LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
July 17 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 Results and Discussion
- One Hundred for The Three Hundred!
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
$20,000 SENS CHALLENGE RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The $20,000 SENS Challenge has a result! You can catch up on the latest in the following Fight Aging! post, the Methuselah Foundation press release, and the Technology Review website:
I have also taken a moment to round up some of the more interesting commentary from around the blogosphere:
What does it all mean? I will go so far as to say that when you are selling an idea that speaks for itself - such as the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and a plausible future that is absent age-related frailty and suffering - your challenge is a matter of setting it in front of people who would otherwise not have paid attention. In this, the Methuselah Foundation continues to improve.
I we can but continue to draw more attention to the prospects for extending the healthy human life span over the next few decades, widespread support for the necessary research will come. You can follow further discussion on this topic at the Immortality Institute forums:
ONE HUNDRED FOR THE THREE HUNDRED!
I am very pleased to note that the 100th philanthropist of modest means has joined The Three Hundred, people just like you and I who stand together in support of the MPrize for anti-aging research. Membership is a matter of a few dollars each day, but these generous donors have helped to place the Methuselah Foundation on the map over the past two years - and thereby start a sea change in the way the public views the future of healthy life extension science.
We stand at the very beginning of the construction of a research infrastructure and culture of support for longevity research that will one day rival the cancer establishment in size and dedication. The more effective our support today, the sooner large-scale research into greatly extending the healthy human life span will begin.
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/
Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells (July 16 2006)
Now that scientists are well aware of cancer stem cells, it seems they are being found everywhere. From MedlinePlus: "Primitive cells that resemble stem cells may help some ovarian cancer tumors linger and recur in the body, but it may be possible to subdue them ... The findings build on other studies that show leukemia, breast, brain and other tumors have so-called side population cells that resemble the healthy stem cells found elsewhere in the body. ... Cancer stem cells, like somatic stem cells, are thought to be capable of unlimited self-renewal and proliferation ... The majority of patients who respond to primary chemotherapy ultimately develop recurrent, usually drug-resistant, disease that is conceivably due to the ability of ovarian cancer stem cells to escape these drugs." Researchers believe they will be able to effectively target cancer stem cells with the next generation of therapies.
Part of the Cost of Alzheimer's (July 16 2006)
Age-related frailty and disease destroys wealth and the ability to build more wealth - and then costs more besides for care, as Forbes notes: "The estimated total worldwide cost of caring for people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia now tops $248 billion U.S annually. That estimate, based on a worldwide prevalence estimate of nearly 28 million people with Alzheimer's and dementia, includes a newly determined figure of $92 billion for informal care costs. That amount was combined with an earlier estimate of $156 billion earmarked for direct care costs." Compare this with the staggering, vastly greater costs of general age-related degeneration; trillions for each year. People have been persuaded to effectively fight Alzheimer's. Why then is it so much harder to persuade people to fight aging for exactly the same reasons?
TheraVitae in North America (July 15 2006)
This release notes that TheraVitae, who have been providing a successful stem cell therapy for heart damage in Thailand, have established a subsidiary in Canada: "The Company will start clinical development of the lead product VesCell and will continue to develop additional products for cardiovascular and other severe disorders. Established in Toronto, Canada TheraVitae Inc. plans to submit regulatory requests to Health Canada and the FDA for a clinical trial of its therapy for congestive heart failure." The regulatory regime for medicine in America is oppressive, delivering nothing but delay and additional cost - and ensuring that innovators provide their services in other parts of the world. Ask yourself this: what are those who suffer and die of heart disease in the US really gaining through the years of delay and tens of millions of dollars imposed upon the deployment of demonstrably effective therapies?
LEx Prize (July 15 2006)
The American Academy for Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) has been quietly promoting the concept of a $1 million LEx / Life Extension Prize, already 1/3 funded by the look of it. Their objective appears to be to encourage the development of responsible anti-aging medicine through objective measure of performance. This is a laudable goal within their fraud-ridden industry and definition of anti-aging medicine (the prevention and treatment of age-related disease), but has the look of a project that needs further thought and definition. How do you define 20 years of reversal in the chosen biomarkers of aging? Do you acknowledge that reversal of the chosen biomarkers may have no effect on the underlying processes of aging - and may even reduce life span, as seems to be the case for growth hormone? You should read biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's comments to a Fight Aging! post on aging biomarkers, and a further discussion on the same the following year.
An Introduction to Cancer Stem Cells (July 14 2006)
ScienCentral is running a gentle introduction to cancer stem cells and their significance: "cancer stem cells were first discovered in 1994. Since then, cancer stem cells have also been found in breast cancer, brain cancers, and prostate cancer. ... in addition to the published cancers, I know of four other types of cancer where the stem cell population has been identified ... Using a sophisticated instrument called a flow cytometer that sorts out stem cells from tissue samples, the researchers can also isolate cancer stem cells from tumors. Then they can test the cells' ability to form new tumors. ... What we found was as few as 100 of the cancer stem cells could easily re-form a tumor whereas tens of thousands of the other cancer cells were totally unable to form a new tumor." Researchers believe that attacking these stem cells with targetted therapies will be an effective new direction for cancer research.
An Example of Hormesis (July 14 2006)
I've mentioned hormesis and longevity once or twice: a little stress on a biological organism tends to harden it up and make it live a little longer. This Biogerontology paper provides an example of the process in worms: "Mild hormetic heat treatments early in life can significantly increase the lifespan of the nematode C. elegans. We have examined the effects of heat treatments at different ages and show that treatments early in life cause the largest increases in lifespan. We also find that repeated mild heat treatments throughout life have a larger effect on lifespan compared to a single mild heat treatment early in life. We hypothesize that the magnitude of the hormetic effect is related to the levels of heat shock protein expression." This sort of longevity research is akin to metabolic investigations - interesting, probably somewhat useful, but ultimately nowhere near as helpful as other, more direct avenues of anti-aging research.
Selling Fundamental Futurism (July 13 2006)
(From Pioneer Press). Entrepreneur and futurist Ray Kurzweil continues to do a good job in selling the commonsense fundamentals of futurism to the public: "Biological processes are essentially programming processes. We'll be able to reprogram biology and overcome major diseases in 15 years. ... In 10 to 15 years, we'll have this fantastic technology to slow down cancer and heart disease." Great gains in support for healthy life extension and other important goals can be attained by guiding people through the disconnect between what they know is true - rapid progress today, in other words - and what they have trouble visualizing: the consequent potential of exponential progress towards radical change and improvement within our lifetimes. I believe Kurzweil's timelines are optimistic - for reasons relating to human organizational inertia - but not by more than a couple of decades, absent bad scenarios.
Mechanical Roots of Atherosclerosis (July 13 2006)
It's not all biochemistry in the body: scientists are discovering that mechanical forces can have important effects at the cellular level: "Atherosclerotic narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries typically appear first at vessel branches, and a [study] reports that the type of mechanical stretching found at those branches activates a cellular protein known to damage cells. The report is the first to link mechanical forces with structural and biochemical changes in blood vessel cells that could explain why atherosclerotic lesions form preferentially at branches of coronary arteries. ... The cellular protein in question is called JNK, which is short for c-jun N-terminal kinase. The protein is a key barometer of outside stresses on a variety of cell types. Researchers are examining the role of JNK in many diseases because it regulates the expression of genes involved in programmed cell death, tumor genesis, and other stress responses."
More Multipotency From Follicles (July 12 2006)
Scientists continue to better coax multipotent stem cells from hair follicles, as noted by EurekAlert!: "Hair follicles are well known to be a source for adult stem cells. Using human embryonic stem cell culture conditions, the researchers isolated and grew a new type of multipotent adult stem cell from scalp tissue ... The mutipotent stem cells grow as masses the investigators call hair spheres. After growing the 'raw' cells from the hair spheres in different types of growth factors, the investigators were able to differentiate the stem cells into multiple lineages, including nerve cells, smooth muscle cells, and melanocytes (skin pigment cells). ... Although we are just at the start of this research, our findings suggest that human hair follicles may provide an accessible, individualized source of stem cells." A low-cost, reliable source of this nature would greatly speed the development of tailored regenerative repair kits capable of engineering new tissue on demand.
On Aging Theories (July 12 2006)
This PDF-format paper looks at varying aging theories and what they might mean for the prospects of developing medical technologies to halt or reverse age-related degeneration. "The feasibility of developing any such treatment depends on the existence of common factors involved in causing many or most of the manifestations. Further, in order to be 'treatable' a factor would need to be sufficiently independent of any function that we need to live happily in order that altering the factor did not cause significant adverse effects. Few would want an anti-aging treatment that resulted in blindness or some other major side-effect. The potential for the existence of treatable common factors is highly dependent on aging theories. Depending on which theory you believe, the likelihood of finding such factors ranges from 'impossible' to 'very probable'."
LiveScience on the SENS Challenge (July 11 2006)
LiveScience has up an article on the results of the $20,000 SENS Challenge. It, like the results themselves, is illustrative of confusion as to the nature of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senesence (SENS), and what is meant by "science" - confusion that will have to be cleared up at some point in the near future. Given that the first SENS projects aimed at repairing one aspect of age-related cellular damage are presently underway at the hands of scientists - in laboratories, using the scientific method, aiming at publication and peer review, and so forth - I think it's rather hard to say it's not science. Science is a matter of plans, tasks and speculative research as well as what has come before and is, for the moment, proven. SENS is science in the sense of an ongoing - and only partly funded as yet - project plan based upon the best of present day knowledge, not science in the sense of what you find in a textbook. You can find more in this vein in my commentary on the results at Fight Aging!
More on Regrowing Neurons (July 11 2006)
Via the Technology Review, a short overview of recent research into regenerative medicine for neurodegeneration: "We know new cells are made and go to the site of new injury, whether it's stroke or Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. One strategy to treat neurodegeneration is to boost this response. ... Recent studies have shown that many types of drugs - antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering drugs, even Viagra - spur growth of new neurons in the brain ... scientists can use these compounds to figure out how certain drugs trigger neurogenesis and then try to find or design compounds that boost new cell growth even more effectively ... scientists found that a drug similar to those used to treat Parkinson's disease can spur growth of new neurons in the brain area damaged in the disease. Scientists found that treated animals had twice the number of proliferating neurons as control animals, and that many of the newly generated cells appeared to develop into dopamine neurons. In addition, the animals showed an 80 percent improvement in their motor ability."
Profile of a Tissue Engineer (July 11 2006)
The New York Times profiles researcher Anthony Atala: "The field of tissue engineering is large in this endeavor, with researchers like Dr. Atala exploring a basic approach. To repair or replace parts, they seed a biodegradable scaffold with cells and insert it into the body, where the cells, if all goes smoothly, mature into functioning tissue. At the institute, he and more than 80 colleagues are working on tissue replacement projects for practically every body part - blood vessels and nerves, muscles, cartilage and bones, esophagus and trachea, pancreas, kidneys, liver, heart and even uterus. In the long term, the scientists hope, patients may no longer have to wait on the national transplant list 'for someone to die so they can live,' as Dr. Atala puts it. Organs could be tailor-made for people."
Cryonics and Uncaring Government (July 10 2006)
Irresponsibility and lack of accountability built into the structure of modern government leads to the casual, uncaring treading of freedoms underfoot. In this case, the business of cryonics was made illegal in British Columbia, as reported in The Tyee: "when B.C.'s anti-cryonics law came into place, Best doggedly researched the whys and what-fors of the law. ... After contacting many government officials, I discovered that this law was created by one bureaucrat and everyone else just went along with it. I think this guy even forgot he'd done this when I contacted him again 10 years later. So it was a pretty slapdash thing, but once in place, hard to change." And yet people go along with it, making it easier for the next bureaucrat to invade their lives and steal freedoms. Beyond the aspect that caught my libertarian eye, you should find this article to be an informative, respectful look at modern cryonics and its supporters: read it.
A Chapter on Reliability Theory (July 10 2006)
A PDF of the first chapter of the Handbook of the Biology of Aging is freely available. It discusses the reliability theory of aging and longevity: "Empirical observations on aging have become so abundant that a special four-volume encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Aging (1,591 pages), is now required for even partial coverage of the accumulated facts. To transform these numerous and diverse observations into a comprehensive body of knowledge a general theory of species aging and longevity is required. ... A reliability-engineering approach to biological aging is appealing because it provides a common scientific language (general framework) for scientists working in different areas of aging research,
helping to overcome disruptive specialization and allowing researchers to
understand each other. Specifically, reliability theory helps researchers define more clearly what is aging. In reliability theory, aging is defined as a phenomenon of increasing risk of failure with the passage of time (age)."