LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 09 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.
- Rube Goldberg in Your Cells
- It's All About the Quality of Life
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
RUBE GOLDBERG IN YOUR CELLS
Have you ever wondered how a just few free radicals dinging your mitochondrial DNA can turn into a major cause of age-related degeneration - and ultimately age-related death? Wonder no more: follow the link below for a high level summary, step by step, of the Rube Goldberg chain of events described in Aubrey de Grey's mitochondrial free radical theory of aging:
Nothing is ever simple in biochemistry - but I will say that the proposed medical engineering solution to the problem is easier to describe than the problem itself. After you've read your way through a (hopefully clear) description of the way in which faulty mitochondria turn your cells into cholesterol-corrupting oxidative stress machines, you might take a look at de Grey's explanation of what to do about it:
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE QUALITY OF LIFE
Now that more surveys and opinion polls on healthy life extension are taking place, I see ever more evidence that attitudes basically boil down to quality of life issues. The latest to catch my eye is a more scientific survey, though much smaller than less rigorous polling in the recent past:
If people believe - correctly - that healthy life extension really does mean HEALTHY life extension, a life of vigor and extended youth, then most are all for it. The fear that makes death attractive is that of living like the mythical Tithonus: becoming ever more frail and diseased with each passing year, but unable to die. Some background to that can be found in following Fight Aging! post:
All this leads me to suspect, once again, that the real obstacle to greater public support of healthy life extension research is the knee-jerk belief that life extension would mean being older for longer, rather than younger for longer. Fortunately, we have science on our side when attempting to dispel this belief. Modern medicine that, deliberately or otherwise, leads to repair or reduction of age-related cellular damage cannot lead to a world of people who suffer like Tithonus. Biological aging is a function of that damage: less unrepaired damage in your body would mean that you were literally more youthful.
The more we can do to spread this message, the better. It will bring more people into to the fold, supporting meaningful research and greater progress towards the necessary medical technologies for healthy life extension:
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/
"Use It Or Lose It" Demonstrated (October 08 2006)
Data noted by the LEF News provides a practical demonstration of "use it or lose it" for the retired set. "You'd think that retiring would make you healthier. Finally, you can leave all the stress of the working world behind. Think again. Complete retirement leads to an 11 percent decline in mental health, an 8 percent increase in illness, and a 23 percent increase in difficulty performing daily activities over a six-year period ... The declines in health are much lower and, in some cases, nonexistent for those that continue to work part time. ... Working longer is not always the path to better health, of course. If your work is routine and stressful or not intellectually challenging, then working longer can actually hurt your health. [The objective] should be to find a job that keeps you meeting fulfilling goals. ... There seem to be health benefits to keeping all of your body parts moving including the nerve cells in your brain."
The Optimistic View (October 08 2006)
Progress in science will - sooner or later - become progress in the medical technology you can buy. From the Daily Telegraph: "new drugs and vaccines will soon emerge to tackle a range of cancers, while stem cells will help cure diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. Miniature technology and smart materials are also predicted to play a greater role in medicine, helping to repair damaged nerves and possibly broken spinal cords. ... Some of the breakthroughs, such as gene profiling to detect disease risk, are predicted to become available within a decade. Others, such as growing new organs through stem cell research, may take longer but are still likely in the foreseeable future. ... We see ways of helping people with disabilities such as spinal injuries, nerve repair, bionic eyes, bionic ears, bionic bladders and so on. The whole field of materials connecting with the body is one of the most important areas of medical research for the future."
Controlling Mis-Inflammation (October 07 2006)
Chronic inflammation is very bad for your long term health and longevity: it's a potent source of cellular damage. Scientists are working hard to find ever more sophisticated ways to turn off inflammation, as illustrated in this article from EurekAlert!: "researchers identified a biochemical signaling pathway between human blood platelets, cells essential for blood clotting, and monocytes, white blood cells the body makes to fight inflammation and infection ... the blood platelet signals the monocyte two times, triggering production of Cox-2, an enzyme that helps regulate inflammation. But when blood platelets and monocytes get their signals crossed, it can lead to overproduction of the enzyme and result in cardiovascular diseases that strike and kill millions of people worldwide. ... This discovery has immediate clinical relevance. This opens the potential of developing medications for both the prevention of long-term atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and the acute events of heart attack."
On Medical Research Funding (October 07 2006)
Thoughts from Ronald Bailey at Reason Online on levels of funding for medical research: "The felt scarcity of research dollars probably results from two interacting developments. First, as biomedical knowledge increases exponentially the possible number of worthwhile experiments that researchers can imagine also soars. This leads to ever more proposals being submitted for funding consideration. Second, the questions being asked by researchers are now more complex, making biomedical experiments more expensive. Perhaps less benignly, overcautious regulatory requirements are eating up a lot of clinical pharmaceutical research dollars and slowing the introduction of new medicines. ... All I know is that the proper amount of research spending is that amount that will enable me and you to live as long we'd like. Is that asking for too much?" Remember that not all research funding is equally effective: it's the incentives that matter more than the dollar amount when it comes to results accomplished.
Practical Regenerative Medicine (October 06 2006)
Via Science, a look at the near future of regenerative medicine from the perspective of the newly minted researchers who will be making it all happen: "Stem cells are used in many different types of research: uncovering basic developmental mechanisms, exploring mechanisms of cell proliferation, and trying to develop cell transplantations and drug screening platforms ... Tissue engineering is a fairly underutilized area. Instead of growing cells for transplanting, you could take the cells and entice them to grow over scaffolds into a structure or organ in vitro and then transplant organs and tissues rather than cells into patients ... stem cell research - in the long term - can completely change our possibilities to repair the brain and do something for many neurological patients where we have nothing today."
Longevity Mutations and Cancer (October 06 2006)
Nature summarizes recent research into longevity mutations and cancer in nematode worms; the results suggest that further investigation of insulin pathway mutations in mammals could prove profitable. "Mutations in the [nematode] C. elegans insulin-receptor gene daf-2 extend lifespan by more than twofold. By contrast, mutations in the gld-1 tumour-suppressor gene cause germ cells to re-enter mitosis, overproliferate and give rise to tumours that kill the animal. When the authors combined the two mutations, however, the lifespan was indistinguishable from that of the daf-2 single mutant - the tumorigenic effect of gld-1 was completely abolished. How might the lack of insulin signalling prevent tumour development? The authors found that cell division decreased and apoptosis increased in the germ lines of the [daf-2 plus gld-1] double mutant compared with the gld-1 single mutant. Interestingly, daf-2 mutations affected only germline mitosis in the tumour, and not in the normal germ lines of otherwise wild-type individuals." Tantalizing hints that there might be a way around the "cancer or aging, pick one" situation.
CIRM and Timelines (October 05 2006)
The draft strategic plan (PDF) developed by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) provides another confirmation of the conventional wisdom regarding timelines for the next generation of stem cell therapies. From SignOnSanDiego.com: "The proposed strategic plan includes five and ten year goals, and a breakdown of the money that will be spent on a multitude of research areas. Since bringing a new product to market can take up to a dozen years and $1 billion - not to mention the millions of dollars that can be spent only to have a drug fail - the committee said it does not expect to be able to fully fund a stem cell therapy and bring it to market. But it does expect to help fund some early-stage clinical trials to establish proof of concept of new therapies using animal models, and some small, safety trials in humans." Medical research and development will never be as fast as we would all like it to be, even outside the realm of wasteful government spending; this sort of timeline is much as expected.
Supercentenarian Research Foundation (October 05 2006)
An update on progress in forming the Supercentenarian Research Foundation (SRF) can be found in the Pittsburgh Business Journal: "The foundation's goals are two-fold: to help improve quality of life for aging individuals and to try to emulate their successful longevity. The foundation will provide funding for research designed to identify the most important factors in helping supercentenarians avoid getting common diseases that kill most people at a younger age. ... Those who are approaching the maximum lifespan can provide us with some important information about aging. Why are they able to live longer than everybody else? Why don't they live longer than they do? The funds for research will help answer these questions." The SRF is an outgrowth of the Gerontology Research Group community; it's always good to see people setting forth to make a difference.
Speeding the Biotech Revolution (October 04 2006)
(From the Northwest Florida Daily News). The latest X Prize to be announced is indeed to speed already rapid progress in the field of genomics, the basis for the advanced, personalized medicine of tomorrow: the X Prize Foundation "is now teaming with a wealthy Canadian geologist to offer $10 million to any team that can completely decode the genes of 100 people in 10 days. ... The $10 million purse is being put up by Stewart Blusson, a Canadian geologist involved in discovering a trove of diamonds south of the Arctic Circle in 1991." Like the cost of processing power for the computing industry, the cost of DNA sequencing is a marker for broad progress in the biotechnology revolution: the cheaper it becomes, the more can be done to advance medicine, health and longevity. The path to radical life extension requires a continued acceleration of this progress - the more research prizes, the better!
Towards Early Alzheimer's Diagnosis (October 04 2006)
If it is the case that Alzheimer's is a form of diabetes, sensible lifestyle choices could have a large effect in the earliest stages of the condition - as they do for diabetes. There is no present method for detecting the earliest onset of Alzheimer's, however - but scientists are working on it. From EurekAlert!: "an update on progress and new findings on his optical tests for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease ... Goldstein will present "proof of concept" evidence obtained in mice that the tests can detect early molecular signs of the disease in the eye even before Alzheimer's pathology is present in the brain. This achievement raises hopes for detecting the disease at its earliest stages and slowing the progression of the disease to a crawl. ... these techniques have been tested in a Phase I trial in humans with phase III multicenter human clinical trials slated for next year. In the end, the tests could cost less than $300 per test."
More On CR, Aging In Monkeys (October 03 2006)
The MIT Technology Review takes another look at the long-term study of calorie restriction and aging in rhesus monkeys. In short, they provide the same sort of preliminary data as human studies to date - but much more of it: "Although there is now strong evidence that caloric restriction prevents diabetes in the primates (the disease is a major killer of captive rhesus monkeys), it's still too early to assess the diet's effects on their lifespan ... The study will likely go on for at least another decade, since the monkeys are only now entering old age. ... preliminary evidence suggests that the diet is preventing loss of muscle mass, arthritis, menstrual irregularities, and other signs of aging ... Whatever the mechanisms turn out to be, [there's] something that happens with that extra reduction of food intake that really affects the aging process."
Measuring Structural Skin Aging (October 03 2006)
(From EurekAlert!) The biochemical processes of aging change the structure of skin, leading to the familiar visual signs - along with a host of other, far more serious issues in skin-like tissues throughout the body. Testing real, scientific solutions (not the useless junk pushed by the "anti-aging" marketplace) has been hampered up until now by a lack of good diagnostics: "Currently, dermatologists who want to check out the collagen network of a patient's dermis need to remove a sample of tissue and analyze it in the lab, under a microscope or by other methods. In particular, it is impossible to monitor variations in the very same spot as aging progresses. ... researchers [have] demonstrated a new technique that non-invasively measures in real time the level of damage to the skin from sun exposure and aging ... This new laser-based technique images the fabric of the deeper layers of the skin, combining methods for imaging collagen and elastin, whose degeneration causes the appearance of wrinkles and the progressive loss of skin smoothness."
Cell Wraps to Repair Blood Vessels (October 02 2006)
The Boston Globe looks at a good example of present day research and development at the tissue engineering side of regenerative medicine. Pervasis Therapeutics is working to "fix arteries and veins not with tools, but by wrapping them in a gelatinous sheath of living, healthy cells. ... a 'cellular Band-aid' - a soft wrapper lined with a healthy colony of living blood-vessel cells. ... surprisingly, he found that they didn't need to be stuffed inside injured blood vessels to help them heal properly. Even wrapped around the outside of the artery, the cells appear to spur healing on the inner surface. In essence, the wrap fixes arteries by rebuilding them inside-out. ... If his idea works in humans, he said, it would show that you don't need to fully rebuild an organ to replace it. ... It could very well be that you could get 95 percent of the functionality that you wish, without getting anywhere close to 100 percent of the structure."
Telomeres and Osteoarthritis (October 02 2006)
From ScienceDaily, news of a correlation between osteoarthritis and shortened telomeres: "X-rays of both hands were taken of all participants to check for signs of osteoarthritis and a blood sample was taken to assess 'biological aging' in white cell DNA. ... Unsurprisingly, the findings showed that white cell telomere lengths were associated with chronological age. The older a person was, the shorter they were. But among the 160 people with hand osteoarthritis, the telomere length was significantly shorter than among those without the disease ... the amount of telomere shortening was equivalent to that accrued over 11 years in healthy people ... The more severe the disease, the shorter was the telomere length. ... The authors suggest that both the aging process and osteoarthritis share biological factors in common, including oxidative stress and low level chronic inflammation."