LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
July 03 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.
- People: The Contrary Species
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
PEOPLE: THE CONTRARY SPECIES
If you tuned in this week to listen to thoughts on the contrary nature of humanity, what we want, and how we act insofar as healthy life extension is concerned, then you're in luck. I'm sure by now you're all aware of the benefits of calorie restriction for the future of your healthy longevity. It's really no tougher than Weight Watchers or any other brand diet, but I'll be willing to bet that barely one in fifty of you folks actually practice it. Why would that be?
Almost everyone wants to be healthy and long-lived, but all too few actually put in the modest work required to make it happen:
"Calorie restriction is less popular than it might be because humans have a dreadfully short time preference - the lower regions of our brains value present food far more than the prospect of being alive and healthy decades from now. In effect, we've all evolved to screw the person we're going to be; good now, not so good when you have become that person."
The same goes for donations to worthy causes, such as the growing MPrize for anti-aging research and the associated donor-supported research projects of the Methuselah Foundation. Only a small fraction of the healthy life extension community has stepped forward so far, for all they have pledged more than $3 million to the cause of defeating degenerative aging. Is a philanthropist or visionary simply someone who values the future - and being alive and healthy to enjoy it - more highly than the next person in line?
Perhaps the low profile of modern healthy life extension advocacy is a symptom of any young movement. See how it all appears from a distance in the following Fight Aging! post, for example:
Watching a disinterested journalist mangle their way through the diverse factions of gerontology and the "anti-aging" marketplace is rather painful. But that is still the way we appear to much of the world at large - all mashed up into one block where real science has as much weight as the latest fad salesman to commandeer the buzzwords.
Before you dismiss this concern, noting that good progress has been made in the past few years, consider that no such problem exists for cancer research. The infrastructure and culture of serious longevity research will need to become that large, well understood and well supported in order to make meaningful progress within our lifetimes. It will be a tough job, taking years - advocacy always is, even when it is overwhelmingly, amazingly successful, as was the case for AIDS research. Yet people truly want this; just look at the sort of interest spurred by talk of a plausible, scientific path towards radical life extension:
So yes, people are contrary creatures. Radical life extension will come to pass, have no doubt of that. The burning question is whether we can persuade, organize, advocate, raise funding, research and educate sufficiently well to bring the first steps to pass within our lifetimes. The operative word here is "we" - if we don't step up to make it happen, who will?
You don't have to let the lower regions of your brain - comfort now, and to hell with later - rule your life and by doing so cut it short. Take control of your destiny: take better care of your health and lifestyle today, and support the research that will provide a longer, healthier tomorrow:
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/
Confirming Immortal DNA (July 02 2006)
News-Medical.net reports on confirmation of "immortal DNA" in stem cells: "When a cell divides, its DNA is duplicated and each resulting daughter cell inherits one copy of the DNA. Over time, errors arising during the duplication process can lead to mutations and cause cancers. ... A stem cell can produce two different daughter cells when it divides in the body - another stem cell and a specialised cell that will contribute to the tissue. This is called 'asymmetric division' and helps stem cells regulate their numbers and retain their capacity to regenerate tissue throughout the life of an organism. According to the immortal DNA hypothesis, when a stem cell divides, only the specialised cell inherits the imperfect copied DNA. The stem cell retains the original 'immortal' DNA strand." There are many other sources of DNA damage that can affect a stem cell, possibly turning it into a cancer stem cell. The full paper for this research - which outlines thoughts on immortal DNA, stem cells and aging - is freely available at Cancer Research.
A Future of Longevity (July 02 2006)
(From Cosmos). Damien Broderick, author of The Spike, takes a look at the coming technological singularity and what it will mean for our healthy longevity: "Here's a jolting change greater than anything we've seen so far in history: by the middle of this century it's possible, even probable, that the relentless ageing of our bodies will be halted by advances in biological understanding plus remarkable new medical interventions. However slowly these health improvements start out, they will carry their beneficiaries forward, step-by-step, year after year, to an era where everyone who chooses has the option of rejuvenation and indefinitely extended youth. Until now, as the playwright Tom Stoppard has noted wryly, 'age is a very high price to pay for maturity.' ... Is there any reason why we can't learn the secrets of the egg cells that ensure healthy youngsters, and then apply those lessons to keep all our adult cells, and the tissues they comprise, healthy and youthful?"
The Cost of Diabetes (July 01 2006)
Is it effective - in terms of making people pay attention and take action to support research - to speak of the cost of an age-related disease in terms of years? Does this strategy work for aging in general, in support of SENS research, for example? Via WebMD: "in general, people with diabetes have a risk for heart disease (such as heart attack), stroke, and death from any cause similar to someone more than a decade older but without the disease. Those with diabetes tended to be 15 years younger than people without diabetes when they developed risk factors putting them at high risk for heart attacks and strokes. For men with diabetes, the average age for the transition from moderate to high risk was 48. For women it was 54. ... men diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 40 die, on average, 11 to 18 years earlier than men without the disease. Women diagnosed at the same age die 14 to 22 years earlier than women without diabetes." Remember that type 2 - age-related - diabetes is largely preventable.
Nature Insight on Stem Cells (July 01 2006)
The latest Nature Insight makes for good reading on the topic of stem cell research. It includes a bloglike forum for comments, podcast interviews with scientists, and free access to a number of interesting papers - such as "Stem cells, ageing and the quest for immortality": "There is an overall decline in tissue regenerative potential with age, and the question arises as to whether this is due to the intrinsic ageing of stem cells or, rather, to the impairment of stem-cell function in the aged tissue environment. Unravelling these distinct contributions to the aged phenotype will be critical to the success of any therapeutic application of stem cells in the emerging field of regenerative medicine with respect to tissue injury, degenerative diseases or normal functional declines that accompany ageing."
Inducing Nerve, Blood Vessel Regrowth (June 30 2006)
Scientists are working on a variety of approches to stimulating specific tissue regrowth. Here, EurekAlert! brings news of another possible strategy: "The therapy involves netrins, a family of proteins that promotes nerve development. ... netrins not only accelerated blood vessel growth in ischemic mice (those with constricted blood flow) but they also restored blood vessel and nerve growth in diabetic mice. ... In the mice whose blood circulation was decreased by peripheral vascular disease, the researchers found netrins and [vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) delivered by gene therapy] promoted blood vessel growth equally well. But in the diabetic mice, netrins proved markedly better at promoting blood vessel and nerve growth than VEGF ... Gene therapy requires expertise that is available in only a few medical centers. The hope is that netrins could be more effective and may not have to be delivered as a gene therapy, making it available to a much larger group of patients."
More On Limb Regeneration Research (June 30 2006)
From EurekAlert!, a minor update on one of the higher profile efforts to develop limb regeneration technologies: the immediate goal "is to find ways to harness the body's natural regenerative abilities to heal limb wounds that involve bone, muscle, nerves, and soft tissue. For a model of tissue restoration, the scientists will look to the salamander, the only vertebrate that can regrow functional limbs as an adult. Adult salamanders are able to restore lost limbs by first making a blastema, a mass of undifferentiated cells much like stem cells. ... researchers will then attempt to recreate that regenerative ability in the mouse, giving this animal model the ability to develop a blastema and regenerate digits. ... if they are successful in achieving limb regrowth in a mammalian model, it will be the first step toward the long-term goal of regenerating digits, and perhaps whole limbs, in humans."
Russian Cryonics (June 29 2006)
The St. Petersburg Times provides an interesting look at the culture and goals of cryonics seen through Russian eyes. "'We founded the company because human life is the most important thing there is. To lose a life without putting up a fight is a crime.' Potapov and his co-founders say they are Transhumanists, who believe technology can be used to transform human life and postpone death indefinitely. They founded Kriorus, the world's first cryonics company outside the United States, in 2005 so that they and their family members would have a place to stay until medicine found a way to bring them back to life. Now, for $9,000, anyone can spend eternity, or some portion of it, in cryonic stasis." This all sounds similar to the early history of cryonics in the US; a few people standing up to try and make a difference. More power to them. Cryonics remains the only option for people who will die before the coming era of working healthy life extension medicine: in a kinder world, this industry would be prospering.
Delta G and Cancer Metabolism (June 29 2006)
A short article in Cambridge Evening News notes: "Two years ago Delta G, formed by William Bains, received £130,000 of funding to work on the ideas of Dr Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge researcher. Dr de Grey's work concentrates on the metabolism of cells and what goes wrong as they age. ... Cancer cells use the energy they get from metabolism abnormally - a difference that many scientists have tried to fathom. Now, Delta G has discovered exactly what is wrong with cancer cells, allowing researchers to target them more effectively." A patent is on the way; Delta G's cancer science overview makes for interesting reading: "Delta G takes a new approach. It has been known for over 50 years that energy metabolism in cancer cells is abberant. ... Delta G is developing drugs that shoot at this target, attacking what cancer cells are rather than what they do."
From Cancer To Neural Regrowth (June 28 2006)
From Newswise, a report of a potentially positive outgrowth from cancer research: "Our finding suggests that the same process this protein uses for proliferating cancer could also potentially be used to regrow axons that are damaged in spinal cord injuries or neurological diseases ... The proteins - known as Id proteins - are abundant in the cells of many different types of cancer [and] were known to promote tumor growth and aid in the spread of cancer. ... Normally neurons cannot regenerate damaged axons because of the presence of myelin, a substance that surrounds the axons, but the degradation-resistant "super" Id protein was able to promote axon growth even in the presence of myelin. ... there is no chance that such a therapy would cause cancer in the brain or spinal cord. ... Neurons have completely lost the ability to create new cells so there's no danger of creating a tumor. The only growth they're capable of is regeneration of their axons."
Progeria and the Brittle Nucleus (June 28 2006)
(From EurekAlert!) Scientists continue to forge ahead in their understanding of the lamin biochemistry of progeria [HGPS], and the application of this knowledge to damage caused by "normal" aging. "The nucleus in all three trillion cells of the human body contains the DNA genome, which is wrapped with a stiff protein shell called the nuclear lamina. Children with HGPS have a mutation in one of the proteins of the lamina shell. ... the lamina shell in HGPS patients is stiffer than normal. However, stiffer isn't necessarily better. The stiffer lamina did protect the HGPS nucleus from some forces, but under excessive force the HGPS lamina was more brittle and eventually fractured. ... Once we understand what causes the lamina to stiffen, we can try to reverse or stop the problem. ... Our NIH collaborators have also found that the normal aged nuclei show the same structural changes as HGPS."
The Limit of Good Genes (June 27 2006)
April Smith makes a succinct point: "Whenever the subject of life-extending, age-reversing biomedicine comes up, someone always has to say, 'Well, I'm not worried about aging because I have good genes.' To which I ask one question: 'Has anyone in your family ever died?' If anyone at any point in your family has died or is currently dead, then I suggest that your genes are not so great. ... The whole point of [Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence research] is to find therapies that actually reverse the aging process, making death, well, not absolutely unavoidable but a lot less likely to come as soon as it comes now." What you can do for your healthy longevity today is merely a stepping stone; best we recognize that truth and act to improve the situation. Without advocacy, without significant progress in real anti-aging science - progress that is neither funded nor taking place at this time - we will not live that much longer than our parents.
Notch Research Again (June 27 2006)
Nature reports on regenerative research centering on the Notch protein: "Researchers believe that many of the body's tissues harbour stem cells capable of dividing to make new tissue. But some of these are recalcitrant and do not naturally divide to repair damage wreaked by severe injuries such as stroke or spinal-cord damage. ... one protein, called Notch, can boost the survival of three different types of stem cell. ... researchers do not yet know whether this could be used to treat humans after a stroke, because stimulating Notch could have many other, perhaps unwanted, effects in the brain. But it does suggest that drugs that provoke Notch or a related protein might one day be used to persuade stem cells in the brain or other tissues to do what doctors want."
A Glance At Tissue Engineering Funding (June 26 2006)
Via a suitably exuberant press release at Yahoo! News, we learn that tissue engineering concern Tengion is doing well: "the company has raised $50 million in a recently completed Series B equity financing. ... Tengion plans to use the proceeds to fund human clinical trials to advance the development of its lead product, the autologous neo-bladder construct, for the treatment of neurogenic bladder associated with spina bifida and spinal cord injuries." This is representative of the funding pouring into regenerative medicine and tissue engineering these days. Development of a research infrastructure capable of building replacement organs from your cells is well under way. The next decade will be a kinder place for those with failing and age-damaged tissues, but there is still much more to be done in the fight to cure aging.
More Nanog Research (June 26 2006)
More on Nanog and the creation of stem cells on demand through dedifferentiation via EurekAlert: in culture, embryonic stem [ES] cells tend "to lose stemness and evolve into muscle cell precursors, most likely goaded by a muscle differentiation factor known as BMP. ... When BMP turns ES cells into muscle it activates a protein called Smad1, a DNA-binding protein that, in opposition to Nanog, switches on genes responsible for muscle cell fate. Smad1 can only do this when assisted by generic factors known as co-activators, which stimulate gene expression. ... Nanog actually binds to Smad1 protein and interferes with its ability to recruit those obligatory coactivators, thereby rendering Smad1 powerless to initiate muscle gene expression. With Smad1 out of the game and Nanog in full control, cells revert to their forever-young state. ... in suitable conditions, differentiated cells are still capable of producing stem cells as descendants. The molecular mechanisms that we identified here might be used to regenerate stem cells from differentiated cells."