Longevity Meme Newsletter, August 14 2006

August 14 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.



- Aging is a Terrible, Disabling Disease That Kills You
- A Parable For Our Era
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Aging is, inarguably, a horrific medical condition that causes immense suffering, ongoing economic damage of hundreds of trillions of dollars yearly, and more than 100,000 deaths each and every day. I have it; you have it; we all have it. Yet few people view aging in the same way they view AIDS, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's and other equally terrible medical conditions we have become motivated to defeat. Why is this? Are we all so enamored of normalcies that any everyday horror is acceptable just so long as everyone shares it? Read more thoughts on this topic in the following Fight Aging! posts:


From Anne C.: "Think about it for a moment: if I described the physical signs and eventual prognosis of aging to you, but you didn't know how old the person was that I was talking about, would you seriously consider the condition to be something nobody should look into addressing medically?"


"You become stressed, sick and crazy if continually focused on matters you cannot change - and so evolution has led to humans who are very skilled at avoiding this sort of result. People being people, simple rationales became vast, complex, overwhelming cultural edifices over the generations. Now, at the dawn of the biotechnology era, the inevitable is no longer inevitable. The research establishment - if sufficiently funded and motivated - could make meaningful inroads into repairing and preventing the root causes of aging within our lifetime. The leftover cultural and hardwired human habits relating to our decay and mortality now actively hinder progress towards the elimination of age-related degeneration, disease, frailty and death."


The defining transformation of our time will be the successful struggle to mobilize science and public support to defeat aging. We are barely in the first years of this process, but a parable to encapsulate the whole has already been written: "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant" by Nick Bostrom, as it appeared in the Journal of Medical Ethics. I strongly encourage you read it:


The tale is a quality framing of the journey that matters: from acceptance of the daily toll of aging, through the struggle with ourselves to find the will to seek a cure, to the final defeat of age-related death and suffering.

Engineering the defeat of aging seems to me to be less difficult a problem than finding the widespread will and strong support needed to move forward. The serious aging and longevity science of today is far ahead of the support for this work; more funding would lead very directly to faster progress. This means that we advocates have a great deal of work to do - as does anyone who wants to see a future of working healthy life extension medicine and far longer, healthier lives.



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



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/

Looking at the Enemy (August 13 2006)
The Mayo Clinic provides a somewhat whitewashed, clinical guide to the degeneration of "normal aging." This is a part of what we fight to prevent by supporting the development of a meaningful anti-aging research infrastructure and community - this and more than 100,000 deaths every day. Experiencing these degenerations is much more of a horror - living in a failing body is anything but clinical. Yet matters are improving: "The longest documented human life span is 122 years. Though a life span that long is rare, improvements in medicine, science and technology during the last century have helped more people live longer, healthier lives. If you were born in the early 1900s in the United States, your life expectancy was only about 50 years. Today it's around 77." Improvement can continue, and will move faster in the future - but only if we all help to make it happen.

Life Span in Bees (August 13 2006)
An article from The Age notes research into the biochemistry of bee life spans: "The common worker bee lives just six weeks, but if the same egg was raised as a queen bee, the queen can live for up to six years. La Trobe University's David Vaux is a specialist in apoptosis, the science of how cells die. His research aims to unlock the answers to the queen bee's 50-fold increased lifespan. ... the only actively dividing or replicating cells in queen bees were the ovaries, suggesting that all the other cells in the queen were long-lived. The finding suggested that queen bees possess a cellular maintenance system that is not switched on in the worker bees." Greater repair of cellular damage should lead to longer life spans; the final results will no doubt be interesting, but most likely not directly relevant to human longevity. Researchers have learned a great deal about aging from flies and yeast, however, so we shall see.

Partial Immortalization (August 12 2006)
I seem to recall noting that we stand at something of a brand inflection for the future of healthy life extension. The old brands ("life extension", "anti-aging") are losing their strength or merits, and new labels have not yet arisen to prominence. So everyone picks their own, which is fine - let cultural evolution sort out the winners. If the Methuselah Foundation keeps up the good work, it'll be SENS all the way. In this context, I thought I would point you to a book and blog in slow progress - "Partial Immortalization: Regenerative medicine and its consequences". As for so many of these things, I suspect that the footprints left on the journey will prove more valuable than the initially selected destination. The more that people talk sensibly about the advance of healthy life extension medicine, the better. This broad conversation - in media of all sorts, multiple threads running, splitting and crossing all the time - is a necessary precursor to an environment more supportive of research funding.

Stress and Telomeres Again (August 12 2006)
Scientists have been exploring links between the biochemistry of stress and more rapidly shortened telomeres for a couple of years now. Here's more from Forbes: "We examined healthy women and found that psychological stress was related to [shortened telomeres]. As a result, the immune system of the stressed-out women is apparently aging at a faster rate. The treatments for this problem are what you might expect. 'Everything we already know about fighting off chronic disease, like getting sufficient sleep, staying active throughout life, and having a healthy diet' may stave off premature aging of the immune system." Shortened telomeres are linked to a number of age-related conditions. Stress is clearly a system-altering phenomenon for the human body, so the hypothesis here is plausible - but correlation is not causation. From where I stand, more delving into the mechanisms is needed to demonstrate that the stress response is acting as a significant source of life-shortening cellular damage.

Calories, SIRT1 and Alzheimer's (August 12 2006)
ScienCentral follows up on research into calorie restriction and neurodegeneration: "Calorie-restriction - consuming 30-percent fewer calories than normal - is the only scientifically proven way to slow the process of aging in organisms ranging from yeast to mammals. Now a new study in mice shows that through a similar mechanism, calorie restriction may also slow or prevent Alzheimer's disease. ... With this kind of calorie restriction we were able to improve memory function - I would say five-fold times more efficient ... Excitingly, we have been able to demonstrate that just the SIRT1 molecule, once re-introduced into brain cells was capable to recapitulate almost the same identical features of calorie restriction ... Through the regulation of SIRT1, we might be in a position to cure the disease."

Living Well to 100 Conference (August 11 2006)
The second Living Well to 100 conference will be held in Boston in November of this year: "We have brought together an outstanding group of experts to explore the theme, 'Is Inflammation Central to Aging?' As with the first Living Well to 100 Conference, we will focus on wellness and how to keep healthy people well for a greater portion of their lives. Among the topics to be addressed include how to identify which individuals may benefit from reducing inflammation, what key molecular targets may be mediating the role of inflammation in specific diseases, and how lifestyle and nutritional factors may modulate inflammation. The discussions will also consider the potential role of inflammation during different stages of the lifecycle."

Engineering Pluripotency (August 10 2006)
Scientists continue to make progress towards reverse-engineering the workings of our cells. At some point, they will understand how to make a pluripotent cell from any cell; this will make a great many avenues of research and regenerative medicine much easier. From EurekAlert!: "With the introduction of just four factors, researchers have successfully induced differentiated cells taken from mouse embryos or adult mice to behave like embryonic stem cells. ... The [cells] exhibit the physical, growth, and genetic characteristics typical of embryonic stem cells ... We have demonstrated that pluripotent stem cells can be directly generated from fibroblast cultures by the addition of only a few defined factors ... Fibroblasts make up structural fibers found in connective tissue. ... The finding is an important step in controlling pluripotency, which may eventually allow the creation of pluripotent cells directly from somatic cells of patients."

The Roots of Neurodegeneration (August 10 2006)
(Via EurekAlert!) The rate of production and clearance of amyloid beta in the brain is actually very rapid. Excess amyloid increasingly seems to be a problem of clearing mechanisms: "Aging is the most important risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease ... the age onset of these diseases is not simply a matter of time but that the aging process plays an active role in controlling the onset of toxicity ... Half of all people who reach age 85 will likely be affected by Alzheimer's disease, and the onset age - usually around 75 - is almost the same for all sporadic neurodegenerative aggregation diseases. ... Throughout life, brain cells produce aggregation-prone beta-amyloid fragments that must be cleared. ... This process is very efficient when we are young but as we get older it gets progressively less efficient ... In individuals who carry early onset Alzheimer's-linked mutation, an increased 'aggregation challenge' leads to clearance failure and the emergence of Alzheimer's much earlier."

The Right Attitude to the Future (August 09 2006)
Eric Boyd has the right idea about healthy life extension, the future and our attitudes towards both: "the purpose of a goal isn't to achieve what it states, it's to motivate you to work at it in the now. ... A good example of that is longevity - in theory, it's just extra years beyond age 75 or so, and therefore not important to me for another (75-28=) 47 years. But in practice, the implications extend right back to things I should be doing now. The most obvious is, I need to be in good health in order to benefit from extra years of longevity treatment development, because it would be a huge shame to be just on the wrong side of the 'escape velocity' point." In other words, you have the power to shape your future - and we can collaborate to build a better future for all of us, starting with the development of healthy life extension technologies and moving on to the defeat of aging.

A Reminder On Views and Expertise (August 09 2006)
Via The Age, a reminder that scientists aren't immune to lack of foresight, imagination and specific knowledge outside their domain: "This is complete nonsense, breathtakingly arrogant and breathtakingly ignorant. To extend human lifespan you would need to completely re-engineer the body, which took evolution millions of years to create, and that would result in a completely different being. ... He said mammals have a limited natural life span that is unlikely to change." I'll live with the fact that some folk think it's arrogant to work to defeat aging and thus save more than 100,000 lives every day. Their own lives are made poor by their attitudes. But proposals for engineering the human body for a longer, healthier life are already on the table and well-debated in scientific circles. The discussion is now a matter of "how much more healthy life, and how soon." Those who do not acknowledge this fact are simply out of touch - and perhaps out of their depth.

Defeating Immune Rejection (August 08 2006)
As noted by the Life Extension Foundation News, research into xenotransplantation continues to advance in parallel to regenerative medicine and tissue engineering work. That's not the important part of this research however - the significance is all in what was done to suppress the normal difficulties with immune rejection: "MicroIslet says it has developed a way to encapsulate cells taken from pigs in a material so that it is not recognized by the body as foreign material and then attacked by the immune system. The transplant recipients were seven rhesus monkeys whose own pancreatic islets (clusters of endocrine cells that contain the cells that produce insulin) were destroyed. ... If there's evidence that rejection is not occurring, despite no immune suppression, that's promising and potentially important for the future." Very much so - a wealth of opportunities lie in the future for any successful variant of this technology.

Geron's Stem Cell Research (August 08 2006)
The MIT Technology Review looks at a portion of Geron's stem cell research: "Geron's clinical trial of a therapy to treat spinal cord injuries will likely be the first human test of an embryonic stem cell-based treatment. ... embryonic stem cells are the starting ingredient rather than the treatment itself. The embryonic stem cells, which are potentially able to form any human cell type, are transformed into oligodendrocytes - a type of brain cell that wraps itself around neurons, forming a fatty insulation layer that allows electrical messages to be conducted throughout the nervous system. These cells are then injected into the site of the injury, coating neuronal projections that were damaged in the accident and restoring communication to the nervous system."

More On the TOR Gene (August 07 2006)
EurekAlert! provides more information on the role of the TOR gene in that fascinating intersection of metabolism, calorie restriction, longevity and health: "flies with the mutated form of TOR had longer life spans than control flies. ... Our study adds another dimension to TOR's activity by revealing unexpected and novel levels of beneficial regulation of insulin metabolism, by reducing insulin resistance. This study provides the first details of how TOR may regulate energy homeostasis and responses to aging, in particular the coordination of weight reduction effects caused by caloric restriction and, in humans, it may explain the effects of the Atkins diet. It suggests that reducing TOR function could lead to a possible treatment for any or all symptoms of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. ... reducing TOR function also blocks the age-dependent decline of heart function, providing a partial explanation for why excess calories from overeating can lead to resistance to insulin's ability to process sugars and may contribute to reduced heart function."

Regenerative Medicine For Deafness (August 07 2006)
More attention is being given to research into regenerating the mechanisms of hearing that go awry in some forms of deafness. Via CNN: "stem cells have the capacity to regenerate in the inner ear. The stem cells are especially good at growing into the microscopic hair cells that make hearing possible. ... It's like a little microphone in your ear, and when the microphones go bad, then you don't hear anymore. We can grow these tiny microphones from these stem cells ... I hope that in five years, we are at a point that we can say that it is possible to cure deafness, at least in an animal. That will be the first step toward treating human patients. ... if we can restore something to its natural state, why not?" Why not, indeed.



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