LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 02 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.
- What Happens To Aging Stem Cells?
- On Enthusiasm, Clueless and Otherwise
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
WHAT HAPPENS TO AGING STEM CELLS?
As you become old, your stem cells cease to pull their weight: your capacity to heal and grow new tissue declines. This decline causes or complicates many other unfortunate age-related issues. Scientists examining stem cells (or "satellite cells") associated with muscle tissue are presently debating two possibilities: either your population of stem cells declines as you age, or the actions of your stem cells are increasingly suppressed by biochemical cues and internal changes. One of the more recent papers in this debate is noted here:
Science is always at its most exciting when you see a series of contradictory but otherwise sensible and internally consistent research papers. Some researchers demonstrate a large population of less active stem cells; others show a small population of fully active stem cells. Who is right? This sort of thing always happens in the run up to some new understanding of biochemistry. With greater understanding comes the ability to do something about the age-related decline of natural regeneration.
ON ENTHUSIASM, CLUELESS AND OTHERWISE
If you take the time to look for it, there's a great deal of enthusiasm for healthy life extension out there - or at least for "youth extension." All too much of it is quite clueless, however, water poured upon gravel to no good end:
"There are two sorts of clueless enthusiasm for healthy life extension; type 1 is focused on the now, the cricket who wants answers immediately, searches where the light is shining, and has no willingness to look to the future. People affected with this sort of clueless enthusiasm are actively engaged in deluding themselves - or allowing themselves to be deluded by others. Reality is harsh: while there are many simple things you can do for your health, all require work and sacrifice. There is no silver bullet, and there is no presently available way to greatly extend your maximum life span. All too many people are willing to claim otherwise while taking your money, however.
"Type 2 clueless enthusiasm is potentially more useful to those of us seeking support for scientific anti-aging research. The type 2 enthusiast does look to the future, but is just as ill-informed as the type 1 enthusiast when it comes to science, what will work and the best path forward."
We can do a great deal of good by helping the type 2 enthusiasts to learn a little science and understand why they should stand behind scientific efforts like the MPrize or SENS research. A pool of resources to speed research and public support stands waiting - they're just presently a little misdirected, is all.
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/
Chasing the Axon's End (October 01 2006)
A recent New York Academy of Sciences meeting examined the potential for regeneration in the central nervous system: "Long regarded as unyielding territory by neurobiologists and neurologists alike, the capacity of the adult central nervous system (CNS) for growth is at last being revealed, along with its limitations. Just within the past few years scientists have discovered that neurons - the information-processing cells of the brain - can multiply in the adult, an idea that was previously unheard of. Adult neurons can also form new axons, the long extensions that allow neurons to form connections and thereby communicate. With this new understanding comes the need to identify growth-promoting signals. If such signals could be controlled, it might be possible to spur the establishment of new connections between neurons and, ultimately, to treat previously incurable neurological problems."
More On Regenerative Research (October 01 2006)
Via the LEF News, more media attention given to attempts to replicate the regenerative abilities of lower animals and a very few mammals: "Buoyed by recent genetic breakthroughs, researchers at Northwestern University and across the country have hopes of achieving a feat long thought to be impossible: enabling people to replace damaged body parts or even regrow missing limbs. ... All of a sudden, this becomes not so much science fiction but really a challenging science problem. This particular project to regrow digits and limbs on humans is kind of like saying we're going to go to the moon ... There is a transition in us humans where we go from a perfect wound healing phase through regeneration early on, to a later phase where scars begin to form. That means we probably also possess the appropriate genes to perfectly heal wounds without scars. And that's the idea my colleagues and I have - to see if we can find the regeneration switch and reactivate it in humans."
Cancer Vaccine Work Progresses (October 01 2006)
A summary article from an ABC station reminds us that work on cancer vaccines continues to move forward: "The study to create a new solution to pancreatic cancer [median survival from diagnosis is around 3 to 6 months; 5-year survival is much less than 5%] is headed by Dr. Laheru and has been in progress for about two years. The researchers are using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, but are supplementing it with a new vaccine. The vaccine uses cancer cells that are stunted in growth that emit a certain molecule called GM-CSF. This molecule attracts cells that still have immunity to the tumor and causes them to come in contact with antigens from cells that have been exposed to radiation. These same cells then travel around the body and annihilate other cancerous cells. Patients receive the vaccination eight to 10 weeks after surgery and again after chemotherapy and radiation in a series of four booster shots. Two years into the study, the statistical results are optimistic. Of the 60 patients in the study, survival rates are reported to be 88 percent after one year and 76 percent after two years."
The Biochemistry of Being Fit (September 30 2006)
Being fit is good for the healthy longevity of components and systems within your body. Via the open journal Immunity & Aging, here is a look at fitness and the aging immune system: "Highly conditioned elderly men seem to have relatively better preserved immune system than the sedentary elderly men. Long-term endurance training has the potential to decelerate the age-related decline in immune function ... elderly runners showed a significantly higher T cell proliferative response and IL-2 production than sedentary elderly controls. IL-2 production was similar to that in young adults. Their serum IL-6 levels [a pro-inflammatory cytokine] were significantly lower than their sedentary peers. ... Of the various components of the immune system, T cells are the most sensitive to the effects of aging. Mitogen-induced T cell proliferation is usually reduced, and this may be the result from disruption of the well-balanced network of regulatory cytokines."
The Value of Progeria Research (September 29 2006)
Ouroboros points out the greater value of progeria research beyond the development of a cure for these rare conditions: "Premature aging syndromes in model organisms and humans provide insight into the mechanisms of natural aging. To the extent that progerias represent true acceleration of wildtype aging processes, they also draw our attention to genes that might someday be targeted by lifespan-enhancement strategies. ... Farnesyltransferase inhibitors, a class of drugs originally developed to attack the Ras pathway in cancer, are showing great promise in reversing the nuclear abnormalities resulting from the underlying lamin A/C mutation [of progeria]." Aging cells share some of the same characteristics as progeroid cells; time will tell just how important this will be to the development of a working rejuvation toolkit.
Trends to Watch For In Biotechnology (September 29 2006)
Randall Parker hammers on the important trends again: "Until recently, DNA methylation could only be studied one gene at a time. But a new microarray-based technique developed at Illumina enabled the scientists conducting this new study to simultaneously examine hundreds of potential methylation sites ... Some people argue that anti-aging therapies are a distant prospect because even at Moore's Law (which is a doubling time for computer power of about 18 to 24 months) rates of advance it will take a long time before biotechnology can reverse full body aging. ... But biotechnology can advance more rapidly than computer technology did because biotechnology is in the process of harnessing techniques first developed for the computer industry over a period of decades. ... This allows biotech to capture in a relatively short period of time the gains of decades of semiconductor technology. So I'm not surprised to read about sudden orders of magnitude increases in the ability to do biological experiments using silicon chips." Rapid trends towards faster, better and cheaper tools are driving the biotechnology revolution.
Bionanotechnology Progresses (September 28 2006)
Advanced medical technologies of the future will build upon the foundation of medical bionanotechnology under development today. As this Harvard release illustrates, the field is healthy and growing: "The Kavli Foundation and Harvard University have agreed to establish the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology (KIBST) ... The KIBST will seek to develop a deeper understanding of the functioning of life and biology at the nanoscale level by developing new tools and probes that marry microfabrication and microfluidics with high-resolution imaging. Our goals are to use such new techniques to probe the behavior of single molecules, cells, tissue, and organs; to gain a deeper understanding of the essential relationship between structure and function that controls all biology; and to combine structural and functional studies from the scale of single molecules to the scale of tissues and whole organs."
Neurons and Deinococcus Radiodurans (September 28 2006)
Very speculative science from LiveScience: what can be done with greater understanding of a regenerating microbe that shares some attributes in common with your cells? "This is the first case, I think, of a living cell that clinically dies - its DNA is chopped into little pieces and it has no metabolism - when desiccated, and yet, as long as it can reconstitute its genome, it reconstitutes its own life ... Radman believes his team's findings open up the possibility of resurrecting dead cells in our own bodies, specifically those in our brains. ... It allows us now, legitimately, to dream of bringing back to life dead or close to dead neurons. ... Like Deinococcus, neurons carry two - albeit slightly different - copies of their genomes: one from Mom and the other from Dad. In fact, all the cells in our bodies except sperm and egg contain two genome copies. Therefore, it's possible that one day scientists could resurrect dead neurons using repair mechanisms similar to those employed by Deinococcus, Radman said."
The Longevity Dividend Means Good Press (September 27 2006)
Via the Mandurah Mail, an example of the way that recent changes in the public positions of high-profile gerontologists - such as those proposing the Longevity Dividend initiative - will lead to greater public support for all reputable scientific approaches to extending the healthy human life span: "We have reached an historical moment as scientists learn enough about ageing to postpone a wide range of fatal and disabling diseases. Interventions at a range of levels not only increase longevity in laboratory organisms, but can dramatically increase the duration of a disease-free life. We are now staring to identify the effect of hormones on the cellular pathways which influence ageing. ... In short we have found that extending the duration of health life in humans by slowing down the ageing process is now a very real scientific possibility." To hear this repeated loudly and clearly will have very positive effects on funding and science in the years ahead.
New Competitor for the MPrize (September 27 2006)
The Methuselah Foundation announced the latest competitor for the MPrize for anti-aging research today: "Renowned epigenetics expert Dr. Craig A. Cooney of The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced today that he is entering the competition to win the Methuselah Mouse Prize (Mprize). The Mprize, a scientific research prize aimed at encouraging scientists to find a way to reverse the aging process, is a primary activity of the Methuselah Foundation. The Mprize fund continues to grow and currently stands at more than $3 Million. Prizes will be awarded to research groups that can most successfully extend the lifespan of laboratory mice. ... Age-related diseases cause people to die much younger than they should,and from my research I foresee the possibility of slowing down or even curing these diseases. The Mprize is a great way to raise public awareness that the degeneration of aging is not inevitable -- I am looking forward to joining this effort."
An Update on Bacterial Immortality (September 26 2006)
While not directly relevant to healthy life extension in humans, it is, I think, important to remember that immortality surrounds us: the immortality of cells, bacteria, and the material from old individuals that grows into young children. Avoiding age-related degeneration and death is quite possible for biological systems - it is an unfortunate accident of physics that aging animals win out in the long haul of evolution. Here, more news from the New Scientist on the immortality - or not - of bacteria: "Ageing may be a strategic 'choice' for bacteria, since poor nutrition can lead to immortality in the single-celled organisms, a mathematical modelling study predicts. In 2005, their mortality was declared, after bacteria were shown to get old and die. That obituary is now looking premature. ... Organisms in nutrient-poor environments should be selected for symmetric division and therefore be immune to ageing. Bacteria on scanty nutrients grow slowly and presumably do not age - we know the possible mechanism now."
Progress Towards the Brain Atlas (September 26 2006)
Wired reports on a major milestone: "Scientists have mapped every gene in the mouse brain as part of Paul Allen's Brain Atlas project launched in 2001. ... The brain atlas combines cellular-resolution scans of the mouse brain with precise information about which genes are expressed where. ... We have essentially mapped each individual gene in the mouse brain, about 21,000 genes in all, down to the cellular level. ... The nonprofit's directors [will seek] additional sources of public and private funding for the next big step: scanning human brain tissue." The aging brain is one of the greatest challenges of the decades to come for healthy life extension science. If we are to benefit from future advances in repairing tissue and biochemical systems, we must become very, very good at repairing the aging brain. Tools like the Brain Atlas are the first step towards the understanding and technologies that will make this possible.
Better Tools, Faster Results (September 25 2006)
AScribe provides a sense of the sort of infrastructural improvements taking place in the field of biotechnology: scientists "have discovered a new technique to let them watch, visualize and precisely measure a key oxidant in animal cells ... In the past, our techniques for measuring or understanding superoxide were like blindly hitting a box with a hammer and waiting for a reaction. Now we can really see and measure, in real time, what's going on in a cell as we perform various experiments ... they have used the new technique to learn as much in the past three months about the basic cell processes as they did in the previous 15 years ... This will enable labs all over the world to significantly speed up their work on the basic causes and processes of many diseases, including ALS, arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and others. And it should be especially useful in studying aging, particularly the theory that one cause of aging is mitochondrial decay."
Emerging Technologies Conference (September 25 2006)
The Technology Review's Emerging Technologies Conference kicks off on the 27th. While it covers a wide range of technology, some of the speakers are involved in aging and healthy life extension research. "Leonard Guarente has been on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1981, currently as the Novartis Professor of Biology. Mr. Guarente formerly studied gene regulation in eukaryotes, then the mechanism of aging and its regulation using yeast and higher organisms. ... Thomas Perls is a physician and researcher in the study of aging at Boston University Medical School. [For] the past 11 years, Perls has directed the New England Centenarian Study ... Richard Weindruch is Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin. In 1975, as a graduate student at UCLA, he began his interest in caloric restriction (which slows the aging process in diverse animal models). ... Mr. Westphal is CEO and Vice Chairman of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, the leading sirtuin therapeutics company."