LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
February 05 2007
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.
- Science and Scientists at Fight Aging!
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS AT FIGHT AGING!
Aging and longevity science and the opinions of scientists have been on the menu at Fight Aging! for the past week. A selection follows:
"Study and careful inference is a bedrock of scientific progress - and so one has to be careful with the concepts of correlation and causation whenever reading about the latest science. We humans are built to see causation everywhere, to pick out patterns from nothing with our hyperactive pattern detectors - even when it doesn't in fact exist. The culture and methods of science exist to rein in the excess, to pick out the flotsam of right answers from the vast sea of wrong answers."
"While laypeople and non-biogerontologist biologists often subscribe to the idea that we are 'programmed to age and die' (usually as a means to clear out the old to free up resources for the young, and/or to facilitate evolution by increasing the turnover of the generations), almost no gerontologists do: the idea is actually logically incoherent granted the basic logic of natural selection. Instead, almost all biogerontologists subscribe to some version of the idea that aging is the result of stochastic molecular damage that is only partially prevented or repaired."
"An at times acrimonious discussion on Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) - and issues relating to radical life extension - has been taking place on the Gerontology Research Group mailing list over the past week or so, spurred by publicity for a recent book that included discussion of SENS. The practicing life scientists on the list span the gamut from support to guarded interest to outright rejection of SENS as a strategy to move forward towards healthy life extension, so it sometimes makes for fireworks."
"To look for viable shortcuts in the face of overwhelming complexity is the path of engineering: scientists seek to understand the entire system, while engineers make the best of each new piece of information. For example, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) form a sober look at the state of knowledge today, concluding that we are far enough ahead in the game to strike out and produce viable rejuvenation biotechnologies within the next few decades. More knowledge of biochemistry and aging will make the task easier, and the final results better, but there is nothing (save a lack of funding and will) stopping the research and development community from working towards significant healthy life extension today."
"The first phase of development in any new technology is a struggle to best the performance of old, mature technologies - here we have an early stem cell trial looking well placed (like others) to do at least as well as the best drugs and other well-developed medical technologies can do. The difference here is that stem cell researchers are just getting started; this is a matter of doing a little with the first steps into the pool. If we can gain benefits at this level through utilizing only the first laboratory steps of being able to identify, separate and culture stem cells, then just imagine what is to come soon, armed with the knowledge and techniques of controlling stem cell behavior."
The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.
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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/
On the Roots of Parkinson's Disease (February 04 2007)
Medical News Today looks at present understanding of the biochemical mechanisms that lead to Parkinson's disease, "in which nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra die, resulting in the loss of dopamine, a nerve-signaling molecule that helps control muscle movement. The absence of dopamine from these cells, called dopaminergic neurons, causes a loss of muscle control, trembling and lack of coordination. ... The molecule that prevents damage to the substantia nigra is an enzyme called GST pi ... This molecule stands like a sentry at the crossroads of several biochemical pathways, any one of which can lead to Parkinson's disease ... The study sheds light on the cause of most cases of Parkinson's disease, which currently are unexplained. ... The majority of these cases of Parkinson's disease appear to arise because individuals who have a genetic susceptibility to the disease are exposed to environmental toxins such as pesticides and herbicides, which trigger the formation of free radicals that kill dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. We also know that GST pi blocks the process of cell suicide triggered by stresses that the cell can't overcome, such as an increase in the presence of free radicals or a loss of the cell's ability to produce energy."
From the Buck Institute President (February 04 2007)
Via SFGate.com: "Kovach, who is both a physician and lawyer, is president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Age Research ... The Buck Institute is the only independent research institute in the country dedicated exclusively to age research and age-associated disease. I came here about a year and a half ago. ... I view it as just entering the second half of my 100-year life. ... We do work in yeast and flies and worms to look at how we can provide chemicals, for example, to double, triple, quadruple life-span. We'll overlap that with researchers in a specific disease area like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, and determine the signals that are being activated in these model organisms and how they correspond to human pathways. ... With 11,000 Baby Boomers a day turning 60, the goal is to have therapies in place that stabilize them. ... By delaying the process of aging you'll delay the onset of every chronic disease. So it's the longevity dividend that by investing in age research we can help delay Alzheimer's, delay Parkinson's, delay diabetes, delay cardiovascular disease."
Mining the Biochemistry of Hibernation (February 03 2007)
CBC News looks at the search for new tools for medicine in the biochemistry of hibernators. Researchers have been looking at bear biochemistry for some time now, but many other species are worthy of investigation: "hibernators' amazing ability to manipulate their own metabolisms could lead to breakthroughs in improving organ transplant and in fighting such illnesses as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer's, research shows. ... Remember, our physiology, and even our genetic makeup, isn't that different, in terms of basic bodily functions, from these hibernating mammals ... The blueprint, the genes to do these things are there - we're just not activating the same physiological pathways. ... As the time mammals spend in torpor increases, vital cell connections begin to weaken within their brains. However, most hibernating mammals actually rouse themselves in their burrows every so often, and this appears to help these neural connections reestablish themselves ... In essence, hibernating mammals experience real brain damage, 'but then they reverse themselves.'"
The Merits of the Basics (February 03 2007)
From the Australian, a reminder of the basics: firstly, good general health practices; secondly, a sober appreciation of the realities of scientific progress - don't blind yourself by chasing illusionary immediate and easy answers when you could be helping to bring the real future of better, more effective medicine closer. "It's the unproven remedy or the individual 'wonder food' that dominates cancer headlines, rather than genuinely exciting treatment breakthroughs in evidence-based medicine - which must first be rigorously tested before being trumpeted to a public that faces a 30 per cent increase in cancer incidence over the next five to 10 years. Even less prominent in the news is the evidence that more than a third of Australia's cancer deaths can be attributed to lifestyle. So, while an ageing Australia looks to the horizon for a cancer cure, we need to be reminded that technology for significantly reducing our cancer burden is already here - we're just not using it effectively. It would appear that our understanding of the lifetime risk of getting cancer is far stronger than our knowledge of what we can do to prevent it."
The Folk Who Want You Dead On Schedule (February 02 2007)
Anne C. comments further on a petition for all our deaths to be scheduled at 70 - the petition is the opinion of one individual, but sadly redolent of the opinions of many others: "So, that's it, senior citizens. Never mind that novel you were writing, that dollhouse you were building for the grandkids, or that new computer you were in the process of putting together. Your existence is threatening the "wonders of the next generation", so it's high time the world stopped wasting resources trying to keep you alive and healthy. I'm hoping that the writer of this petition wasn't actually serious, but I'm guessing he probably was. And sadly, his attitude is only the tip of a very large iceberg. As far as we've come in our ethical evolution, even over the past few decades, there are still plenty of unfortunate memes making the rounds. It has always amazed me how close the ties are between resource-based arguments and discrimination. Feel free to call Godwin's Law on me here, but I think most semi-educated people in the world probably know what happened last time the idea that some people were 'unworthy of life' due to the supposed 'drain' they were on society took hold."
Reminder: SENS Documentary, February 3rd (February 02 2007)
By way of a reminder, the Christopher Sykes documentary "Do You Want to Live Forever?" will be shown in the UK on Saturday February 3rd. The focus is on biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and the scientific goal of radical life extension. "Computer scientist turned biologist Dr Aubrey de Grey is on a mission to end 'the scandal of death.' Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Sykes goes on the road with de Grey to find out whether old age and death could soon be a thing of the past." Hopefully this will all continue to raise the profile of real, serious longevity and rejuvenation research in the public eye. The more people who know about the real prospects for the future, the greater the support for research, and the faster science can move forward. We all have skin in the very personal race of medical technology versus aging, but the ongoing, staggering death toll caused by aging should be motivation enough for any humanitarian to join the fight to defeat age-related degeneration, frailty and death.
A Look at Tau, Tangles and Alzheimer's (February 01 2007)
This piece from PENN Medicine News is illustrative of the class of research into the mechanisms of Alzheimer's presently taking place. More researchers focus on the role of amyloid than on tau proteins, but progress in understanding is still being made: "In Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, misfolded tau and other proteins accumulate inside neurons. Proteins used to make healthy synapses are moved via microtubules to the synapse along the nerve axon. However, accumulation of tau in clumps inside nerve cells (that is, the tangles described 100 years ago by Alzheimer in the first reported AD patient) impairs the function of nerve cells and causes them to degenerate. This is because tau is needed to stabilize microtubules like cross-ties stabilize train tracks. But if tau clumps, the microtubules break up, thereby disrupting the transportation network in normal nerve cells. This has lethal consequences because nerve-cell axons and dendrites are critically dependent on this normal transportation network." But understanding how this comes about and what to do about it - the process of the root cause, in other words - is a good deal more complex than just this.
Yet More Cancer Stem Cells Identified (February 01 2007)
EurekAlert! brings news of more cancer stem cells: "The cells we isolated are quite different from 99 percent of the millions of other cells in a human pancreatic tumor, and we think that, based on some preliminary research, standard treatments like chemotherapy and radiation may not be touching these cells. If that is why pancreatic cancer is so hard to treat, a new approach might be to design a drug that specifically targets pancreatic cancer stem cells without interfering with normal stem cell function ... theory suggests that only cells that have the properties of 'stemness' - that is, cells that can self-renew and differentiate into other types of cells - are the only ones capable of producing tumors. These 'cancer stem cells,' could derive from normal adult stem cells in organs that have mutated, or from a differentiated cell that has devolved to take on the qualities of stem cells. They are resistant to traditional therapy designed for cells that rapidly turn over because stem cells don't, according to some researchers. Thus, they remain after tumors shrink and may be responsible for cancer recurrence and metastasis."
Nuts and Bolts of Tissue Engineering (January 31 2007)
A good deal of the art of tissue engineering lies in the complexities of the scaffold used to support and guide cell growth. Here, Nanowerk takes a look at ongoing research into the technology necessary for a safe and reliable replacement parts industry for humans: "At the core of tissue engineering is the construction of three-dimensional scaffolds out of biomaterials to provide mechanical support and guide cell growth into new tissues or organs. Biomaterials can be variously permanent or biodegradable, naturally occurring or synthetic, but inevitably need to be biocompatible. Using nanotechnology, biomaterial scaffolds can be manipulated at atomic, molecular, and macromolecular levels. ... For bone tissue engineering, a special subset of osteoinductive, osteoconductive, integrative and mechanically compatible materials are required. Such materials need to provide cell anchorage sites, mechanical stability, structural guidance and an in vivo milieu. Moreover, they need to provide an interface able to respond to local physiological and biological changes and to remodel the extracellular matrix (ECM) in order to integrate with the surrounding native tissue. Scientists in Singapore have developed a new nanoscale biocomposite that brings researchers one step closer to mimicking the architecture of the ECM."
Predicting the Near Future of Longevity Drugs (January 31 2007)
From Fortune, a short look at the near future of calorie restriction mimetic and related drugs - how far can longevity be taken by the manipulation of metabolism at its critical points? "Many experts believe that drugs are on the horizon which could extend average life span by perhaps five to ten years. That may seem unimpressive. But their boost to life expectancy would 'far exceed' that from totally eliminating cancer, says S. Jay Olshansky ... That's because the risk of many deadly diseases skyrockets as we age, so even if one were vanquished, the others would soon get us, limiting the gain in average life span. In contrast, an anti-aging drug, almost by definition, would retard all major diseases of aging at once. ... In 2005 the Rand Corp. consulted medical experts on this question and reported that they believe there's a 50 percent chance that anti-aging drugs will be available within 20 years. Some researchers on aging, such as Harvard's David Sinclair, believe that medicines like those will come along much sooner - perhaps within a decade." This is, however, the slow path for any greater extension of healthy life span. We can do much better, given a change in focus and greater funding for repair over metabolic manipulation.
Another Cancer Difference to Target (January 30 2007)
Cancer cells are different - and biotechnology in the labs can target those differences. As research continues, and the capabilities of the biotechnology toolkit advance, we should expect ever more potential target differences to emerge. Here is one more, from the Washington Post: "Most of the growth of cancer cells is governed by so-called 'weak' messenger RNAs, which tell the cell what proteins to make. Wagner believes that by exploiting this weakness in cancer cells, scientists can stop these cells from growing. This is done by finding small molecules that can attach themselves to the surface of cancer cells and block the messenger RNAs from communicating with the cells. ... Wagner's team discovered a small molecule that inhibits the growth of cancer cells but has no effect on the proteins necessary for the functioning of normal cells. The molecule, called 4EGI-1, effectively silences genes that have links to cancer ... New technology is going to give us molecules that are designed to fit the shape of proteins we want to disrupt. Then, if you think about what you want to disrupt, well, there's a whole new pharmacology out there." Early days yet, but it's amazing just how much broader the future horizons of medicine are becoming.
Investigating Changing Gene Expression With Age (January 30 2007)
A brief release from EurekAlert! is illustrative of the spread of examining changes of gene expression with aging. That knowledge should provide a starting point for further research to understand why tissues act differently with age, as well as the root causes of these changes. In this case, the tissue in question is skin: researchers aim "to identify how genetic expression in the skin changes with ageing and how it can affect the comparative healing and scarring rates of older and younger people. Findings from the study will go towards achieving our ultimate goal of reducing the disfigurement associated with burn injury. We also hope to gain important knowledge for the development of tailored burns treatments based on an individual's unique combination of genes." Sooner or later, tracking down the whys and wherefores for all the biochemical changes that make up age will produce sufficent knowledge and tools to do something about age-related degeneration and death.
The Consequences of Failed Progress (January 29 2007)
From EurekAlert!: "The number of individuals with Parkinson's disease in 15 of the world's largest nations will double over the next generation ... While the number of individuals with the disease will nearly double in the United States to 610,000, the greatest growth will occur in developing countries in Asia. By 2030, an estimated 5 million people in China will have the disease." This, it should be taken as read, is a picture of a future in which medical science does not advance as rapidly as it might - in which the relentless advance of biotechnology and the engines of commercialization fail to churn out effective therapies that rapidly decrease in cost while increasing in availability and effectiveness. Parkinson's disease is just one of many failure modes of age-damaged cells and biochemistry in the nervous system and brain; if we are to do our very best to save as many lives as possible from age-related suffering, frailty and death, we must work hard indeed to support the best and most effective research and remove roadblocks to the development of therapies.
An Interview With Biosingularity's Derya Unutmaz (January 29 2007)
Biosingularity should be in your aggregated RSS feed if it isn't already. Here, Attila Chordash of Pimm conducts another of his interviews with life scientists and advocates who support healthy life extension: "What really surprises me is that one has to make an argument about [life extension]. As a medical doctor I am trained to save human lives, regardless what age you are as long as you are committed to living. ... The point is not live forever, the purpose of all medical science is to give people chance to live from things they die if they want to continue living, including those that kill you because your body ages. I am going to be blunt and say that it is nonsense that we have to make an argument for life! ... Treating or controlling indefinitely all chronic deadly human diseases should be achievable within the next 25-30 years ... I anticipate continuous body regeneration soon after that within the next 40 years. ... Once we achieve biosingularity, a point when we can completely reprogram and regenerate and design from scratch novel biological systems, we should have achieved not only indefinite life span but also began reversal of aging. I anticipate around mid of this century people will look back to now, as we have do for those who lived hundred of years ago, and feel sorry how little control we had."