LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 30 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.
- Update on LysoSENS Research
- Mid-term Optimism On Cancer
- Advances in Human Cryopreservation
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
UPDATE ON LYSOSENS RESEARCH
Good news from the Methuselah Foundation: the seed funding and initial results of LysoSENS research is attracting further resources to assist in continuing the work.
"The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has awarded biochemist John Schloendorn a $30,000 scholarship that will enable him to pursue anti-aging research as a Ph.D. student in the School of Life Sciences. Schloendorn is part of the institute's inaugural doctoral graduate assistantship class of 2006. ... Schloendorn's work has led to the isolation and characterization of bacteria that efficiently degrade several recalcitrant cholesterol breakdown products, among them 7-ketocholesterol, that are thought to play a major role in atherosclerosis (the cause of almost all heart attacks and strokes). His future objective is to isolate the enzymes responsible for the breakdown and test their therapeutic prospects in cell models of the disease, with the ultimate goal of creating medical bioremediation treatments for humans."
Of such small steps are long journeys made. This is a welcome validation of the present strategy of choosing researchers and institutions compatible with SENS research. If you're going to roll snowballs, roll them down a snow-covered hill: success is both more likely, and more likely to attract further resources to the project.
In this way, by intelligently backing the right researchers and research programs, the Methuselah Foundation can multiply the impact of donations to SENS research funding. You can learn more about LysoSENS - and the age-related conditions it seeks to prevent - at the Foundation website:
MID-TERM OPTIMISM ON CANCER
I am fairly optimistic that, barring stunning bad luck, the cancer of future decades will do no worse to me than put a modest dent in my bank balance. See this Fight Aging! post for some of the present day science that informs this view:
"In essence, cancer cells are quite different. They act differently, and their biochemical programming is different. The breakneck pace of advance in biotechnology, driven by advances in processing power and the ability to engineer ever more effectively at the nanoscale, is now enabling researchers to take advantage of this fact. Firstly, scientists are able to cost-effectively identify actual, detectable differences between cancer cells and healthy cells. Secondly, scientists can cost-effectively design and produce complex molecules - drugs - to interact precisely with cancer cells in a given fashion. This second part of the equation was a tough and uncertain process as recently as 15 years ago; while still a challenge, it has become much easier in recent years. Given another decade of progress, turning out the design for a molecule to precisely perform a given biological task - with no side-effects - will be a short task that a researcher hands off to a computer."
ADVANCES IN HUMAN CRYOPRESERVATION
An interesting announcement from Suspended Animation, a cryonics research group, can be found here:
"Suspended Animation will be hosting a special meeting at the end of May, 2007 to disseminate important new information about cryonics research and development, and services. Under the broad title "Advances in Human Cryopreservation," we will present progress reports from a wide range of sources including 21st Century Medicine, Critical Care Research, Suspended Animation, Alcor Foundation, The Cryonics Institute, and the American Cryonics Society. ... We will provide information about the most ambitious research plan in the history of cryobiology, describing stage one of an unprecedented effort to achieve reversible whole-body vitrification without the need for cell repair via [future] nanotechnology."
While we'd all like to arrange our futures such that we avoid both death by aging and cryopreservation, it just isn't going to work out that way for all too many of us. For all its uncertainty, cryonics is the only sensible, scientific insurance policy out there for those interested in healthy life extension: it provides an unknown chance, which is a whole lot better than no chance at all. We all benefit from continuing progress, growth and professionalism of cryonics providers.
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/
Viral Infections and Memory Damage (October 29 2006)
The New Scientist looks at the evidence for damage to memory caused by viral infections across a lifetime: "A group of aggressive viruses, including those responsible for common colds, polio and diarrhoea, may harm a crucial memory-processing region in the brain known as the hippocampus, researchers say. The viruses, called picornaviruses, infect more than a billion people worldwide each year - people contract two or three such infections per year on average. ... This fact may explain the severe memory problems seen in some elderly people who do not have neurodegenerative illnesses ... repeated severe colds might possibly cause damage to this brain region that accumulates over a person's lifetime. [Researchers] plan to conduct brain scanning tests to look for signs of such damage in people with a history of acute infections." In addition to the buildup of damage over a lifetime, we can speculate as to the role of an increasingly ineffective aging immune system.
Early Nanomedicine Versus Cancer (October 29 2006)
Early nanomedicine means the practical results of better nanoscale engineering, as opposed to medical nanorobots; the foundations for that advanced technology are still being planned and laid. From the Motley Fool, a look at how near term nanotechnology trends apply to the defeat of cancer: "In war, an ideal solution would be to have a 'smart' platform that could both detect and then eradicate an enemy. The same is true with cancer. And this leads us to perhaps the most significant nanotechnology-related development in the war on cancer: the creation of nanoscale devices that can both image cancer and then effectively deliver drug therapies. Essentially, the promise is to manufacture 'smart' devices that can detect unique cancer cells and deliver a drug molecule (or a more potent combination of different drug molecules) directly into the cancer cells. One such platform now under development is a dendrimer, and it is now being pursued by a couple of different companies."
Philadelphia on Longevity Research (October 28 2006)
A Philadelphia Magazine article from earlier this year starts out in a similar vein to the recent New York Magazine piece on calorie restriction, but becomes more astute closer to the end: "While much of anti-aging research and its recent genetic breakthroughs is closely related to well-heralded advances in diseases like cancer or Alzheimer's, the field was something of a scientific stepchild for decades. That's partly a result of our own attitudes, our acceptance of what we see as the depressing but unavoidable course of nature. Ten more heart-healthy years? Sign us up. A 'cure' for aging? That's just silly. Absent a public push for an anti-aging pill, there's been no billion-dollar incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to drill down on anti-aging efforts the way it does on age-related disease." Therein lies the real problem, the root of slow progress - and the reason I consider advocacy to be a worthwhile activity.
Calcium Hypothesis of Aging and Dementia (October 28 2006)
From EurekAlert!: "Diseases like Alzheimer's are associated with a loss of 'calcium-binding' proteins that protect nerve cells, said Moyer. Calcium is necessary for communication between neurons in the brain, and learning and memory are not possible without it. But too much of it leads to neuron death, interfering with memory and contributing to neurodegenerative diseases. ... Calcium-binding proteins decline with age, however, limiting the brain's ability to control or handle the amount of calcium 'allowed in.'" More work is needed to relate this mechanism to its cause. Where are those proteins going? Are the genes that produce them less active, or are they destroyed by other chemicals that build up with age? This researcher is looking at a replacement strategy: "Aequorin, the jellyfish protein, appears to be a viable substitute."
Rational Longevity (October 27 2006)
Anne C. explains what she means by rational longevity: "Supporting longevity research is acknowledging that there is nothing special about aging that makes it any less solvable than any other complex engineering problem ... There's a big difference between believing something will happen because it makes you feel better to do so, and having a goal in mind, not knowing whether it's possible or not, but being motivated to work to see if it is possible. Life extension science falls into the latter category for me. It isn't a fantasy or a daydream or an existential palliative. It's an experiment, and a project, and something well worth exploring. Whatever we can learn about anatomy and health represents data for the scientific memepool, which can translate to the potential for better lives for everyone, now and in the future."
The Power of Better Diagnostics (October 27 2006)
From Ars Technica, a look at the real might of improved diagnosics - often the first impact of new technologies. Don't overlook the power of identifying age-related disease early: it may not be as flashy as late-stage cures, but it's impressively effective for many conditions. "They followed over 30,000 individuals at-risk for lung cancer over a dozen years via annual rapid CT screenings. Of the 412 people who developed lung cancer over that time, the screening procedure allowed 88 percent of those cases to be caught at the earliest stage. Overall, the survival rate was over 80 percent in the participants who were caught early, but for those in this group who opted for surgical removal within a month of the diagnosis, the estimated 10 year survival rate is a staggering 92 percent. The eight patients who opted not to be treated were all dead by the end of the study. ... lung cancer [kills] an estimated 160,000 people annually in the US alone, where about 95 percent of those diagnosed with the disease currently die of it."
The Future of Dentistry (October 26 2006)
The near future of dentistry, as for many other fields of medicine, will prominently feature stem cells and tissue engineering: "Virtually all craniofacial structures are derivatives of mesenchymal cells. Mesenchymal stem cells are the offspring of mesenchymal cells following asymmetrical division, and reside in various craniofacial structures in the adult. Cells with characteristics of adult stem cells have been isolated from the dental pulp, the deciduous tooth, and the periodontium. Several craniofacial structures [have] been engineered from mesenchymal stem cells, growth factor, and/or gene therapy approaches. As a departure from the reliance of current clinical practice on durable materials such as amalgam, composites, and metallic alloys, biological therapies utilize mesenchymal stem cells, delivered or internally recruited, to generate craniofacial structures in temporary scaffolding biomaterials. Craniofacial tissue engineering is likely to be realized in the foreseeable future, and represents an opportunity that dentistry cannot afford to miss."
Inside a Stem Cell Trial (October 26 2006)
The Scientist takes us inside one of a number of trials of first generation autologous stem cell therapy aimed at regenerating the damage of heart disease: "More than 10 years ago, researchers isolated endothelial progenitor cells from the ranks of CD34+ cells derived from bone marrow or mobilized to the peripheral blood. This provided a rationale for the idea that CD34+ cells could induce angiogenesis. Human CD34+ cells have been shown to induce angiogenesis and improve cardiac function in a rat model of myocardial ischemia, and CD31+ cells, the pig analog of CD34+ cells, have been shown to do the same in that species. The Phase II trial Bergman is enrolled in follows a successful Phase I trial of the method in humans, using direct injection following catheterization because it can precisely target areas of ischemia."
More Support For LysoSENS (October 25 2006)
The LysoSENS bioremediation research initially funded by the Methuselah Foundation is attracting more resources: "The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has awarded biochemist John Schloendorn a $30,000 scholarship that will enable him to pursue anti-aging research as a Ph.D. student in the School of Life Sciences. ... Schloendorn's pioneering work [focuses] on identifying microbes that possess particularly effective mechanisms to biodegrade the molecular 'junk' that accumulates inside cells over time, and is at the root of many of the debilities caused by aging. ... Schloendorn's work has led to the isolation and characterization of bacteria that efficiently degrade several recalcitrant cholesterol breakdown products, among them 7-ketocholesterol, that are thought to play a major role in atherosclerosis (the cause of almost all heart attacks and strokes). His future objective is to isolate the enzymes responsible for the breakdown [with] the ultimate goal of creating medical bioremediation treatments for humans."
Arthritis and Surplus DNA (October 25 2006)
A new look at the roots of rheumatoid arthritis can be found at the New Scientist: "Mice that cannot degrade surplus DNA develop arthritis ... If the same occurs in humans, the discovery may suggest new treatments for the inflammatory disorder ... Not only did their joints develop the same inflamed, eroded appearance, but the characteristic chemicals humans produce when they have arthritis also turned up, including inflammatory signal molecules such as interleukins and interferons. ... Meanwhile, macrophages chock-full of undigested DNA accumulated in the mice's bone marrow, livers and spleens. Macrophages can signal to other cells to turn on inflammation, which is an important step in the body's fight against infection, but which when chronically activated in joints causes the symptoms of arthritis. ... The researchers conclude that macrophages gorged with DNA they cannot digest turn on TNF-alpha production, which leads to chronic inflammation in the joint, causing arthritis. The same thing may occur in humans."
Another Targeted Cancer Killer (October 24 2006)
Cancer cells are different from normal cells in many fundamental ways. Inventive scientists are using those differences to build a wide range of targeted cancer killers. EurekAlert! has the scoop one of the latest: "a molecule containing long, double-stranded RNA is attached to epidermal growth factor (EGF) and delivered selectively to cells with an abnormally high number of epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR). ... The nucleic acid-EFG molecule [is] avidly gobbled up by the multiple EGF receptors on the cancer cells, without harming normal cells. ... Normal cells, which possess 20 to 100 less receptors for EGF, are spared, since the amount of double-stranded RNA gobbled up is insufficient to induce them to die. The lethal RNA approach has been applied to mice in which human brain tumors were grown. The tests proved 100% effective in eliminating the tumorous growths." Effective, low-cost cancer therapies are an essential component of future longevity medicine - the more progress the better!
DNA Repair Mechanisms and Aging (October 24 2006)
A new finding on DNA repair and aging is reporting at ScienceDaily: "cells in young fruit flies make use of a different mix of molecular DNA-repair mechanisms compared to cells in older flies. ... the reproductive cells of young flies tend to use the rough-and-ready repair processes that do not involve extensive DNA synthesis and do not require a matching DNA template for the repair. As the organisms age, however, the same kind of DNA breaks are repaired primarily by the slower but much more accurate methods that make use of a matching template. These findings raise the question of whether the rapid but risky methods of DNA repair used by cells of young individuals contribute to the accumulation of genetic damage, and perhaps to the aging process itself. Older cells may use the safer repair methods, but they still carry the genetic damage incurred during DNA repair in the fly's 'reckless' youth."
New York on Calorie Restriction (October 23 2006)
A slice of calorie restriction (CR) life in this article from New York Magazine; more than a little journalistic hyperbole and arrogance tops the feast (as we all know, the boundaries of the world lie at the limits of a journalist's preconceptions, and playing it straight doesn't sell papers), but the author gets the science mostly right: "Seat belts, vaccines, clean tap water, and other modern miracles have dramatically boosted average life expectancies, to be sure - reducing annually the percentage of people who die before reaching the maximum life span - but CR alone demonstrably raises the maximum itself. In lab studies going back to the thirties, mice on severely limited diets have consistently lived as much as 50 percent longer than the oldest of their well-fed peers - the rodent equivalent of a human life stretched past the age of 160. And it isn't just a mouse thing: Yeast cells, spiders, vinegar worms, rhesus monkeys - by now a veritable menagerie of species has been shown to benefit from CR's life-extending effects."
The Nature of Biotech Progress (October 23 2006)
In noting yet another leap forward in bioinformatics, Randall Parker makes the following observation: "One (I think mistaken) argument made against the practicality of pursuing Aubrey de Grey's SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) proposal to reverse aging is that the problems we need to solve in order to reverse aging won't become solvable in the next few decades. ... But I think these critics are missing an obvious reason why biotechnology can advance more rapidly ... The biochip reported above is able to speed up the collection of cellular metabolic information with a leap forward that is many times greater than the rate at which Intel co-founder Gordon Moore' predicted that computers would become faster. ... In a nutshell, we have the technology to do lots of small scale manipulations and measurements. Scientists and engineers who apply that technology to biological problems can therefore make huge leaps in the development of capabilities to study and manipulate biological systems."