LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
November 27 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.
- Rounding Up the Science at Fight Aging!
- Cause and Consequence
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
ROUNDING UP THE SCIENCE AT FIGHT AGING!
The past week at Fight Aging! turned into something of an exercise in rounding up interesting science, research and related news. Far more is going on that any one person can comment on, but it's good to get a sense of progress:
"If a function or population of cells within the body differs between youth and age, then that is something researchers need to look at: is a root cause or consequence of aging? If the former, then we should aim to do something about it."
"I'm sure you've noticed that the work of Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova on the relationship of maternal age (and thus also birth order) to longevity is back in the press. It will be interesting to see what the underlying mechanisms turn out to be - but I doubt they will be anything other than yet another advertisement for the merits of working rejuvenation technologies. We really need to get moving on the development of ways to effectively turn back and repair the accumulation of cellular damage that causes aging."
"A range of new and interesting lines of research is presently underway in the Alzheimer's research community. Along the way, they are building a foundation of technology and knowledge for the next generation of brain medicine. This is a very good thing; assuming that tissue engineering and cancer research proceed much as we expect over the next few decades - and assuming similar levels of progress in dealing with damaged mitochondria and the aging immune system - then the brain begins to look like the complex sticking point for healthy life extension."
"The problem with Alzheimer's - and most other complex biochemistry - is the matter of identifying what is the cause and what is the effect. It is to be expected that much of what has been discovered by researchers will fall to the wayside as a side effect of the progression of Alzheimer's rather than an actual root cause."
CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE
Any sufficiently complex system is a tough nut to crack when it comes to diagnosing and understanding problems; what are needed are greater insight, understanding and ability to manipulate tiny components one by one. Fortunately, the biotechnology revolution is providing the tools and knowledge to do this for the human body.
Today, researchers debate back and forth on the role of many specific biochemical and structural changes that occur as we age. Are they cause or effect? What are the consequences of intervening in a given way at that point? Most tests and trials are still too crude to make definitive individual recommendations - a matter of throwing in the next chemical to see if it improves matters in the aggregate, and determining the odds of success for the next patient. There is too much of a focus on the obvious effects of aging and too little on the more subtle causes.
Tomorrow, however, these debates will largely evaporate, to be replaced with definitive knowledge of our biochemistry and its changes with aging, both as a species and as individuals. The sooner we reach that point, the better, because that's when progress in medicine will really take off - if you think it's fast today, just wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
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/
More On Inflammaging (November 26 2006)
"Inflammaging" is a packaging of the present understanding of the way in which chronic inflammation and a failing immune system interact to contribute to degenerative aging. From this paper: "A large part of the aging phenotype, including immunosenescence, is explained by an imbalance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory networks, which results in the low grade chronic pro-inflammatory status we proposed to call inflammaging. Within this perspective, healthy aging and longevity are likely the result not only of a lower propensity to mount inflammatory responses but also of efficient anti-inflammatory networks, which in normal aging fail to fully neutralize the inflammatory processes consequent to the lifelong antigenic burden and exposure to damaging agents. Such a global imbalance can be a major driving force for frailty and common age-related pathologies."
Looking Inside a Stem Cell Lab (November 26 2006)
A slice of research life from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: "Quietly but steadily, under the watchful eye of some of the nation's top scientists, hundreds of technicians and researchers isolate cells and scrutinize data in 18 immense laboratories at the University of Rochester Medical Center. They're teasing out the secrets of stem cells, the building blocks of the body, in the hope of finding cures for diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. ... One UR scientist, neurologist Dr. Steven A. Goldman, recently had a breakthrough, then a setback, in Parkinson's treatment. Yet he might be close to finding a treatment for some neurodegenerative diseases. Details of the daily work of researchers such as Goldman are largely unknown to the public, if only because the science is so complex and arcane. But shining a spotlight on his lab may improve understanding of the research that could one day change medicine."
Stomping on Cancer With Bacteria (November 25 2006)
The rapidly accelerating capabilities of modern biotechnology have enabled a wealth of potential tools for attacking cancer. Some of those tools are living systems themselves, such as viruses. Here, Medical News Today reports on a cancer therapy that uses tailored bacteria: "genetically-modified bacteria called Clostridium novyi-NT (C.novy-NT) have a special taste for oxygen-starved environments much like those found in the core of cancer cell clusters. ... [researchers] noticed the germ's ability to grow and spread in the oxygen-poor core of mouse tumors and the blackened scars signaling that most of the cancer cells had been destroyed. Normal surrounding cells were largely unaffected. But the bacteria failed to kill cancer cells at the still oxygen-rich edge of the tumors. In response, the Hopkins team added specially-packaged chemotherapy to the bacterial attack ... The combo approach temporarily wiped out both large and small tumors in almost 100 mice and permanently cured more than two-thirds of them."
A Look Back At Cancer Stem Cell Science (November 25 2006)
The Globe and Mail looks back at the history of cancer stem cell research, a most promising development in the quest to cure cancer: "Dr. Dick's discovery of the first cancer stem cell that year has led to the flurry of recent breakthroughs redefining cancer biology. Scientists once believed all cancer cells could sprout and sustain a tumour. But proof is growing that this deadly power belongs only to a tiny subset of abnormal stem cells that had previously gone undetected. These bad seeds have now been identified as the source of cancers of the blood, breast, bone, prostate, and this week, in another finding from Dr. Dick, the colon. The implications are staggering. Billions of dollars and decades of research may have targeted the wrong cells to cure the disease. No current treatment has been designed to kill them and they appear to be naturally resistant to the gold-standard therapies." Fortunately, the next generation of precisely targeted therapies are the right tools for the job.
Running With the Monkeys (November 24 2006)
It seems to be a maxim of modern journalism that monkeys make for good press; here's a photo essay (and accompanying blog post) from the MIT Technology Review, following up on a couple of recent articles on calorie restriction (CR) studies in rhesus macaques: "Nine of the animals on normal diets have died of age-related causes such as diabetes and cancer; only five of the [calorie restricted] monkeys have died of such causes. Colman predicts that it may take another decade to see whether substantial survival differences between the two groups emerge. But there is some evidence that the diet prevents diabetes. Three of the monkeys on an unrestricted diet have the disease, while none of the dieters do. Two monkeys on the restricted diet had early signs of diabetes when they started the regimen, but their symptoms quickly abated." It seems folk can be much more proactive about diabetes than sitting back and waiting for better drugs or a last minute biotechnological rescue.
Priorities of Appearance (November 24 2006)
The age-old question: to work on appearance or substance? We're a visual species, and it's inevitable that each new technology is evaluated as an aid to making us feel good about our looks. So too for regenerative medicine: "Stem-cell research appears promising for medicine and particularly for plastic surgery. Hair follicular stem cells, tooth stem cells and skin stem cells all show therapeutic promise ... These can restore hair to a bald man, teeth to those in need and skin to scarred patients ... In our society, there is such a huge demand for these rejuvenation surgeries, despite their significant risks, that the pragmatist in me cannot deny the likelihood that it will not be long before someone offers a two-stage procedure starting with liposuction followed by injection of these autologous stem cells for breast augmentation or into the face to rejuvenate." A reputable someone, that is - the disreputable and unsafe have been offering related procedures for a few years now.
More On Wnt, Regeneration (November 23 2006)
From the Technology Review, a cautionary emphasis on the early state of this regenerative research: "Experts say the findings are exciting, but they caution that much remains to be done before new limbs can be grown in mammals. The studies took place in still-developing animals, whose cells are likely much more flexible when it comes to inducing regeneration ... Even mammals, including humans, show some regenerative capabilities. Under some circumstances, children as old as five can grow a new fingertip if the wound is treated correctly. But that ability is lost as we age. [The Wnt signalling pathway] is undoubtedly a critical one. But other unknown factors are probably needed to reactivate adult, fully differentiated tissue to reconstruct a new structure ... regeneration in mammals will likely require inhibition of our normal immune response, which triggers inflammation at the site of a wound. None of the animals that can regenerate limbs show this type of immune response."
CR Versus Exercise, Round 2 (November 23 2006)
Last time, the spin was that calorie restriction (CR) is more beneficial to health than exercise; this time it's sensibly mixed: "Those who dieted lost muscle mass while those who exercised did not. This is because exercisers routinely challenged their muscles, which prevented muscle tissue from degrading. Dieters didn't work their muscles as vigorously as those who exercised. ... It's important that dieting not be seen as a bad thing because it provides enormous benefits with respect to reducing the risk of disease and is effective for weight loss. Furthermore, based on studies in rodents, there is a real possibility that calorie restriction provides benefits that cannot be achieved through exercise-induced weight loss." So then, as before, and as CR practitioners do, the best way forward would seem to be some combination of CR and exercise, not one or the other.
Electrotherapy Versus Cancer (November 22 2006)
Not a potential cure (yet, at least), but very interesting, nonetheless - especially when compared against the present standard of chemotherapy. From CBS2Chicago.com: "Standard treatments that attack brain tumors also damage healthy cells and impact quality of life. But, a new electrical therapy attacks only cancer cells. ... The low intensity electrical currents cause cancer cells in the brain to rupture as they divide ... An electrical field going right through those two cells can actually break them at the time they are about to divide ... Two small, earlier trials overseas were promising. ... I don't want to say a melting away of the tumor, but the area that we count as being a tumor shrunk dramatically and in one patient it cleared up altogether ... it's not a cure, but has no side effects and can buy patients valuable, quality time. ... The survivals were at least double sometimes five times longer than would have been expected."
Continuous Tooth Regeneration (November 22 2006)
Via PhysOrg.com, good news for the future of dental medicine: "researchers activated the Wnt signalling pathway in mouse tissue; this signalling pathway is one of those used for cell communication and plays an important role in embryonic development ... one mouse molar developed dozens of new teeth with normal dentin, tooth enamel and developing roots. The crowns were, however, simple and cone-shaped, unlike the typically more complex multiple cusps of mouse molars. ... it became clear they were the result of germination from previously developed teeth, just like the teeth of lower vertebrates. ... The results also suggest that mice have retained incipient potential for continuous tooth generation and that it can be unlocked by activating Wnt signalling. It is reasonable to conjecture that the potential for continuous tooth generation may also have been retained in humans." It seems that a great deal of potential lies in the manipulation of Wnt signalling.
A Reminder Of Kurzweil's Projections (November 21 2006)
InformationWeek provides a reminder of Ray Kurzweil's trend-based predictions for the next few decades: "Fifteen years from now, it'll be a very different world. We'll have cured cancer and heart disease, or at least rendered them to manageable chronic conditions that aren't life threatening. We'll get to the point where we can stop the aging process and stave off death ... By the 2020s, we'll be adding a year of longevity or more for every year that passes ... scientists will be able to regrow our own cells, tissues, and even whole organs, and then introduce them into our bodies, all without surgery. As part of what he calls the 'emerging field of rejuvenation medicine,' new tissue and organs will be built out of cells that have been made younger." These end results of present trends are not pulled from thin air; they will come to pass if we work to ensure these trends continue - although I suspect the incompressible length of a business cycle run by humans means that the timeline is optimistic by a decade or more.
MitoSENS Update (November 21 2006)
An update on the new MitoSENS research program from the Methuselah Foundation: "The Methuselah Foundation has awarded biochemist Mark Hamalainen an annual grant of $70,000 to conduct 'MitoSENS' anti-aging research as a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge. Under the auspices of the British Government's Medical Research Council, at its Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, Hamalainen will investigate methods for obviating damage suffered by mitochondrial DNA, a major source of many of the debilities of aging. ... Ian Holt, Ph.D., head of Mitochondrial Diseases research at the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, commented, 'For over 30 years mutations in mitochondrial DNA have been suspected to be important contributors to aging. If we can incorporate working copies of that mtDNA into our nuclear DNA, the mtDNA will be rendered superfluous and any mutations it suffers will be inconsequential. Researchers have tried to do this for many years, with only limited success. The work that Mark will perform in my lab is the most systematic attempt yet to get this technology to work.'"
Towards a Blueprint For Differentiation (November 20 2006)
EurekAlert! reports on another advance in our understanding of stem cell differentiation: "If you have an electrical problem in a car, you can repair it a lot easier if you have a wiring diagram. In a way that's what we're trying to do here, except we're trying to repair or create a certain kind of cell. ... Even though the processes of cellular development are understood in a broad sense, the detailed biochemistry that underlies and controls these processes is still poorly defined. ... Still unknown is exactly what causes certain genes to be expressed. In other words, out of the thousands of genes that could direct the formation of a cell in many different directions, only a subset actually get turned on and become operative in each type of cell. ... We were able to use a system of microarray comparisons that monitored the expression of genes and more quickly gives us an idea of how this process is working, and how patterns of development occur." Such is the groundwork needed for the next generation of regenerative medicine.
On Cancer Stem Cells (November 20 2006)
The Globe and Mail discusses cancer stem cells and what they mean for future research: "It is not unreasonable to say that all this time, the 30 or 40 years that chemotherapy and radiation [have] been around, we've been going after the wrong cells. All of our therapies have been targeting and killing the pawns. But like chess, you have to kill the king to win the game. ... Abnormal stem cells have now been identified as the engines driving certain cancers of the blood, breast, brain, bone and prostate. And today, two research groups [report] that they have pinpointed aberrant stem cells as the source of colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths. ... The exciting thing is that the cancer stem cell model explains so much about how cancers develop. What it also explains is why we're not doing better at treating cancer." Cancer stem cells are identifiably different, which means they can be targeted by the latest generation of therapies under development.