LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 23 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.
- Nanotechnology and Life Extension, Updated
- Reporting on the Alcor Conference 2006
- Thoughts on Volunteering
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
NANOTECHNOLOGY AND LIFE EXTENSION, UPDATED
Chris Phoenix, co-founder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, dropped me a line to remind of past updates to the version of his essay "Nanotechnology and Life Extension" at the Longevity Meme. After updating, I feel I should remind you folk that the article is just as good a read today as it was when first penned:
"A few thousand years ago, people lived about thirty years. From their point of view, we have already extended our lives to an amazing degree. However, from where we stand today, we can see that we still have a long way to go. Some people still die in their 40's from cancer, heart attack, stroke, and infections. This is tragic, and frustrating. Today's medicine is only somewhat able to deal with these and other conditions--and it has barely started to attack the problem of aging. But we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
"Fifty years from now, what causes of death will be preventable? That depends largely on the technology we will have available, so let's start by projecting some technology trends. Gene sequencing and identification will be as easy as a blood sugar test. Medical devices such as artificial hearts and insulin pumps will be implantable and well-integrated with the body's natural demands. Surgical instruments will be more delicate and less destructive; what today is 'major surgery' will be done with an office visit. Computers will be millions of times faster than today's machines. Last but not least, we will probably have the ability to build strong, useful, complex machines out of individual atoms and molecules. This is called 'nanotechnology' or simply 'nanotech', and it will make us healthier in several important ways."
REPORTING ON THE ALCOR CONFERENCE 2006
Mike LaTorra was kind enough to post his thoughts on the recent Alcor Conference 2006 to Cryonet. Links and excerpts can be found at the following Fight Aging! post:
Supporting the development and increasing professionalism of cryonics organizations is a sensible insurance policy for those interested in healthy life extension. Being cryopreserved is only the second worse thing that can happen to you - and you actually have some chance (albeit unknown) of coming back afterwards. You'll find an introduction to this line of thinking at the Longevity Meme:
THOUGHTS ON VOLUNTEERING
Having been out there stumping for donors and publicity back when the Methuselah Foundation was just the MPrize - and the fund was a mere $15,000 - I have to say I'm damn impressed at how far this has come. So many similar efforts have failed, become sidetracked or never amounted to much - but the Methuselah Foundation has succeeded, and succeeded in making a mark. Succeeded because ever more people saw its merits and put their strength behind the wheel.
Anne C., who has been volunteering with the Foundation of late, had this to say: "If there's one thing I've learned from all this so far, it's that there's no reason to think of yourself as someone who can't do anything, or that there are just special people in the world who get 'chosen' to help out in certain areas. If you want to help out with something, or you think you have something to say, just put it out there and see what happens!"
Very much to the point: if you want something done, get out there and do it. No one will stand in your way, and I suspect you'll be surprised as to just how much you can achieve. Read more here on volunteering with the Methuselah Foundation's efforts to speed development of healthy life extension technologies:
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/
Better Antioxidant Systems (October 22 2006)
Via News-Medical.net: "it may be possible to use drugs to strengthen the anti-oxidant system in the brain as a treatment for presently incurable diseases like Parkinson's, Huntington's, and Alzheimer's and possibly other maladies. ... the new finding of a specific regulator of the body's own anti-oxidant system could lead to more-effective treatments for a number of diseases, and might even retard some of the effects of aging." Soaking up free radicals may be a cost-effective approach in this era of decreasing costs for drug discovery (setting aside the very varied effectiveness of different antioxidant strategies in animal studies), but it isn't the root of the problem - at least for age-related degeneration. The root is the mechanism by which excessive free radicals are being generated. As a general rule of thumb, long-term cost effectiveness is better obtained by heading off the root cause than by patching up after the fact.
Stem Cells Rather Than Drugs (October 22 2006)
The Korea Times reports on an early proof of concept for replacing some drugs with tailored cell therapies - and going beyond what can be done with drugs in the future. If you're trying to boost or restore levels of specific biochemicals in the body for proven therapeutic effect, why not put in place cells that can do the job? "Our team differentiated embryonic stem cells into nerve cells generating dopamine and serotonin while Dr. Cunningham devised a model of psychiatric disease for applying our technology, engrafting and evaluating approximately 80 animals. Then, the animals behaved as if they had taken anti-depressant medication. ... we are still at the initial stage and it will take a long time to apply them to a human being." A long laundry list of age-related and other conditions could be treated in this way once scientists have sufficiently developed the technology base.
Restoring Mitochondrial Function (October 21 2006)
From Science, a new method of potentially repairing mitochondrial function in cases of free-radical damaged mitochondrial DNA - and thus preventing the chain of events that turns a fraction of your cells into free-radical producing monsters that contribute to degenerative aging. Interestingly, this mechanism was discovered through examination of a class of disease causing parasite, Leishmania. A number of age-related conditions - and some fraction of aging itself - "are caused by mutations in mitochondrial (mt) transfer RNA (tRNA) genes. Kinetoplastid protozoa, including Leishmania, have evolved specialized systems for importing nucleus-encoded tRNAs into mitochondria. We found that the Leishmania RNA import complex (RIC) could enter human cells [where] it induced import of endogenous cytosolic tRNAs [and] restored mitochondrial function." Nicely done.
Producing Insulin-Producing Cells (October 21 2006)
Via Medical News Today, another step forward in the ability of scientists to control stem cell differentiation: "Novocell researchers report in the article a differentiation process that successfully engineers human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into endocrine cells capable of producing insulin as well as other pancreatic endocrine hormones ... The in vitro differentiation process mimics normal pancreatic development in the body. ... The efficient, reproducible production of human embryonic stem cell- derived, insulin-producing endocrine cells through a process that mirrors the development of human pancreatic cells represents a critical step toward providing a renewable source of cells for diabetes therapy. This provides a foundation upon which we can build a standardized process for generating functional insulin-producing cells for the treatment of diabetic patients." Full control of stem cell differentiation will mean replacement tissue on demand for any damaged part of the body.
Building a Better Meniscus (October 20 2006)
More on the tissue engineering of cartilage from Medical News Today: "The project aims to develop a tissue-engineered meniscus using tailored three-dimensional scaffolds and mesenchymal stem cells (precursors of the meniscus). ... The general wear and tear of normal life can cause damage requiring surgery. In fact, in any gathering of people, about 50 percent of the group will have a damaged meniscus and some may not have any meniscus in one or both of their knees. Unlike other body tissues, the meniscus does not repair itself because only a very small part receives blood, which is why surgery is often needed. While most patients quickly recover from a meniscusectomy, long-term issues such as early arthritis of the knee joint are common. ... The holy grail would be to harvest some mesenchymal stem cells from the patient, combine them with the scaffolds and appropriate growth factors and then insert this matrix into the knee so the patient effectively regrows their meniscus."
Autophagy and the Aging Brain (October 20 2006)
Ouroboros walks us through the case for autophagy turning from good to bad as we age: "Previously, we've discussed autophagy as being on the side of the angels in the fight against cellular deterioration ... A new article in BioEssays [reviews] the evidence that in C. elegans, autophagy is responsible for the ultimate demise of neurons - the last holdouts against age-related decline, and themselves responsible for many aspects of genetic control of lifespan. ... Which is not to say that we should throw the autophagic baby out with the bathwater. It's quite conceivable that tissue targeting, timing of treatments, and other steps could be taken in order to make interventions based on autophagy an effective way to treat age-related decline. Rather, this is a reminder that too much of a good thing can be bad for you, and that autophagy is not always an angel. The devil is (as always) in the details."
Mitochondria and Neurodegeneration (October 19 2006)
As we now know, a complex chain of events causes faulty mitochondria to take over a small number of your cells as you age, causing them to spew forth damaging free radicals into your body. From a recent paper in Nature: "Many lines of evidence suggest that mitochondria have a central role in ageing-related neurodegenerative diseases. Mitochondria are critical regulators of cell death, a key feature of neurodegeneration. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA and oxidative stress both contribute to ageing, which is the greatest risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases. ... Thus, therapies targeting basic mitochondrial processes, such as energy metabolism or free-radical generation, or specific interactions of disease-related proteins with mitochondria, hold great promise."
Vector As Kill Mechanism (October 19 2006)
Intriguing cancer research is noted at Seed; rather than using a virus as the vector to deliver anti-cancer gene therapy or other payload, the virus itself kills cancer cells: "South Korean scientists have said they have developed a new genetically altered strain of virus which is highly efficient in targeting and killing cancer cells. The new [therapy] uses a genetically-engineered form of the adenovirus, which normally causes colds. ... When injected into cancerous tumors, the virus quickly multiplies in the cancer cells and kills them, the team said. ... The new adenovirus can target only cancer cells and does not harm normal cells, the team said. ... Following three rounds of injections, more than 90 percent of cancer cells in the brains, liver, lungs and womb of mice disappeared within 60 days, the team said. Clinical tests will be carried out early next year and last 18 months." Impressive stuff.
Decoying AGEs (October 18 2006)
An interesting idea in a review paper from earlier this year: "The receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) is a cell-bound receptor of the immunoglobulin superfamily which may be activated by a variety of [advanced glycation end products or AGEs] ... soluble RAGE (sRAGE) [lacks] the transmembrane domain and therefore circulates in plasma. By competing with cell-surface RAGE for ligand binding, sRAGE may contribute to the removal/neutralization of circulating ligands thus functioning as a decoy. Clinical studies have recently shown that higher plasma levels of sRAGE are associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, the metabolic syndrome, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease." If AGEs are binding to sRAGE instead of damaging your cells, this might just be a good thing - but not as good as getting rid of the AGEs in the first place.
Study: DHEA Doesn't Work (October 18 2006)
From Yahoo! News: "Widely used DHEA supplements and testosterone patches failed to deliver their touted anti-aging benefits in one of the first rigorous studies to test such claims in older men and women. The substances did not improve the participants' strength, their physical performance, or certain other measures of health." If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen times - precious little to help your healthy life span is going to come from pills pushed by the usual suspects in the "anti-aging" marketplace. Oh, I'm sure they'll put their best foot forward to efficiently supply you with working AGE-breaker drugs, whenever such things arrive - but the anti-aging marketplace is presently a delivery system without anything to deliver capable of matching up to the hype. It's a grand cart constructed at great expense a couple of decades prior to the horse.
A Reminder of the Trend (October 17 2006)
From WebMD a reminder that life expectancy has increased, is increasing, and will continue to increase in the future: "Life expectancy worldwide has been rising pretty steadily since 1840, at a rate of about two years per decade. In 1840, the longest-living people in the world were women in Sweden, and they lived an average of 45 years. ... James Vaupel, who directs the laboratory of survival and longevity at Rostock, Germany's Max Planck Institute, has written that advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of age-related diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, will usher in an age where every second child born in the industrialized world has an even chance of reaching the century mark. ... Although the belief that old-age mortality is intractable remains widespread, life expectancy is not approaching a limit ... Older people today are able to remain functionally independent much longer than in the past."
On Stem Cells Versus Parkinson's (October 17 2006)
From AJC.com: "More than a million Americans who suffer from the debilitating neurological disorder Parkinson's disease are likely to be among the first to benefit from promising advances in embryonic stem cell research ... We want to replenish the population of nerve cells that are dying in the brains of Parkinson's victims. The encouraging recent scientific finding is that human embryo [embryonic] stem cells can be grown into the specific dopamine neuron that dies in Parkinson's, and we know that it can be transplanted and restore function in animal models [rats]. ... "If we manage to grow stem cells at will, we could have a supply that could help a large number of patients and reconstitute their [brain] circuitry."
Perspectives on a Decade of Research (October 16 2006)
From Ouroboros, just returned from the 2006 CSHL Meeting on Molecular Genetics of Aging: "The meeting itself was at the same time exciting and grueling: There's so much happening in the field right now; one has the feeling of drinking from a firehose ... With a few days' remove from the experience, however, I keep returning to one theme: This field has exploded in the last dozen years. Without in any way meaning to denigrate the progress in study of aging prior the early 90's, the specific field in question at this conference (molecular genetics of aging) barely existed then. ... Starting in 1993, however, that began to change. ... I want to single out two papers that mark [for me] the beginning of the era of a true molecular genetics of aging. Both have had tremendous impact on the field over the ten years since - at the CSHL meeting, more than half of the talks were in some way based on the founding observations in these two papers."
Stem Cells Versus Nerve Damage (October 16 2006)
The Independent reports on continuing efforts to develop stem cell based regenerative therapies for nerve damage: "Scientists have shown that human stem cells can be used to treat laboratory rats suffering from the same degeneration of the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain that causes motor neurone disease in people. ... rats with the live cell transplants were able to retain their muscle control for longer than the second group of controls. A microscopic investigation showed that 70 per cent of the injected stem cells had developed into nerve cells and many of those grew nerve endings connecting to other cells in the rat's spinal cords. ... These stem cells differentiate massively into neurones - a pleasant surprise given that the spinal cord has long been considered an environment unfavourable to this type of transformation."