LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
February 26 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.
- Immortality Institute Voice Chat, March 1st
- The Value of Educating Yourself About Aging Science
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
IMMORTALITY INSTITUTE VOICE CHAT, MARCH 1ST
Regulars at the Immortality Institute - a watering hole for advocates of healthy life extension from all backgrounds, walks of life and locations worldwide - are organizing a regular voice chat event. The first will be held this week on March 1st; links and background information can be found in the following post:
You can read more, propose topics and ask questions in the Immortality Institute forum thread for the event:
THE VALUE OF EDUCATING YOURSELF ABOUT AGING SCIENCE
Becoming a more informed layman when it comes to aging science provides a similar value to educating yourself on the construction of automobiles. You'll be that much better placed to distinguish fact from nonsense, and put your resources where they will make the most difference. You don't have to devote years to learning to put yourself in a better position, nor do you have to delve deep into the arcane depths; obtaining a usefully better grasp of what is what can be a surprisingly rapid process.
Furthermore, you'll find that a better understanding of the scientific method - as it operates in practice, piloted by we fallible humans - allows far greater insight into the relevance of each new piece of news about medicine, longevity and healthy life extension research as it appears in the popular science press.
In the following Fight Aging! post, I briefly wander through some recent publications listed in the searchable archives of PubMed; a small example of the ongoing process of understanding the important work within present day aging research:
"This first paper is interesting because it contributes to an ongoing debate I have had my eye on for some months: researchers know that stem cell activity and accompanying regenerative capabilities diminish with age. The logical explanation is that this is an evolutionary adaptation to reduce the risk of cancer due to the activity of age-damaged cells. But is there less activity due to a decline in the number of stem cells, or because the stem cells are performing less work due to environmental cues or changes in regulatory mechanisms? The strategies for restoring function - assuming you have a way to deal with the cancer risk to hand - would be different in either case, and the papers demonstrating evidence for both sides of the debate are piling up."
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/
Inside Alcor (February 25 2007)
A Channel 12 News feature looks in depth at the cryonics provider Alcor in a two part video that can be viewed online: "The non-profit organization, founded in 1972, relocated to Arizona in 1994, in response to concerns that its California facility was too small and vulnerable to earthquake risk. Cryonics is the process of using very cold temperatures to stop the dying process when ordinary medicine can no longer sustain life. The idea is to preserve patients until cures are found for their illnesses and the technology to revive them becomes available. Alcor says it uses an ice-free process, called vitrification, in which more than 60% of the water inside a patient's cells is replaced with protective chemicals, preventing freezing during deep cooling. ... Alcor has about 800 members and nearly 75 patients." You can learn more about the basics of cryonics, the science and personal financial details behind cryonics at the Alcor website. Alcor also maintains a newsletter and blog for those who like to keep up to date with research and organizational developments.
Longevity and the Financiers (February 25 2007)
The Financial Times takes a look at changes afoot in the financial industries most affected by growth in longevity - those who have in effect, inadvertently or otherwise, bet against such a thing coming to pass. "Some are cynical about whether the longevity market will ever come to life - or at least on a meaningful scale. ... some banks are already testing schemes: Deutsche Bank is considering creating bonds using the cash flows from life insurance portfolios. It believes that it will receive a credit rating for these instruments soon, which should allow trading to start this year. Several other banks are experimenting with bonds and derivatives linked to longevity risk. ... Sooner or later, the City of London will find a better way to count deaths: the financial incentives to get this right are huge. And once a timely death index emerges, the first fully-fledged longevity bond will appear, 'almost certainly over the next year.'" We shouldn't feel sorry for those investors about to lose money betting against longevity; they'll benefit themselves from additional years of life. What is money compared to being alive, healthy, and thus possessed the opportunity to recover from loss through hard work? Longer heathy lives are no disaster - it means more production, more savings, and a greater, more vibrant economy all round.
Cigarette Smoke As Aging Accelerator (February 24 2007)
I have to say that I think this paper is reaching a little at the edges of the analogy, given some of the very specific and localized conditions associated with smoking, but it is promising to see more research implicitly understanding aging as a process of damage accumulation: "Cigarette smoking reduces life span by an average of 7 years, and tobacco consumption accounts for a shortening of disease free life by 14 years. The exact mechanisms by which smoking causes disease and death are generally not well understood, but evidence continues to mount that cigarette smoking exhausts cellular defense and repair functions, leading to an accumulation of damage e.g. mutations and malfunctioning proteins. In this review, we make an attempt to ascribe many of the deleterious effects of smoking on human health to a general principle, namely the acceleration of aging processes by cigarette smoke chemicals." Smoking is much like maintaining excess body fat - something to cut out of your life if you'd a better chance of living healthily for longer.
On Repairing Tendons (February 24 2007)
From the Philadephia Enquirer, a look at one corner of the regenerative medicine research community: "when tendons are damaged in a fetal mouse, they grow back almost like new. In a recent breakthrough, researchers found that this occurs even when the fetal tissue is transplanted into an adult. Now they are starting to figure out why, in hopes of someday helping people heal better. At the University of Pennsylvania, two main avenues are being explored: Experiments with lab animals suggest that part of the answer lies with certain 'growth factors' secreted by fetal cells. And scientists are trying to give the healing process an artificial boost by implanting 'scaffolds' - pieces of stretchy fabric that guide the orderly growth of new, healthy cells. ... The work is part of a broader field, less than two decades old, called tissue engineering - coaxing the repair or regrowth of bodily tissues through a combination of artificial and natural means. Scientists in the booming field have made headway with heart valves, bladders, liver and skin cells. ... Fifteen years ago, tissue engineering was considered science fiction. Now it's reality."
Why Are Some Organs Better At Repair? (February 23 2007)
Interesting research from the Harvard University Gazette: "The rules governing mammalian organ repair and regeneration are so widely varied as to suggest at first glance that there are no rules: Blood has such an enormous regenerative capacity that you can literally give it away by the pint and be none the worse for wear; rip a hole in your skin and new skin will cover it; donate a portion of your liver and it will regenerate; but lose a kidney or suffer damage to your pancreas, and what's lost is lost. ... a new study [helps] to explain the variation both in organ regenerative capacity and in organ size determination as well. The findings also underscore the value of embryonic stem cells as tools to study normal development. Comparing development of the liver, which can regenerate to compensate for damage, and the pancreas, which cannot, [researchers] found that the ultimate size and regenerative capacity of certain organs, e.g., the pancreas, is determined by the specific number of progenitor cells that are set aside during a very early time in development - about day 10 in the mouse." The more we learn, the closer we come to greatly improving regenerative capabilities.
Alcor Is Hiring (February 23 2007)
Cryonics provider and research organization Alcor is looking for a research scientist: "We have an immediate job opening for a research scientist. The candidate will be working in Alcor's R&D lab, assisting in research on cerebral ischemia, cardiopulmonary bypass, hypothermia, and cryobiology. The candidate will also assist in human cryopreservations and related tasks. Requirements include a graduate degree and experience in biology, biochemistry, or other medical science. Candidates must have a publication history. Preference is given to candidates who demonstrate a familiarity with cryonics and human cryopreservation." By way of a reminder, Alcor recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, and is presently nearing completion of the 2006-2007 Matching Grant for Intermediate Temperature Storage Research - help out if you can. All too many people presently alive today will have no other option than cryonic suspension as a chance for healthy life in the future, as they will age to death faster than healthy life extension technologies can be developed and commercialized.
20% Of Actuarial Escape Velocity (February 22 2007)
An interesting take on recent trends in life expectancy in the old can be found at the IEET blog: "US life expectancy at 65, up 1 year from 1999-2004 ... Meaning the U.S. is at 20% of escape velocity. ... During 1999-2004, life expectancy at age 65 years increased by 1.0 year for the overall U.S. population, 1.1 years for white men, 0.8 years for white women, 0.9 years for black men, and 1.3 years for black women." One year up, five years forward - a 20% incline. We would like to aim for a near future in which medical technology advances rapidly enough to add an additional year of healthy life expectancy for the old with each passing year of time. This goal is known as actuarial escape velocity, the point at which our life is moving faster than the approach of age-related degeneration and death. The plausibility of this goal is not in doubt, from any consideration of our understanding of physics and biochemistry, but the timing of future developments and funding is always in question. It is encouraging that the indirect effects of modern medicine on later life have brought us a modest fraction of the way towards escape velocity - but much more deliberate, directed work is needed!
The Utility of Life Extension (February 22 2007)
From Agoraphilia: "What if you could costlessly extend your life by one year? Suppose that the additional year would be a decent one - not a fantastic year, but definitely worth living. By 'costlessly,' I mean that you could achieve this life extension with no sacrifice of utility in previous years, so you really would just be tacking one more decent year onto the end of your life. Would you do it? I sure would. Now, suppose you've tacked this additional year onto your life. You now have the option of improving the quality of that added year by slightly reducing the quality of previous years - perhaps by saving more money or improving your nutrition. ... Moreover, the resulting increase in utility in the last year will outweigh the reduction in utility in the earlier years. Would you do it?" The author goes on to illustrate a paradox in utilitarian considerations - but consider for a moment that the above material perfectly describes saving and investing for future years, or investing in healthy life extension research. It all boils down to this: if you're enjoying life, why leave? Why let yourself be forced out by degenerative aging if there is some way to act in advance to prevent that from happening?
The Advance of Practical Tissue Engineering (February 21 2007)
A good demonstration of the state of practical tissue engineering for muscles and connective tissue can be found at ABC Online: "The researchers used a synthetic scaffold seeded with ligament cells to regenerate the new tissue in the damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of rabbits. The bunnies were able to begin bearing weight on their knees 24 hours after surgery, and by the end of the 12-week experiment, the animals had fresh collagen and blood vessels growing in the damaged area. ... The ACL is the stabilising ligament that connects the thighbone to the leg bone. It unravels like a plait when ruptured, making healing difficult. In humans, the standard treatment for this is reconstructive surgery. Surgeons remove healthy tissue from tendons around the knee and graft it onto the damaged ligament to regenerate it. But it can take five to six months for a full recovery, and surgeons would prefer not to harvest healthy tissue if possible. Researchers have tried to craft ligament-like scaffolds to help the healing process before, but success has been limited. This is the first time that researchers have combined synthetic materials with ACL cells and been able to substantially engineer new ligament tissue."
Update on Inkjet Tissue Printing Technology (February 21 2007)
The use of inkjet printing in tissue engineering research continues to expand, as reported at ScienceDaily: scientists have shown "that producing cardiac tissue with off-the-shelf inkjet technology can be improved significantly with precise cell placement. ... Since Boland's discovery in 2004, 'printing' tissue using 3-D printers has focused on printing materials for hard tissue applications, such as in the jawbone. The [study] focused on precise placement of cells, which is essential to achieving function in soft tissue, such as the heart. In this study, live, beating heart cells were achieved more efficiently. The breakthrough with this technology is that cells now can be precision-placed virtually instantaneously with the materials that make up a scaffold to hold the cells in place ... Precision placement of the cells is achieved by filling an empty inkjet cartridge with a hydrogel solution (a material that has properties similar to tissue) and another inkjet cartridge with cells. The printing is accomplished much in the way that color photographs are made, activating alternatively the hydrogel and cell nozzles."
What Calorie Restriction Does For You (February 20 2007)
No new news here from phillyBurbs.com for those already familiar with the human calorie restriction studies of the past couple of years, but still worth showing to your friends: "The 48 participants, all slightly overweight, were randomly assigned to one of four groups: calorie restriction, which cut usual daily calories by 25%; calorie restriction plus exercise, which cut daily calories by 12.5% and increased physical activity by 12.5% five days a week; very low calories, with an 890-calorie liquid diet for up to about three months followed by a weight-maintenance diet; and a control group that aimed to keep weight steady. ... Their insulin levels fell and metabolisms slowed - changes that are thought to increase longevity. ... Blood tests showed substantial decreases in the amount of age-related DNA damage in each of the three dieting groups, compared with their initial levels. That kind of microscopic damage is linked to cancer and other age-related ailments, but it's unknown whether the small changes seen in the study would affect the study volunteers' disease risks. No changes were seen in the control group. Insulin levels also decreased after six months in all three reduced calorie groups. Core body temperature also dipped slightly in two low-calorie groups but not in the liquid-diet or control group. The results show that the diets are safe, and not impossible to follow."
The State of Bone Tissue Engineering (February 20 2007)
A PLoS Medicine review looks at the present state of regenerative medicine for bones: "To overcome the drawbacks of the current bone graft materials, bone tissue engineering (BTE) using bone marrow stem cells has been suggested as a promising technique for reconstructing bone defects. Indeed, various animal studies have shown the capacity of BTE to produce bone, both in a non-bone environment (ectopic bone formation) and in a bone environment (orthotopic bone formation) ... Surprisingly however, until recently, no convincing successes have been achieved in humans. In this article, we review the available clinical data in the area of bone tissue engineering together with our own clinical experience. We discuss possible new directions that need to be exploited to make bone tissue engineering a clinical success. ... Cell survival is the most important requirement for achieving clinical success in cell-based bone tissue engineering. ... What is indisputable is that [mesenchymal stem cells] are crucial for the healing of bone defects."
Aging and the Mechanisms of Forgetting (February 19 2007)
Scientists continue to investigate the mechanisms underlying changes in memory with age - with an eye to preventing those changes: "rats become forgetful because a routine part of the memory process falls out of kilter, no matter their ages. This change seems to be related to the chemicals necessary for brain cells to communicate with each other. ... Aging is associated with an increased rate of forgetting. My work indicates that the problem may be a slight shift in a normal forgetting mechanism. ... This same mechanism probably is used to clear the brain circuits and make them ready to be used the next day. However, this mechanism in excess may lead to rapid forgetting as seen during brain aging ... as we begin to understand the mechanisms of memory, it becomes possible to predict promising targets for therapeutic strategies aimed at postponing or alleviating age-related memory impairment ... The basic gist is that information storage requires a balance between mechanisms that make synapses stronger and weaker. In aging and disease, if that balance is [disrupted], the unchecked synaptic weakening leads to memory loss. The good news is we are developing a good understanding of these mechanisms, and that will help us find ways to protect memory."
Tissue Engineered Teeth Demonstrated in Mice (February 19 2007)
The New Scientist reports on an advance in dental regenerative medicine: "a Japanese team has successfully grown replacement teeth and implanted them into the mouths of adult mice, suggesting that a similar technique could replace missing teeth in humans. [The researchers] took single-tooth mesenchymal and epithelial cells - the two cell types that develop into a tooth - from mouse embryos. They stimulated these cells to multiply before injecting them into a drop of collagen gel. Within days, the cells formed tooth buds - the early stage of normal tooth formation. The team then transplanted these tooth buds into cavities left after they had extracted teeth from adult mice. There, they developed into teeth with a normal structure and composition. The engineered teeth also developed a healthy blood supply, and nerve connections. ... Since mesenchymal and epithelial cells have the potential to develop into other organs and hair follicles, Tsuji hopes his method could eventually be applied more widely." The past few years have seen rapid progress in the tissue engineering of replacement teeth; we should expect to see the same for other simple organs in the years ahead.