Longevity Meme Newsletter, September 25 2006

September 25 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.



- A $3.5 Million Victory For SENS Science...
- ...and a $6 Million Challenge to Us All
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel threw his hat into the ring this past week by pledging $3.5 million in support of Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) research:


"Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all. I'm backing Dr. de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones."

This is the second 7-figure pledge made to the Methuselah Foundation to encourage and support faster progress towards longevity medicine. All those folk who have donated their time and money to grow the Methuselah Foundation's initiatives - the MPrize for anti-aging science and SENS research - from strength to strength over the past few years should be very proud of themselves right about now. It is your efforts that have provided the groundwork necessary to attract this large donation - congratulations!

We can expect the present SENS research projects funded by the Methuselah Foundation to be expanding in scope quite soon:



$3 million of the Thiel pledge is in the form of a matching fund; for every $2 donated to the Methuselah Foundation for SENS research between now and the end of 2009, an additional $1 will be added from this fund. In essence, Peter Thiel is challenging all of us to show that we can do more than talk about healthy life extension - to show that we can band together, successfully raise $6 million in funding, and use it to build the beginnings of a massive research infrastructure. Given that the healthy life extension community has pledged more than $3.5 million to the Methuselah Foundation over the past three years, I think we have an excellent chance of filling this matching grant:


"That level of funding would place SENS research on a par with the new Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging. In other words, an organization capable of shaping the application of billions of dollars of medical research funding - and the opinions and work of tens of thousands of the most important scientists in relevant fields - in the years ahead simply by the merits of its existence.

"The challenge to raise funding is a proxy for the challenge to prove your cause worthy and likely to succeed. To raise $6 million from the philanthropic community, you need compelling science that stands up to peer review, widespread support, a strong message, and the organizational success gene - the people who build a community to make it work."

This, the Methuselah Foundation has. There has never been a better time to give your support to an organization dedicated to defeating age-related degeneration and greatly increasing our healthy life spans:



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/

Thoughts on Superlongevity and Boredom (September 24 2006)
Anne C. makes a good point on those who object to radical life extension by claiming boredom: "The plasticity of the human brain with regard to what it finds meaningful has already been conclusively demonstrated: depressed people often find 'everyday activities' unfulfilling and then find these activities fulfilling again following pharmacological treatment. Yet the treated and untreated individual are the same person: usually, even the depressed individual has a sense that things could 'seem' subjectively fulfilling or meaningful, and this can be a motivation for treatment. If a very long-lived person becomes bored, they could presumably [seek] treatment in the same manner as a present-day depressed person might. That is, when given the choice between a treatment that could help them find meaning in things again, and eternal nonexistence / oblivion, would most people honestly choose the eternal oblivion?" Some people are more prone to boredom than others; some people enjoy life more than others. There is always the choice not to live, or to seek change so as to live better.

Calcineurin, NFAT and Diabetes (September 24 2006)
ScienceDaily looks at another line of research that may lead to effective therapies for type 2 diabetes: "Certain immune-suppressing drugs [greatly] increase the risk of developing diabetes. These drugs are known to put a stranglehold on a protein called calcineurin. ... mice that had been bred to produce calcineurin in the pancreas only until they were born, which had been born with a normal number of beta cells, were severely diabetic ... [scientists] used further genetic trickery to bypass calcineurin by artificially activating its protein sidekick, called NFAT. Beta cells lacking calcineurin but with active NFAT behaved normally, multiplying as the mice aged and producing normal amounts of insulin. ... Drugs that enhance the activity of calcineurin or NFAT could become a new treatment for type-2, or adult-onset diabetes, in which the beta cells don't produce enough insulin." Remember that type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease; most people can choose to avoid it, reduce its effects, or greatly postpone onset.

Don't Call It "Old Age" (September 23 2006)
Good points made via the Life Extension Foundation News: "The concept of 'old age' doesn't have much use when you're trying to get well. Almost all aches and ailments can be traced back to pathology - something that has gone wrong with the body, a disease. Once we have identified a disease, we know where we stand, and frequently we can offer a treatment. So attributing a problem to 'old age' doesn't help us solve it. But when we try to understand certain situations, particularly where an aged person is very ill, the idea of 'old age' starts to have some value. There is a feature of aging that we cannot attribute to a single pathology, and that feature is a buildup of multiple pathologies that won't get better, and which tend to worsen each other." There's no such thing as normal age-related degeneration; none of it should be normal, and we can effectively work towards addressing the root causes of all of it.

More Autophagy and Aging Research (September 23 2006)
Ouroboros follows up on some of the more interesting recent research into the links between autophagy and age-related degeneration: "An old proverb has it that what is not growing is dying. Recent findings regarding autophagy - a process by which cells turn over old proteins and clear cellular detritus - lead me to believe that what is not self-degrading is also dying. A while back, we discussed a review that summarized the slowing of autophagy with increasing age. The efficiency of turnover decreases as an animal grows older, potentially creating a garbage catastrophe as increasing levels of damaged macromolecules further gum up the works. The upcoming issue of Molecular Aspects of Medicine has three reviews that treat various aspects of autophagy and aging in greater depth."

Regenerative Research (September 22 2006)
Wired takes a high-level look at present lines of research aimed at giving humans the regenerative capabilities of lower animals. The latter part of the piece also looks at the intriguing MRL mice, equipped with mighty regenerative capacities for a species of mammal: "[Heber-Katz] and her colleagues wanted to find out if other parts of these mice, known as the MRL strain, would also regenerate. So they performed some tests: They snipped off the tip of a tail, severed a spinal cord, injured the optic nerve and damaged various internal organs. All of the injuries healed, even the severed spinal cord. The results caused Heber-Katz to shift her research from autoimmune disease to regenerative medicine. Now, thanks to Darpa's call for grant applications in regeneration, scientists all over the country from various disciplines are working together on the MRL mouse."

$300,000 Newly Pledged to the MPrize (September 22 2006)
(From the Methuselah Foundation Blog). Three new members of The Three Hundred have pledged their support to the Methuselah Foundation and longevity research since Peter Thiel's $3.5M donation was announced. The latest Three Hundred member has pledged $250,000! He says: "Over the course of all human events, there never has been any time so dynamic, vibrant and exciting as today. What a wonderful time to be alive. Because of accelerating advances, being alive today is becoming second only to being alive tomorrow. Accelerating scientific advances in understanding are enabling ever increasing, extraordinary technologic innovations. Rocketing us into a future of enormous promise. The future, is indeed, quite bright." Thiel's $3 million matching grant applies to the ongoing donations of all Three Hundred members who choose to help fund SENS research conducted by the Methuselah Foundation - today is a good day to join!

Halting Alzheimer's In Rats (September 21 2006)
EurkeAlert! looks at progress in halting the progression of an animal model of Alzheimer's disease: "Stimulation of a receptor in the brain that controls insulin responses has been shown to halt or diminish the neurodegeneration of Alzheimer's disease ... peroxisome-proliferator activated receptor (PPAR) agonists prevent several components of neurodegeneration and preserve learning and memory in rats with induced Alzheimer's disease (AD). ... This raises the possibility that you can treat patients with mild cognitive impairment who have possible or probable Alzheimer's disease." This follows on from previous work in which "the researchers demonstrated that Alzheimer's is a brain-specific neuroendocrine disorder, or a Type 3 diabetes, distinct from other types of diabetes." Lo and behold: benefits from a class of compound already in use for type 2 diabetes. Do more readily available anti-diabetes strategies also hold off Alzheimer's? Time, and further research, will tell.

The Edmonton Aging Symposium (September 21 2006)
The tireless Kevin Perrott, executive director of the MPrize competition, is presently organizing the Edmonton Aging Symposium for March of 2007. As the growing program shows, Perrott is making good progress in attracting speakers of note. "This symposium is designed to bring an awareness of the rapid pace of the development of intervention-oriented therapies in age-related dysfunction to the non-scientist and the lab-hardened researcher alike, as well as draw the attention of policy-makers to the massive economic benefits available to those who create an environment where these technologies can be developed and implemented at all possible speed. ... The science-oriented sessions focus on the types of damage that accumulate with age, both what is known or can be done at present to slow or repair them, and what we might see in terms of future therapies."

Stem Cells, Managed Expectations (September 20 2006)
The successes of first generation stem cell therapies must be matched against the failures - there is no shortage of failure in any new and dynamic field. Understanding how to best use stem cells to induce regeneration is an ongoing process, and our expectations of progress must be kept realistic. From Forbes: "Two German trials that used injected stem cells to strengthen the heart muscle after a heart attack got good results, while a small Norwegian trial showed no benefit. All three trials used stem cells derived from bone marrow. ... The injection fraction of the stem-cell recipients improved by 5.5 percent, compared to 3 percent for those who got conventional treatment ... After a year, the stem-cell recipients had a significantly lower incidence of second heart attacks. Their death rate was lower and fewer of them needed treatment to reopen blocked blood vessels. ... In sharp contrast, the Norwegian [study] showed no beneficial effect."

Embryonic Stem Cells Versus Blindness (September 20 2006)
Washington Post reports on new embryonic stem cell research from Advanced Cell Technology: scientists "started by developing a reliable method for turning embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelium cells, which nourish the light-sensitive 'photoreceptor' cells in the eye. In macular degeneration, the pigment cells gradually disappear. The researchers achieved the transformation in all 18 stem cell lines they worked with ... treated rats had twice the visual acuity of the untreated rats nearly three months after treatment." Like much of ACT's present work, this is an early stage technology demonstration. It shows an increasingly sophisticated level of control over stem cell differentiation and examples of newly developed tools, processes and infrastructure needed to get the job done.

Bone Scaffold From Bacteria (September 19 2006)
An interesting article surfaced in the Daily Beacon on the use of bacteria to build scaffold material for transplant and bone regeneration. "Hutchens's idea for using bacterial cellulose to replicate bone began four years ago ... These bacteria are like spiders that swim around and weave this pure cellulose into a mesh ... We just lift off that layer, clean it, and then we are ready to use it. It is similar to tissue ... Comparing her synthetic calcium-phosphate material to actual bone, Hutchens found that the nanostructure was very similar. ... Whether this bioengineered bone will grow in the body is unknown, but that is the UTK student's next research step. Hutchens is preparing the paperwork required to conduct a biological study where she will implant her bone-like gel into an animal model. That test will determine whether the bone gel can attract developing bone cells, or osteoblasts, to an injured area and elicit bone regeneration." Past studies show that the right sort of scaffold material makes all the difference in enhancing regeneration in the body.

Transplants Made to Order (September 19 2006)
The Scientist takes a conservative look at the present grail of tissue engineering: "The possibility that we might engineer replacements for worn out tissues - from the simple slips of cartilage that cushion joints to fully differentiated, functional grafts in a ready-to-use format - is increasingly plausible. ... While visions of a healthy, shrink-wrapped heart ready to drop in the chest cavity of a needy patient are pure fantasy for now, tissue engineering is remarkably close to producing biological grafts that can reestablish normal tissue structure and function across different size scales, on a long term, and with the ability to remodel in response to environmental factors, growth, and aging."

Yet More Nanofiber-Enhanced Healing (September 18 2006)
The Chemical & Engineering News notes another group working on enhanced healing via nanofibers: researchers "combined neural stem cells [with] carbon nanofibers and injected the cocktail into damaged regions of the brains of rats that had suffered a simulated stroke. After a few weeks, [nanofibers] with stem cells promoted the growth of new neural tissue. On their own, neither nanofibers nor stem cells triggered neural tissue regeneration. Webster attributes the mixture's regenerative power to the fibers' favorable interaction with laminin, a key protein for promoting stem cell differentiation into neurons. Webster also thinks the nanofibers' ability to conduct electricity could help wire the neurons to one another." We are in the early days of discoverying practical methods for controlling and guiding the work of stem cells; present limited therapies will only get better with time.

$3.5M For the Methuselah Foundation (September 18 2006)
The Methuselah Foundation has received its second seven-figure donation: $3.5 million from Peter Thiel. "Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all. I'm backing Dr. de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones. ... Mr. Thiel will donate a total of $500,000 over the next three years to fund pilot research projects intended to deliver early stage validation of the 'SENS' approach to combating the debilitation caused by aging." Most of this money comes as a $3 million matching grant intended to speed further significant fundraising for research. There has never been a better time to donate to the Methuselah Foundation to help fund the new Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) research projects!



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