LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 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.
- The AARP On Healthy Life Extension
- The Coalition to Extend Life
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
THE AARP ON HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION
The AARP's house magazine recent published a set of articles on healthy life extension; mainstream science - meaning the present research focus of mainstream gerontology - and mainstream views, but nonetheless rather good. It's a cut above most other specials on greater longevity through science and present good health practices from the past year.
I take a stab at reading some significance into all this in the following post:
Perhaps the most educational part of the articles and response from AARP members is the overwhelming emphasis placed upon age-related degeneration. The message is clear: any resistance to living longer stems from expectations of loss of health and vigor. I encourage you to read the responses in the AARP discussion board dedicated to the articles; they consist of many, many variations upon this: "I would love to live over 100 years, as long as I will be healthy. Then I could work for a living if I run out of money."
Could it be that we're all paying too much attention to airy discussion, bioethics and philosophy here on the inside track? It might be that widespread public support for healthy life extension research is held up by nothing more than the Tithonus Error - the mistaken, often knee-jerk belief that a lengthening of life would mean more and greater disability.
THE COALITION TO EXTEND LIFE
I'm usually pleased to see more people writing earnestly and well on the topic of radical life extension, even if I might not agree with the modus operandi or immediate goals the writing serves. Hence, I invite you folk to take a look at the Coalition to Extend Life:
Those less libertarian than I will sympathize with the aims, which are not dissimilar in spirit to those of the Longevity Dividend initiative: gather support, fight the necessary political battles, and turn the faucet of taxed dollars to your ends - the research necessary for the development of working anti-aging medicine as soon as possible.
When government is as large and invasive as it is today, anything of significance in life tends to involve the government - which is to say it involves a bunch of disinterested people who care nothing for your aims, but nonetheless have veto power over your efforts. But I digress.
I see in the Coalition the potential for another extreme, but scientific, position in the wider debate. The use of extreme, scientifically defensible positions - examinations of 1000-year and 5000-year healthy life spans, some of the past initiatives of the Immortality Institute, and so forth - have proven very effective in shifting the boundaries of the more mainstream debate over the past few years. I'm all for more of that.
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/
Understanding Cancer Cell Metabolism (September 03 2006)
Understanding key differences in cellular biochemistry now means the ability to build delivery mechanisms that can accurately target therapies to specific cell populations - such as cancerous cells. Here, scientists make progress in the biochemistry of cancer cell metabolism: the gene cyclin D1 "can dim the power production in the cell and in turn scale up its cancer-producing activities. ... From the cancer cell's point of view, the inhibition allows the cell to shift its biosynthetic priorities - it allows it to shift from making mitochondria themselves to synthesizing DNA and making the cell proliferate ... This discovery advances our understanding of the behavior of cancer cells and may suggest new types of cancer therapy ... We'd like to link that change in metabolism to therapies. We've been able to prove that we can see changes in metabolism in the [tumor], and we should be able to target that change and kill the cancerous cells."
Nearly Getting the Picture (September 03 2006)
The tenor of the more educated pro-death op-eds is changing, as illustrated by this piece in the Times Online. Authors are finding it harder to deny the plausibility of healthy life extension science, more or less steer their way around the Tithonus Error, and demonstrate whistful longing amidst the still-flaky justifications for standing aside and permitting untold billions of avoidable deaths. People fear the degeneration and powerlessness of aging; if that can be avoided, who would not choose to live longer? "If, however, science could offer us not just long life but long-drawn-out youth and health as well, if life extension were in effect youth extension and if the passing decades hardly touched us, perhaps one would answer the question differently. If one could be as youthful and fit at 90 as one was at 30, wouldn't one immediately grab the pills and swallow them? I wonder." Healthy life extension will be youth extension: given that age is no more than an accumulation of damage, and the best solution is to repair and prevent that damage, any progress towards longer life is progress towards longer youth.
On Gene Expression and Aging (September 02 2006)
Chris Patil of Ouroboros makes a good point while discussing a study of changes in gene expression in the aging liver: "A question unasked and therefore unanswered in this and many papers is what, if anything, age-related changes in gene expression signify: Are they deleterious, protective, passive responses to damage-induced signals, neutral, or other? It's a gigantic question, far beyond the scope of any one paper." I recall that Aubrey de Grey has suggested that we should fix or prevent all such changes in the course of a full-on attack on the aging process (or at least those that remain after other issues have been dealt with). From where I stand, it's an open question as to whether biotechnology - and the implementation timeline for specific improvements to healthy life extension medicine - will advance in a way that makes that approach more or less practical than identifying and fixing changes that are root causes of further problems.
Medical Value, Despite Many Obstacles (September 02 2006)
People spend more on medicine because advancing technology creates more and better options for improving life and health. On the ball and chain side, government intervention enables people to profligately spend money that is not their own - at least until the rationing kicks in. Government regulation raises the costs of medicine with no matching gain in quality or effectiveness. Despite the immense damage done through politics and short term greed, gains are still worth it in pure utilitarian terms: researchers "estimated that from birth, the increased life expectancy since 1960 -- approximately seven years, from 69.90 to 76.87 years - has cost $19,900 per added year of life. ... Comparing this $19,900 against the value of a year of life as defined by insurance companies and medical decision-makers - a figure that ranges from $50,000 to $200,000, according to different statistical estimates - [the researchers] judged the increase in medical costs to be a good value. ... By contrast, persons age 65 and older have increased their longevity by just 3.5 years since 1960, with a cost of $84,700 for each year of added life."
More On Korean Research Timelines (September 01 2006)
The Korea Times provides more on projected timelines for stem cell research in that country: "Cheju National University plans to set up a large biology research center with the aim of starting to use human embryonic stem cells in actual therapy around 2012. ... We recruited [Park Se-pill] as the head of the stem cell center to be established at our university, and seek to hire about 20 more researchers and experts ... We will focus on coming up with ways of differentiating stem cells into specific cells, a must to take advantage of embryonic cells for clinical purposes. The first target will be hard-to-cure diseases caused by nerve cell disorders as scientists are continuing to make breakthroughs in the field."
American Academy of Nanomedicine (September 01 2006)
Via Nanodot, a link to the American Academy of Nanomedicine, "a professional, academic and medical society dedicated to advancing research in nanomedicine." The Academy publishes the Nanomedicine journal; you'll find a range of most interesting medical science within the latest issue: "First, we describe naturally occurring DNA repair nanomachines, using as an example the nanomachine that executes the nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) reaction for DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair. Second, we discuss therapeutic benefits that may be derived from the ability to modify the behavior of naturally occurring nanomachines, using as an example the concept of delaying DSB repair in rapidly dividing cancer cells to increase their natural sensitivity to radiation therapy. Third, we discuss similarities in the overall size, shape, and design of different nanomachines that manipulate DNA and RNA, and the possibility of developing nanomachines with new specificities not found in nature." Engineering better DNA repair would be a very big deal.
Gene Therapy, Cancer, Progress (August 31 2006)
Good news in the quest to develop practical immune therapies to defeat cancer: "researchers have successfully treated cancer patients by genetically modifying their immune cells to attack tumors. Although the treatment worked in only two of 17 patients, the researchers say this proof of concept [should] pave the way for more gene-therapy cancer cures. ... In 15 of the patients, the injected cells thrived and made up at least 10% of their total T cells weeks later. Two men who had even higher levels of the modified T cells experienced a dramatic recovery. In one, a liver and armpit tumor that had developed from spreading melanoma cells shrank, and in the other a lung tumor disappeared. Both men remain healthy 18 months after treatment ... One important result is that the treatment didn't seem to cause a serious autoimmune response as a side effect." The success rate will improve: the lack of side effects indicates a viable platform for broader development and sophistication.
The BBC On Radical Life Extension (August 31 2006)
The BBC is running a general interest article on radical life extension and the supporters of greater research to this end: "there is disagreement between scientists about the possibilities for life extension. ... Some believe that new developments will allow us to rise above our nature and live for hundreds of years, others think the improvements in life expectancy will be incremental ... If we continue to make medical and scientific breakthroughs, why shouldn't life expectancy rise even further over the next 100 years?" Those callous voices arguing for a future of billions of avoidable deaths - people aged to death in a thousand horrible ways because we did not develop the technologies to help them - make their usual unwelcome appearance towards the end of the piece.
Aging Would Be Wonderful... (August 30 2006)
Aging would be wonderful ... if it could just be separated from age-related degeneration. This Mexia Daily News article captures something of the feel of that truth, even as it somewhat misses the point along the way - and downplays the real suffering that comes with our present inability to repair the decline of our aging bodies. Growing older means becoming more experienced, wealthy, independent, wise, and just plain better at this game called life. Advancing age also means living into even more impressive eras of new technology aimed at enhancing life, progress and happiness. The aim of healthy life extension research - and the long term goals of radical life extension - is to have all this on top of the health and vigor of youth. It's a plausible, attainable goal, and we should all be working harder to make it a reality.
Life Span: You're In Control (August 30 2006)
(From the International Herald Tribune). Scientists are turning up longevity genes, but that doesn't mean your life span is heavily predetermined now: "only 3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived. You really learn very little about your own life span from your parents' life spans. That's what the evidence shows. Even twins, identical twins, die at different times ... on average more than 10 years apart. ... there was almost no genetic influence on age of death before 60, suggesting that early death has a large random component - an auto accident, a fall. ... even though there may be a tendency in some rare families to live extraordinarily long, the genetic influence that emerged from the studies of twins was significantly less than much of the public and many scientists think it is." All the more reason to work on increasing your chances of living to see the anti-aging medicine of the future.
More On AMD and Genetic Risk (August 29 2006)
(From EurekAlert!). Researchers continue to characterize genetic risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD): "Variations in the BF/C2 gene are protective for AMD, whereas the more common variations in the other two genes, CFH and LOC, increase risk of AMD. The authors provide new calculations that one's lifetime risk of AMD ranges from less than 1% to more than 50%, depending on the variations one has in these three genes. The research team also showed that the three genes do not interact, but confer risk independently." The next step is to determine the biochemistry underlying these correlations, a process that is, fortunately, proceeding ever faster in these years of advanced biotechnology. Every aspect of the aging body is a system; decipher it and many doors will open for medical development.
Heart Disease, Aged Arteries (August 29 2006)
An example from the BBC of the relationships between age-related conditions and greater biochemical wear and tear on specific organs. "The experts identified telomere damage - a biological sign of DNA ageing in the smooth muscle cells of diseased blood vessels. In patients with heart disease, the artery cells divided up to 13 times more rapidly than normal, prematurely ageing them. When artery cells age, they are less able to prevent fatty deposits from forming. This can narrow the arteries and cause heart attacks. ... The older the tissue, the less able it is to deal with physical or biochemical injury." Age is used very loosely in this article to reflect damage and reduction in capabilities. Some damage leads to age-related conditions; other damage leads to more and different damage. Failure of age-damaged biology can be a cascade - you should read up on reliability theory as it applies to aging and your body.
Technology Review on Living Longer (August 28 2006)
The MIT Technology Review staff has grouped together recent articles on aging, age-related disease and healthy life extension - including that infamous and opinionated article on biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, as well as the results of the $20,000 SENS Challenge - into a section on living longer: "Technology Review examines the emerging technologies in biomedicine, genetics and medical devices that will change medicine over the next 10 years. These new technologies promise to detect diseases earlier, lead to far more effective drugs, and help us understand what causes diseases."
A Little Monday Science (August 28 2006)
A few interesting review papers are listed at Ouroboros today: "The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans represents a superb model system in which to study the effects of mitochondrial function on longevity. Several mutant strains have been identified that indicate that mitochondrial function is a major factor affecting the organism's lifespan. Taken as a group, these mutant strains indicate that metabolic rate, per se, only affects longevity indirectly ... Insulin signaling, mitochondrial respiration, and dietary restriction share conserved roles not only in the regulation of lifespan, but also in the timing and control of diverse functions such as reproduction, stress resistance and metabolism. These autonomous pathways differ in their dependence on known transcription factors and in their temporal requirements, but converge to manipulate the core set of physiological systems necessary for extended lifespan in worms."