LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
August 28 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.
- Ouroboros at the MPrize
- The Self-Sabotage of Caution and Appeasement
- There Are No Fat Supercentenarians
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
OUROBOROS AT THE MPRIZE
I'm pleased to note that the excellent Ouroboros, penned by scientist Chris Patil under the tagline "research in the biology of aging," has joined the very informal group of blogs gracing the front page of the MPrize website. If you haven't been reading, you certainly should be:
THE SELF-SABOTAGE OF CAUTION AND APPEASEMENT
The sky is presently falling. We live in the midst of an ongoing disaster greater than any of the horrors of the twentieth century - and most people remain blind to it, because people will become used to any horror given long enough. More than 100,000 people die each and every day from the end results of degenerative aging - tens of millions each year. We can and should be doing far more to bring this era of death, suffering and economic devastation to a close, but there are those amongst supporters of healthy life extension whose response is always "more caution" and "go slower":
"Sadly, the popularity of extreme expressions of the precautionary principle obscure the high costs of adhering to even moderate versions. If you attach a ball and chain to those working on medical progress, medical progress will be slow. How can anyone advocate slowing down progress in the face of 100,000 deaths each and every day? Yet this seems to be the mainstream position: those who do not contribute to getting the work done have largely fallen down the rabbit hole of doing nothing by throwing roadblocks in the path ahead. Great job, you all - I hope you manage to live with yourselves if scientists create working anti-aging medicine within our lifetime despite your efforts. If science is held back well enough ... well, then we all age, suffer and die. Well done. Applause. A pity you won't be there to receive the gratitude of the masses - who won't be there either."
The flip side of this coin is the appeasement of those who stand in opposition to progress in medical science. I think that the futility of such is well illustrated by the latest technology demonstration in embryonic stem cell work from Advanced Cell Technology:
"It's a simple motto to try to live by: no appeasement; don't bow down to those who would steal your freedom. It's increasingly hard to live that way, of course, what with armies of government employees willing to apply force to back up any number of cages upon your behavior. But it's human nature to want to live free, just as, sadly, it's human nature to shrug when forcing the loss of freedom upon others. ... If you're going to fight for your freedom of research (and fight we certainly should), then don't fight on their terms and their ground. The freedom to research human cellular biochemistry is essential to rapid progress towards the medicine of the future. Without the results of this research, tens of millions will die every year from age-related diseases and conditions that might already have been cured."
THERE ARE NO FAT SUPERCENTENARIANS
Extremely old and extremely fat are not overlapping groups. I leave it up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions with regard to managing weight and health in the long term:
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/
Inflamm-Aging, Cytokines and Aging (August 27 2006)
The "inflammaging" meme is gaining traction as illustrated by this review paper (even if no-one can agree on the spelling). "In this article we summarise present knowledge on the role of pro-inflammatory cytokines on chronic inflammation leading to organismal aging, a phenomenon we proposed to call "inflamm-aging". ... On the whole, despite some controversial results, the available data are in favour of the hypothesis that pro-inflammatory cytokines play an important role in aging and longevity. Further, we present a possible hypothesis to reconcile energetic dysfunction, including mitochondria, and inflamm-aging." From the reliability theory point of view, inflammation is generating unrepaired cellular damage - the more damage, the earlier you'll likely age to death. Accumulated damage is aging. Fortunately, most of us have a great deal of control over the major source of chronic inflammation in our life - our excess body fat.
Advancing Scaffold Technology (August 27 2006)
From Xinhua Online, a look at one area of progress in scaffold technology for tissue engineering: "If you put a soup of these cells on to one of our scaffolds, they sort themselves out into the right order ... Although the mechanism is not fully understood, the cells seem to be programmed to rearrange themselves into layered normal skin. These simple scaffolds helps the cells grow in a safe yet natural way. Over the short life of a skin scaffold, mimicking nature too closely isn't necessary. ... Having realized that smart cells with a dumb scaffold is the key, the professors and their team are perfecting a dissolvable skin scaffold for skin growth. It will be made from clinically-approved materials such as PLGA, a dissolvable polymer used in surgical stitches, and undergo clinical and laboratory testing over the next three to five years ... [the team] may go even further than skin grafts. They're also looking at scaffold technology to promote nerve or tendon growth."
The Complexities of Cancer (August 26 2006)
This ScienCentral article and video is a great example of the way in which cancer research is driving our understanding of human biochemistry. What we call cancer is, in essence, a laundry list of runaway failure modes in the very complex biochemical machinery within our cells. If you want to prevent a machine from breaking down, or repair a failure in process, it helps to have the relevant blueprints to hand. By the time cancer is reduced to the status of costly but non-fatal chronic condition - perhaps as soon as 2015, at least for the most common classes of cancer - if seem likely that our understanding of cellular biochemistry will be nearly complete. If cancer research produces blueprints for human biochemistry, scientific anti-aging research - and every other field of modern medicine - will certainly run with them.
On Regenerating Cartilage (August 26 2006)
The Houston Chronicle takes a look at work to regenerate cartilage, in the knee in this case: "Doctors are testing new ways to spur cartilage to regrow in damaged knees, from implanted 'cartilage plugs' to injections of bone-marrow stem cells. ... Knees are the joint most likely to go bad, and the cartilage that cushions them has only a limited natural ability to repair itself. ... new options are being tried first in people who injured their knees and thus need small amounts of cartilage to regrow. But if they truly work, the techniques one day might offer hope for arthritis sufferers, too, whose cartilage over time erodes. Most eagerly anticipated: the first clinical trial using stem cells from donated bone marrow to try to regenerate the knee's shock absorber, a cartilage pad called the meniscus."
More on Understanding Differentiation (August 25 2006)
Understanding cellular differentiation is a key to progress in regenerative medicine. From EurekAlert!: "mesenchymal stem cells, which regularly reside in the bone marrow as part of the body's natural regenerative mechanism, depend on physical clues from their local environment in order to transform into different types of tissue. The researchers were even able to manipulate stem cells by changing the firmness of the gel on which they were grown. ... stem cells sense their environment through the force it takes them to push against surrounding objects. ... the amount of force the stem cell needs to move its cellular muscles triggers an internal chemical signal that, in turn, directs the cell to differentiate. ... cardiac tissue may have been so damaged during the heart attack that the stem cells do not recognize the microenvironment as a guide for turning into heart muscle ... it might be possible to 'prime' stem cells for therapy in the lab, before implanting them in the heart, spine or whatever damaged environment you want to place them."
Cryonics in Australia (August 25 2006)
Via the Herald Sun efforts to set up a cryonics provider in Australia: "Biologist Philip Rhoades has won approval from health authorities to build the complex - believed to be only the third in the world. ... My parents are both science types, like me, and with my siblings are interested in this great experiment. If I can eventually help other people whose lives should be longer, this would also be a good thing to do. ... He said there was a need for a cryogenic centre in Australia because US religious fundamentalists could sabotage operations in the US or a more conservative US government might outlaw the process." Regulatory hostility to cryonics in much of Europe would suggest that all it takes is a large government willing to interfere in your life - and any large government will do just that. This said, it is good to see a higher profile for cryonics and the science behind it resulting in efforts like this one and KrioRus in Russia.
Interesting Alzheimer's Research (August 24 2006)
A number of threads in Alzheimer's research are focusing on areas other than the amyloid plaques characteristic of the condition. Via EurekAlert!: "Treatments that elevate the [protein] ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (Uch-L1), [might] have potential as a new therapy for Alzheimer's disease ... we were able to restore a great deal of brain activity in a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer's disease ... While amyloid beta is certainly a key player in Alzheimer's disease - and efforts to reduce it remain a worthy goal - our results show that, even in the presence of the plaque, damage to memory can be reversed ... Ubiquitin is a 'tag' that marks proteins for destruction by the cellular 'garbage disposal' known as the proteasome, Shelanski explained. Uch-L1 acts as the proteasome's 'gatekeeper' ... the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients show an accumulation of ubiquitin-tagged proteins, suggesting some defect of the protein degradation machinery."
An Effective Diabetes Treatment? (August 24 2006)
The New Scientist reports on a potential treatment for type 2 diabetes: "obesity triggers insulin resistance by inducing stress in a cellular organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). ... It is thought that obesity causes stress in the ER by forcing it to process an excessive amount of fat molecules. ... [researchers] decided to try supplying the ER with extra chemical chaperones, in the form of small molecular drugs called PBA and TUDCA. Mice with severe obesity and insulin resistance were given one of the two drugs for three weeks. ... In both sets of mice, blood glucose levels returned to normal within four to seven days, the researchers say. And the drugs restored insulin sensitivity and cured fatty liver disease in the 'diabetic' mice. The normal glucose levels remained constant until the end of the treatment." Another effective methodology: take better care of your health so as to avoid obesity.
On Telomolecular (August 23 2006)
Telomolecular are setting out to raise their profile in the community, judging by the contents of this Yahoo! press release: "Nanocircles (a nanotechnology developed at Stanford University) and vTert (Telomolecular's synthetic enzyme) are capable of repairing damaged and shortened telomeres. Researchers at Telomolecular believe they've found a way to deliver Nanocircles and vTert to chromosomes in living organisms, reversing diseases caused by that damage. The researchers envision the ability, eventually, to speed the healing process in humans, preventing or even curing cancer." The devil is always in the details of implementation; a number of companies and research groups are forging ahead in attempts to establish telomere-based therapies for cancer and other age-related conditions.
Nanotechnology for Biomaterials (August 23 2006)
A long and rather densely written article from AzoNano.com examines the use and future of nanoscale engineering to develop ever more capable biomaterials for regenerative medicine: "Third-generation biomaterials that involve tailoring of resorbable polymers at the molecular level to elicit specific cellular responses show great promise as scaffolds or matrices in tissue regeneration. ... bioactive glasses and macroporous foams can be designed to activate genes that stimulate regeneration of living tissues. ... a future goal for regenerative medicine is the possibility of using bioactive stimuli to activate genes as a preventative treatment; maintaining the health of tissues as they age. Only a few years ago this concept would have seemed unimaginable. But we need to remember that only 30 years ago the concept of a material that would not be rejected by living tissues also seemed unimaginable!"
Biological Pacemaker Research (August 22 2006)
EurekAlert! notes that scientists continue to make progress towards replacing artificial pacemakers with biological equivalents: "Our study offers positive and direct evidence in living models that bioengineered cells can replace the electronic pacemaker. Our hope is to one day replace electronic pacemakers in people ... In the current study, the researchers delivered a gene encoding a bioengineered cell-surface protein to heart muscle cells of pigs. This protein mimics the combined action of several proteins called HCN ion channels, which play a critical role in maintaining a normal, evenly paced heartbeat. ... through gene expression, normal muscle cells of the heart were converted into pacemaker cells [in a matter of days] by a process called transdifferentiation. Studies done two weeks after the injections showed the new [pacemaker cells] were able to take over pacemaking function."
Australian Stem Cell Politics (August 22 2006)
COSMOS provides an overview of recent stem cell politics in Australia, alongside some of the science: "In 2002, George Daley at the Children's Hospital in Boston and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used [therapeutic cloning] to cure a mouse with bone marrow failure by providing it with a perfectly matched bone marrow graft. A nucleus from a cell at the tip of the mouse's tail was rebooted to develop as an embryo, which provided embryonic stem cells. Those embryonic stem cells were guided to form healthy bone marrow, which was grafted back into the mouse. End result: the mouse's bone disease was cured with its own cells, sparing it the need to use anti-rejection drugs or the possibility of a fatal rejection." Much of the most promising stem cell research is flat-out banned in Australia; supporters hope to see this changed in the near future.
A Key to Better Immune System Control? (August 21 2006)
Scientists believe that chronic inflammation or an overactive immune response - and the long-term damage it causes to health and longevity - might be controlled with greater subtlety than is presently possible. "The [interleukin-27 (IL-27)] cytokine limits the duration and intensity of white blood activation, an 'off switch' to the cascade of messenger proteins that serve to further activate the immune system. ... Without IL-27, other brakes in the system are not sufficient to keep inflammation in check ... The more we understand the role of cytokines in the immune system, the more we realize that they are part of an elaborately balanced system kept in check by the conflicting regulatory functions of the cytokines themselves. ... It may be possible to use IL-27 or its active subunit in such a way that we can temper the immune system without suppressing the beneficial immune reactions."
Stroke and Neurogenesis (August 21 2006)
Does the adult human brain grow and integrate significant numbers of new neurons? Yes, no and maybe, depending on which scientists you ask - but it certainly has the capability to do so. From Newswise: "It appears the human brain attempts to heal itself by giving birth to new neurons following a stroke. This finding, by scientists at the Buck Institute for Age Research, confirms similar studies in animal models and offers new targets for therapeutics to aid stroke recovery. ... The researchers found that cells surrounding the stroke-damaged area carried molecular markers of neurogenesis. In addition, the newborn cells were predominantly located near blood vessels, which have been shown to produce factors that boost cell division and growth. ... The fact that several drugs have stimulated new nerve growth in rodents, suggests that clinical interventions might be developed to enhance this process in humans."