Longevity Meme Newsletter, August 21 2006

August 21 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.



- From TransVision 2006
- Help Raise Funds For Calorie Restriction Research
- Community Blogs: Alcor, Methuselah Foundation
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The TransVision 2006 conference was held this past weekend in Helsinki, with the theme of "Emerging Technologies of Human Enhancement."


As you might expect, biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey gave a presentation on the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and our moral imperative to defeat age-related frailty and death. You'll find a selection of links to conference video, pictures and discussion from the transhumanist community in this Fight Aging! post:


Follow these links for de Grey's presentation materials and a snapshot of local media coverage:



The Calorie Restriction (CR) Society is raising funds for a round of research aimed at better calibrating the human response to calorie restriction. We know CR is very good for most people, greatly improving health and resistance to age-related disease, but how good is "very good" for you, specifically? In order to answer this question, the practice of calorie restriction must be better calibrated against well-understood biomarkers of human health and metabolism.

The CR Society is seeking your help to raise $230,000. These funds will be used to set well-known researchers Luigi Fontana, Stephen Spindler, and Shin-Ichiro Imai on the job. Read more in the Fight Aging! post below to see how you can help advance our knowledge of calorie restriction and human longevity:


For the basics of calorie restriction, including some of the compelling evidence for human health and longevity benefits, see the Longevity Meme Hot Topic page:



The folk at cryonics provider Alcor have started up a blog to better communicate with supporters, members and the wider healthy life extension community. They've set the ball rolling with a thought-provoking article on the direction of modern cryonics:


"A friend of mine died this winter. He wasn't interested in cryonics, but what he didn't do is not the point of this essay. What he did do has saved uncounted lives, maybe including yours. The way this man went about his life has given me a clue to what I think is a major hidden problem with cryonics."

It is to all our betterment for the provision of cryonic suspension to grow and succeed as an industry. If you are interested in living a far longer, healthier life, then you should also be interested in the most effective insurance policy against accident - or the very real possibility of aging to death before the advent of meaningful anti-aging medical technology. Being vitrified upon death with no great certainty of restoration is only the second worst thing that can happen to you, far preferable to certain oblivion, if those are the only choices.

On a different note, Kevin Perrott, executive director of the MPrize competition, recently posted to the Methuselah Foundation blog on his efforts to raise awareness, support and ultimately public funding for SENS research in Canada:


"I spent the morning yesterday amidst a wonderful quorum, an inviting group of individuals who are the leaders of regional chapters of the Alberta Council on Aging. At the time I didn't know who these people were, they were only 12 seniors who I had agreed to meet with and make a presentation of the idea of applying engineering principles to repair the damage of aging.

"Many were knowledgeable about biology and those who weren't were astute enough to understand the concepts if not the jargon. The kicker was when I described some of the cutting-edge research that I had been lucky enough to hear about at the SENS and aging conferences I've attended in past few years. When I described the parabiosis experiment of Irina Conboy and the regenerating MRL mouse of Ellen Heber-Katz, their interest was piqued. When I made reference to the encouraging dissolution of plaques and restoration of cognitive ability in a mouse Alzheimer model by a new pill developed by Ashely Bush this year, they were intrigued. They asked pointed questions about timeframes and costs and jokingly asked what would happen if they didn't live long enough to benefit, to which their own response was it could benefit their children. I think that about says it all."

Setting aside source of funding issues, I think this amply demonstrates the value of ordinary folk like you and I taking the effort to educate ourselves, reach out and bring others into the fold. Progress in raising research funding for serious anti-aging research is not lagging for lack of desire for longer lives. Rather, it lags because far too few people grasp that the scientific defeat of aging is both plausible and within sight.

This is a problem that we can correct. So tell someone about healthy life extension and the latest science today - it makes a difference!


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/

Towards Retinal Reconstitution (August 20 2006)
The MIT Technology Review reports on progress towards regenerative medicine for blindness: "Scientists are taking the first major step in using stem cells to replace retinal cells lost to degenerative eye diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. ... [researchers] can reliably make retinal cells from embryonic stem cells. The researchers are now implanting the cells into blind animals to see if the cells can restore vision. ... If we can replace the photoreceptors, we think we can restore vision. ... The researchers don't yet know if the cells can actually integrate into the complex circuitry of the eye to restore vision, but early results are promising. ... We should know within the next year if the cells can restore vision."

Seeking Common Cancer Mechanisms (August 20 2006)
(From the LEF News). Perhaps the largest hurdle facing cancer researchers is the sheer diversity of cancer biochemistry. If age-related cancer was very complex but unvaried, scientists would already have a cure in hand. Thus, one aspect of cancer science is the search for controllable, common biochemistry across many different types of cancer: "CXCR4 is over-expressed in greater than 75% of cancers, including breast, ovarian, lung, colon, prostate, kidney, melanoma, brain, esophageal, and pancreatic - as well as numerous forms of leukemia, and childhood cancers such as acute lymphocytic leukemia and neuroblastoma. Northwest Biotherapeutics previously completed and reported on several preclinical studies using monoclonal antibodies to block CXCR4 receptor function, and reported significant inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, motility and invasion in multiple preclinical models both in vitro and in vivo."

Early Nanotechnology in Medicine (August 19 2006)
Diagnostics and pinpoint, per-cell drug delivery are the first applications of nanoscale engineering in medicine, as noted at Medical News Today. However mundane it might sound in comparison to plausible visions of future nanomedicine, steady infrastructure improvements are the real wheel of progress: "While the mortality rates of many cancers have decreased significantly in recent decades, the rate for ovarian cancer had not changed much in the last 50 years, primarily due to delays in diagnosis. By exploiting the unique properties of nanotechnology, we hope to detect ovarian cancer earlier using highly sensitive imaging tools and develop drug carriers that can deliver therapeutic agents inside tumor cells. ... We believe this 'small-particle' technology has the capability to quickly and sensitively detect cancer molecules earlier than ever before."

Less Flexible Adult Brains, a Cause (August 19 2006)
Interesting longer-term possibilities arise from a knowledge of why adult brains cease to rewire themselves. From the Times Online: researchers "have identified a protein [PirB] that stops new neural connections forming in adult brains. ... brains of adult mice that lacked PirB retained the same rewiring ability of much younger brains. Without PirB to hold them back, the old mice were, in effect, able to learn new tricks. ... connections in the brain that form and rewire during childhood become more fixed later in life. This is why human beings are so versatile and receptive to learning earlier in life and become less flexible with age. Keeping connections fixed in the same place is normally an advantage, but after brain injury it would be helpful to have more flexibility. Being able to form new pathways might also allow adults to learn a new language, for example, with the facility of a child. ... By inhibiting the proteins that stop new connections growing, it may be possible for stroke victims to recover those missing links."

Exercise Already! (August 18 2006)
Via Scientific American, another small piece in the weight of evidence for the health benefits of exercise: "Our study shows that greater physical activity in your 30's, 40's, and 50's has beneficial effects well into the future ... Our results imply that a physically active lifestyle throughout the life course can not only lead to longer life expectancy, but can also help maintain our ability to walk and quality of life for a longer period of time in older adulthood ... seniors who reported engaging in vigorous physical activity during their earlier years scored nearly one point higher on a battery of tests evaluating their physical performance, including their walking and chair-rise speeds, than did those who reported the lowest level of physical activity. In a previous study, researchers found that older adults who experienced a one-point decline on the tests had an 80 percent increased risk of death." Taking better care of your health today means an increased chance of living to benefit from the working anti-aging medicine of tomorrow.

Telomeres, Stem Cells, Aging (August 18 2006)
A paper in Nature touches on a most intriguing area of study: we know that telomeres tend to shorten and stem cells fail to replicate to repair tissue with increasing age, but what is the cart and what is the horse here? Do other modes of age-related cellular damage contribute to or result from these trends - to what degree and how? The science of aging is replete with questions of this ilk, as well as the strong sense that answers will come in the decade ahead. "[In some scenarios], the degree of telomere shortening can be correlated with disease duration, disease stage and severity as well as with response to disease-modifying treatment strategies. Whether increased telomere shortening represents a causal link between [hematopoietic stem cell (HSC)] turnover, replicative senescence and/or the induction of genetic instability in acquired HSC disorders remains to be shown. However, data from congenital disorders [suggest] that disturbed telomere maintenance may play a role for replicative exhaustion of the HSC pool in vivo."

Longevity Genes and Cancer (August 17 2006)
As reported by the New Scientist, work in lower animals continues to increase our understanding of the fundamental links between aging and cancer: "The authors speculate that signalling pathways that control longevity may have coevolved with tumour-suppressive mechanisms. ... Intuitively it all makes sense. We see this nice, clear genetic link between the longevity and tumour pathways. Presumably this is at least partially responsible for making cancer an age-related disease. ... C. elegans shares many tumour-related genes with mammals, including the ones investigated in this study ... It's one more element that makes you think that the aging genes that we discover and study in worms might be worth studying in vertebrates."

A Part of the Cost of Aging (August 17 2006)
The economic costs of age-related degeneration are staggering. Look at the numbers for just one small class of damaging events that occur after your body has accumulated a lifetime of unrepaired age-related damage: "Unless Americans do more to lower their risk of stroke and improve stroke care, the nation will pay $2.2 trillion over the next 45 years to care for people who suffer the most common form of stroke ... The $2.2 trillion estimate includes the cost of everything from ambulances and hospital stays to medications, nursing home care, at-home care and doctor's visits. They also include lost earnings for stroke survivors under age 65, based on current median salaries for each ethnic group. ... Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of serious disability. About 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and 157,000 of them die." When is it time to start fixing the root causes that lead to this and worse?

So Much Supporting Material for SENS (August 16 2006)
As pointed out at FuturePundit, so much of modern medical research acts to reinforce this message: the underlying logic of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) is the best way forward to tackle age-related disease and frailty. Identify the damage that leads to problems, develop the means to fix it, then get in there and repair it early on, before it causes major problems; this is the utilitarian approach to any machinery, be it biological or otherwise. The present dominant paradigm for medical research and the treatment of age-related disease - patching up problems after the fact - is expensive and ultimately fails. If this patching was all we could do, then we should do it, and be glad we could make some difference to the health of millions. But it is not all we can do - so we must do better.

Exploring Cellular Self-Renewal (August 16 2006)
This truly is the barnstorming era of biotechnology; tools and capabilities of the past few years allow such a range of new experimentation that the unexpected turns up on a regular basis. Via EurekAlert!: "We can theoretically take a single brain cell out of a human being and - with just this one cell - generate enough brain cells to replace every cell of the donor's brain and conceivably those of 50 million other people. ... This is a completely new source of human brain cells that can potentially be used to fight Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke and a host of other brain disorders. It would probably only take months to get enough material for a human transplant operation. ... The findings document for the first time the ability of common human brain cells to morph into different cell types, a previously unknown characteristic, and are the result of the research team's long-term investigations of adult human stem cells and rodent embryonic stem cells."

Closing On An Early Alzheimer's Test (August 15 2006)
Scientists have been working towards a non-invasive test to detect Alzheimer's disease as early as possible for a few years now. It seems they're almost there: researchers "describe a biomarker that can accurately distinguish between Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia during the first one to two years of the disease's progression. The BRNI biomarker showed high accuracy when tested with human skin cells from a tissue bank, as well as for samples obtained in a previous, unpublished study of patients with autopsy-confirmed diagnoses. ... Many scientists have concluded in recent years that Alzheimer's effects are found throughout the body, not just in the brain. By testing for signs of Alzheimer's-related inflammation in skin cells called fibroblasts, the BRNI team has located a biomarker for the disease that can be tested without the invasive tests previously required." As for all failing machinery, early discovery of problems means that more can be done for greater benefit and at less cost.

Thoughts On Radical Life Extension (August 15 2006)
You'll see more transhumanist and pro-healthy life extension thinking in the press as those ideas with the most merit are discussed more widely. This via the Naples Sun Times: "Who wants to live forever? I certainly do, but I am constantly amazed by meeting people who don't. ... It doesn't have to be that way any more. Once a science-fiction staple, immortality is another fantastic notion about to become a reality. ... The era of life extension has already begun. We won't have to cheat the Reaper. We'll be able to beat him fair and square. ... If this all seems too fantastic, that's because we all have deep-seated opinions about life and death." I disagree with the assessment of timeframes in this article - that we will die as the last mortal generation, forced to employ the ultimate insurance policy that is cryonics technology. In a world in which widespread support can see a major medical research infrastructure built in a decade, we can do better than that.

Overlapping Cancer, Stem Cell Research (August 14 2006)
From UCSF Today, an introduction to the way in which cancer research and stem cell research now overlap. "While several researchers are investigating the likelihood that some tumors get their stem cell characteristics from stem cells themselves, others are looking into the possibility that cancer stem cells might acquire their characteristics another way. Scientists are investigating whether progenitor or even fully differentiated cells somehow shirk assigned roles, de-differentiate and acquire stem-cell-like potency en route to becoming cancerous." We can hope that overlapping biochemistry at the cellular level becomes the key to faster progress in these very complex fields - that the cancer research establishment will contribute as much to the advance of stem cell based regenerative medicine (and knowledge of aging) as it does to defeating cancer ... and vice versa.

Learning From Leprosy (August 14 2006)
There is no such thing as useless knowledge in biochemistry; at a fundamental level, all new learning leads to applications in medicine. For example: "Glial cells - nervous system cells that form a highly specialized insulating sheath called myelin that surrounds nerve fibers - under certain conditions can 'de-differentiate,' re-enter the cell cycle and revert to an unspecialized state, from which they can repair damaged tissues. Scientists are eager to learn how glial cells accomplish this trick, as it could teach them not only about neurodegenerative diseases, but also have implications for regenerative medicine. Now, using leprosy bacteria, laboratory primary cultures of human and rat glial cells and genetically engineered mice, [researchers have] uncovered new molecular pathways that lead to demyelination - the breakdown of the myelin sheath - as well as de-differentiation and cell proliferation of mature Schwann cells, the glial cells of the peripheral nervous system."



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