awareness of serious anti-aging research (and the Technology Review, for better or worse) will benefit from this exercise.
For my part, I hope that six months from now, we will look back and see this as another solid stepping stone towards wider engagement within the scientific community with the concepts of directed, urgent, motivated anti-aging research. The process of building a foundation for large-scale funding and a research infrastructure has to move faster if we are to see the technologies of healthy life extension within our lifetimes. Time is ticking away.
PRIMARY AGING, SECONDARY AGING
Some of you may not have been exposed to the convention of dividing aging into "primary" and "secondary" buckets. It's an occasionally useful way of looking at things, and I have noticed it seeping into the mainstream and popular science press of late. This is a good sign to my mind, as it means the wider discussion about potential longevity medicine, calorie restriction research and related items is becoming larger, more educated and sophisticated. That in turn means more public support and more dollars for research in years to come - we should do our best to ensure this trend continues.
The definitions of primary and secondary aging, and some further thoughts on the matter, can be found in this Fight Aging! post:
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/
Aubrey de Grey Interview Podcast (June 11 2006)
Methuselah Foundation volunteer Mark Patterson has been stepping up to the plate and getting radio show interviews with biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey organized in his area. This is exactly the sort of thing I like to see - people like you or I making an effort, moving forward with advocacy and education for healthy life extension research. Via the modern miracle of podcasting, any local radio show of interest can make it into wider circulation - so go and listen to this one: "Is it possible to stop people from growing old? Dr. Aubrey de Grey of the Methuselah Foundation is one of the world's leading experts on biogerontology, the study of anti-aging. At least that's what Mark Patterson says. He and de Grey are the guests on the June 11 Wake-Up Call." You might also be interested in another podcast radio show from the same series of interviews.
Better Delivery Means Better Therapies (June 11 2006)
Via AzoNano, a glance at the proliferation of clever new technologies for targeting therapies - most notably anti-cancer therapies - to a particular location in the body. Killing cancer cells is easy, but doing it without harming healthy tissue is extraordinarily hard; one might say that this is the main hurdle to be overcome by present day research. Nanoscale manufacturing and the automation made possible by advancing information technology is leading to up to a leap in effectiveness for a wide range of present and possible therapies: "The nanomedicine work [has] far-reaching implications for a variety of disease areas, including neurological disease and cardiac disease ... Because the nanocarriers proved to be significantly stable and because they retained the PDT drugs, we are optimistic that they will be able to deliver a wide range of therapies to tumors or other disease sites in the body without any significant loss in the circulatory system or in normal tissues."
Air Quality, Correlation and Causation (June 10 2006)
"Correlation does not imply causation" - repeat three times before looking at the results of any study of data. Via the LEF News, reports of a correlation between air quality and life expectancy in the US: "The findings were based on research in metropolitan areas in six states ... participants, ages 25 to 74 when the study began, were followed for a period of 24 years. Air quality improvements were matched by a proportional drop in death rates from cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and lung cancer, the study found." I would be willing to wager that the correlation has more to do with the relative wealth of these areas and those who make the economic choice to live there, as well as access to medical technology and lifestyle choices. Things are rarely as simple as a two-parameter study casts them to be.
Continuing Growth in Life Expectancy (June 10 2006)
(From the Telegraph). Life expectancy is continuing to rise, just as one would expect from the Reliability Theory of aging and across the board improvements in medical technology: "Life expectancy in Britain has been increasing at a rate of five hours every day ... Previous forecasts of life expectancy had predicted that the rapid increase seen in recent decades would begin to level off steeply, and bump up against a ceiling, but the ageing process seems much more malleable than this. ... Biological research over the last 20 years has shown us that actually there is no strict biological programme for ageing and no set upper limit for the length of human life. It is about time people woke up to this. ... At the moment we have an extraordinarily ageist society. It is about time we recognised that people are living longer and longer." Those extra years are extra healthy years - and we could be doing far better to provide more of them.
More Oxidative Stress Research (June 09 2006)
Scientists are making progress in unraveling the complex biochemistry of oxidative stress: how it originates, how it damages our cells, how it contributes to age-related conditions. Via RxPG News, a look at recent research: "Just as humans undergo daily stress, so do our individual cells. The cellular variety, called oxidative stress, is caused by the build-up of free radicals, which over time inflict damage linked to aging and age related diseases such as Alzheimer's. [Researchers] have now defined a molecular signaling pathway by which oxidative stress triggers cell death, a finding that could pave the way for new drug targets and diagnostic strategies for age-related diseases. ... Once stimulated by oxidative stress, MST acts in its capacity as an enzyme to modify and thereby activate the FOXO proteins, instructing the FOXO proteins to move from the periphery of the cell into the nucleus of neurons. Once in the nucleus, the FOXO proteins were found to turn on genes that commit neurons to programmed death."
Embryonic Stem Cell Research Picking Up (June 09 2006)
The International Herald-Tribune notes one manifestation of a return by funding organizations and scientists to building an embryonic stem cell research infrastructure. "Scientists at two universities - the University of California at San Francisco and Harvard - will try to develop embryonic stem cells from the adult cells of patients suffering from certain diseases. Their purpose in creating the cell lines, which require making an early human embryo, is to study how the diseases develop, and to see if replacement cells can be generated to repair the patient's own degenerating tissues." Five or more years of damage have been done by anti-research politics and the unfortunate consequences of a centralized, powerful, meddling system of governance - the benefits of this research to those suffering and dying from age-related diseases will be similarly postponed. This is what happens when freedom of research is blocked and curtailed: the suffering and death continues unabated.
SENS Challenge Submissions Unveiled (June 08 2006)
The next step in the $20,000 SENS Challenge is now online at the MIT Technology Review. Three critiques of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) - the start of a roadmap to effective therapies to prevent and repair degenerative aging - and biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's rebuttals are available for consideration by the recently formed panel of judges. Good to see progress towards greater engagement and debate by the scientific community! Science is not advanced when the old guard refuses to debate new ideas and paradigms on the merits - constant, robust examination is a pillar of the scientific method. Only by widening the debate within and surrounding the scientific community can the SENS proposals be made more robust, and formed into the best possible course towards radical life extension within our lifetimes. You'll find more thoughts over at Fight Aging!
More Possible Eye Regeneration (June 08 2006)
(From EurekAlert). Researchers are consistently finding that tissues thought not to regenerate do, in fact, have some capacity for regrowth. Modern biotechnology can then be turned to make "some" into "a lot": "scientists conducting experiments with mice have found evidence that the body naturally replenishes small amounts of cells in the eye essential for healthy vision. The finding may shatter the belief that a cell layer vital for eyesight called the retinal pigment epithelium, or RPE, is a nonrenewable resource ... What this tells us is for problems such as age-related macular degeneration, we should be able to harvest stem cells to help repair the damage ... In people, retinal pigment epithelium can become damaged with age. ... The problem is without these cells, the rods and cones - our primary cells for vision - die. If we can regenerate the retinal pigment epithelium, it could make a big difference in our visual health."
Interesting Fly Longevity Research (June 07 2006)
EurekAlert brings us interesting research in flies: scientists "showed in 2003 that boosting the amount of a molecular signal known as JNK in a fruit fly allows the fly to live 85 days instead of 60, by spurring the fly to defend itself more aggressively against the oxidative stress that accelerates with aging. ... While scientists knew that JNK in a fly cranks up the anti-oxidants, helping to keep the integrity of genes and proteins [intact], few had considered that simply boosting the amount of JNK could have such a broad impact on life span. ... JNK targets the same protein as the widely studied insulin receptor, central to human health and to the disease process that underlies diabetes ... We're learning that an organism's life span may not be limited by design. It was once thought that people and other organisms could simply live only a certain number of years and that's it. Instead, our genes play a crucial role in determining and adjusting how long we live. Can we control this process more fully?"
Tissue Engineering Heart Tissue (June 07 2006)
Via ABC Online, a look at one strategy to build three-dimensional tissue structures: "It involves combining the expertise of biologists and chemical engineers, particularly where we mix cells and scaffolds together and implant them in the body where they grow and mature and develop into specific tissues. ... this essentially is an empty box into which we implant a blood vessel using microsurgery techniques. ... we use microsurgery to create this environment and we mix cells inside this chamber and we let them grow according to the specific environment that we can create. Now, currently we have been able to make breast tissue, fat, muscle, pancreas tissue that secretes insulin and we have also created thymus tissue, which may have an application in immunology. ... There is an artery in it that keeps this alive, but the heart cells are actually beating at their own rhythm."
John Holloszy on Calorie Restriction (June 06 2006)
The MIT Technology Review recently interviewed researcher John Holloszy: practitioners of calorie restriction [CR] are "are powerfully protected against the diseases of old age, such as heart disease. They have low levels of cholesterol and triglycerides and extremely low blood pressure - similar to a young child, around 100/60. As a result of the low blood pressure, they have less strain on the arteries, which are much more elastic than usual for people of their age. Their hearts resemble the heart of a person 17 years younger. They also have very good insulin sensitivity, so they are not going to get Type 2 diabetes. ... As we get older, we get an increasing amount of inflammation, which is probably a very important part of the aging process. [CR practitioners] have very low levels of inflammation. C reactive protein, for example, is a marker and cause of inflammation. An average value for a middle-age person is about 2.5; but [CR practitioners] have levels of 0.2. It's just amazing."
Engineering Bone Growth (June 06 2006)
Researchers at HHMI are working on another way to stimulate bone growth - a potential strategy to treat osteoporosis: "slightly increasing the activity of a protein called NFATc1 causes massive bone accumulation ... Mice with the hyperactive NFATc in their osteoblasts had an immense increase in bone mass compared to normal mice, suggesting that the balance between bone formation and breakdown had tipped. ... The results were dramatic, yet the molecular alteration is very, very minimal ... NFATc1 in the mice that developed extra bone mass was only 10 percent more active than it is in normal mice. ... If you could find a small molecule that would flip 10 percent of the existing NFATc into the active form, you could favor the formation of osteoblasts and make stronger bones."
On Parkinson's As Faster Aging (June 05 2006)
A slightly different take on recent research into Parkinson's disease and mitochondria can be found at the Daily Progress: "In one sense, the disease may represent a premature aging of the nervous system ... In aging, what happens over time is the rate at which you produce oxygen free radicals exceeds the rate at which you can detoxify them ... for some reason, he said, people with Parkinson's have more damage from free radicals ... Bennett hopes that as he learns more [he] can begin to test a drug that would absorb the free radicals in the neuronal mitochondria and stop the damage they cause. He also hopes to develop a way to test mitochondrial damage in other tissues or cells, such as in blood platelets, to come up with an earlier way to test for Parkinson’s. The disease can only be diagnosed currently when symptoms begin to appear, which Elliott said occurs after 70 percent to 80 percent of the dopamine cells have already been lost."
Back to Aging by Gender (June 05 2006)
A Newswise release delves back into the whys and wherefores of gender differences in life span and aging: "It has been widely assumed that men age earlier than women, as evidenced by their higher mortality rates and shorter average life spans. But [researchers] contend that the opposite is true. ... theory and data suggest that females begin to exhibit signs of physiological decline earlier than males, and that higher mortality figures are not necessarily correlated with the rate at which we age. ... There is also the physiological cost of testosterone, which suppresses the immune system and results in higher death rates among males due to infectious diseases and cancer. During the evolutionary history of our species, few individuals lived long enough to express genes that cause physiological deterioration late in life, so those genes had little effect on fitness and there was little natural selection to remove them. ... Getting old, falling apart and dying is not an adaptive trait. It evolves because of a lack of natural selection."