Longevity Meme Newsletter, April 02 2007

April 02 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.



- Various Videos on Near-Term Longevity
- Some Folk Just Don't Seem to Enjoy Life
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The Calorie Restriction Society has made available video and other resources from the past three Society conferences as a series of DVDs. There's a lot of material in there, especially for those interested in the scientific backing for the benefits of calorie restriction to health and longevity. Links can be found in this Fight Aging! post:


You might also have noticed that a recent edition of Charlie Rose took the form of a round table on mainstream longevity research - calorie restriction, drugs like resveratrol, genetic manipulations that increase longevity in animals, and so forth. In essence, these are the efforts presently directed at the manipulation of metabolism to slow the onset of age-related damage and degeneration. Links to the video online, and to discussion at the Immortality Institute, can be found in the following Fight Aging! post:


My views on these lines of research - on working to slow aging through metabolic changes rather than to reverse it through repair on the underlying damage - are probably well known to you folk by now:


"If work in repairing aging had as much interest, backing and support, then we could have our cake and eat it - use techniques that slow aging as stepping stones to live in good health to take advantage of techniques that reverse aging. But that is not the case today, and without a great deal of hard work (by organizations like the Methuselah Foundation, amongst others) it will not be the case tomorrow either. The bottom line is this: we can miss the boat or not - it's up to us."


While looking through a couple of articles on the Edmonton Aging Symposium, held at the end of this past week, I'm reminded once more that some opponents of healthy life extension research don't appear to value being alive all that highly:


"'If we all live to be 150, the hospitals would all be full and everyone would still say it certainly went by fast,' says Daniel Callahan, from the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y. 'The only case for extending lifespans is that some people want it and that doesn't seem to be good enough.'

"At the symposium, Callahan will debate the ethics of 'life extension' -- he has long attacked as 'utopian' the arguments of those who say that science will find ways to keep elderly populations healthy. More importantly, he says, an older population will do nothing to solve today's social ills and could cause more problems. 'I don't see it making any contributions at all to society beyond satisfying the wish of some individuals to live a long life. It's often said that the elderly have a wisdom to contribute. Well, I'm 76 and I don't notice that among people my age that we have any special wisdom,' he says."

I think that the sentiments voiced there more or less speak for themselves. I can't say I value them any more than Callahan apparently values life; if we disregard those who try to interfere in the course of our lives, we should certainly disregard those who try to tell us that we cannot live at all.


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



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/

Defending Human Enhancement (April 01 2007)
Russel Blackford is commencing a discussion of the defense of human enhancement. "As a species, we have reached a point in our history where we've developed sophisticated, and increasingly powerful, forms of technological intervention in the functioning of our own bodies. ... Future technologies may go much further than anything available today in enabling transformation, and even the redesign, of human minds and bodies." Greatly extending the healthy human life span through forseeable medical technology is an enhancement. We shouldn't forget that all the froth and noise over preventing people from manipulating their own bodies and property very much boils down to "allowed to live or not." Which should hopefully trigger a response along the lines of "who are these damn fools telling me how and whether I can live or not? To hell with them!" So much of what passes for deep philosophical and ethical thinking these days is rendered obviously silly if you start from the premise that you own your body, and are free to do as you will with it provided you do not harm others, and provided you take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, financial and otherwise.

Commerce Drives Progress (April 01 2007)
From FuturePundit, some thoughts on where you should be looking to see progress in implementing the next stages of regenerative medicine and enhancement built upon growing use of stem cells: "Professional athletes are not risk averse. The doping in baseball and by athletes in other sports demonstrates the huge health risks they'll run in order to win. Plus, they have big dollars to spend. Imagine that Michael Jordan could have gotten his knees fixed with stem cell therapies. He could have made millions more by playing more seasons. If athletes can find ways to take risks with stem cell therapies then stem cell therapies will advance more rapidly. I am also expecting plastic surgeons to embrace a lot of experimental stem cell therapies ahead of the mainstream medical community that treats diseases. The plastic surgeons mostly market to people who pay out of their own pockets. This gives them more flexibility. ... Once stem cell therapies for injury repair start happening then expect to see the therapies take off for rejuvenation. A bad joint from hard football tackles needs some of the same kinds of repairs as a bad joint from decades of wear and tear in the bodies of the elderly. ... Once a substantial market develops then part of the research to further improve treatments will get funded from cash flow."

Support For Immunotherapy Versus Alzheimer's (March 31 2007)
Via ScienceDaily, more evidence that your immune system fights the onset of Alzheimer's - which lends further support to those working on vaccines and other immunotherapies: "Our results provide in vivo evidence that the brain's immune system plays a protective role in early Alzheimer's disease by mediating the clearance of amyloid-beta ... While it has been known that the immune system reacts against amyloid-beta in the brain, the relation of that response to the pathology of Alzheimer's disease has not been clear. ... The current study was designed to clarify the role of microglia in Alzheimer's and identify factors involved in the immune cells' accumulation at amyloid plaques. ... lack of a protein required for recruitment of the brain's primary immune cell led to increased amyloid-beta deposits and earlier death in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. ... By showing that microglia have a protective role in helping remove amyloid-beta from the brain, our findings suggest that enhancing the accumulation of these cells may be beneficial to patients with early-stage Alzheimer's disease."

Supercentenarian Research Foundation In Edmonton (March 31 2007)
(From Canada.com). A representative of the Supercentenarian Research Foundation was amongst the attendees at Edmonton Aging Symposium: "What the supercentenarians have in common is that they do not have diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or cancer, which kill the majority of the population. The supercentenarians' longevity is a 'side-effect' of not dying from these common diseases ... So, the question then is: why do they die? Autopsies have shown that some supercentenarians have a buildup of a 'gunky protein' in their bodies, although there is not enough evidence to prove this is a significant cause of death amongst the very elderly ... He hopes that by raising money for research, his foundation can better understand how to keep supercentenarians alive and how to achieve longer, healthier lives for others. ... the anecdotal evidence seems to confirm what many have-long suspected: living a long life probably has more to do with genetics than lifestyle. ... One of the biggest predictors of living for a long time is having grandparents and parents who lived for a long time."

Intermittent Fasting, Sir2 and p53 (March 30 2007)
A number of researchers have investigated intermittant fasting as a method of calorie restriction (CR) to obtain health and longevity benefits - no weighty conclusions yet as to whether it's better or worse for the average fellow (or mouse) than simple CR. This paper notes that fasting, as one might expect, causes alterations in sirtuin expression, just like straightforward calorie restriction: "The aim of the present study was to study the role of intermittent fasting (IF) on [diabetic nephropathy (DN)] and studying the expression of Sir2 and p53. At biochemical level, we found that IF causes significant improvement in blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, albumin and HDL cholesterol, parameters that are associated with the development of DN. Diabetic rats on IF also show significant improvement in onset of hypertension. Interestingly, the expression of Sir2, a NAD dependent histone deacetylase, decreases in diabetic rat kidney and this decrease is overcome by IF." You should already be aware that a better (i.e. smaller) diet can work wonders for type 2 diabetes and related issues - why damage yourself more than you have to?

Towards Salamander-Like Regeneration (March 30 2007)
Much drumming of publicity is taking place for those research groups investigating the mechanisms of regeneration in lower animals, as illustrated here by ScienceDaily: "Fueled by about $6 million in private donations, university support and state matching funds, 'The Regeneration Project' will connect scientists who work with adult human stem cells - the building blocks of self-renewal that exist within our brain, bone marrow and blood - with scientists who study how tissues and limbs develop in a variety of organisms. ... A salamander can be injured to the point that it loses its limbs or part of its spinal column, yet a few weeks later you'll see it scurrying across your lanai. The Regeneration Project will focus on unlocking the mysteries in living, simple organisms that sustain successful tissue and organ regeneration following injury and disease, and then applying this knowledge toward encouraging repair in the more complex human, where regeneration is not so simple. ... We are bringing together the best of the developmental biology world with the best of the stem cell world and starting the conversation, with the focus on how to get regeneration to work in a mammal."

At the Interface Between Aging and Cancer (March 29 2007)
An interesting conference report from a new contributer to Ouroboros: "The idea is this: some cells in the body proliferate too much or get too much DNA damage and undergo cell senescence. These cells cause aging, not because we run out of cells, but because these cells stick around indefinitely and poison the environment with nasty factors that they secrete into the extracellular space. [Judith Campisi's] group has now identified many of these factors and analyzed the phenotype and underlying pathways to a great extent. The secreted proteins fall into two main categories: Inflammatory cytokines and proteases. Inflammation has been popular in recent years (with good reason), because it is involved in all kinds of bad stuff ranging from heart disease to arthritis to Alzheimer's. Dr. Campisi now believes that the primary culprit in the inflammatory response is IL-6. ... Here's the shortest talk summary ever: Massimiliano Bonafe reported that IL-6 activates Notch, which in turn promotes breast cancer malignancy. (Are you starting to see a trend here? IL-6 sucks!)"

Alzheimer's Vaccine Effective For Mice (March 29 2007)
From MSNBC, news that another potential Alzheimer's vaccine has passed the animal model test: "Japanese scientists have developed an oral vaccine for Alzheimer's disease that has proven effective and safe in mice ... The team is preparing to move to small-scale clinical trials in humans, possibly this year ... We hope the Phase I trials go well. Animals are able to recover their functions after developing symptoms, but humans are less able to do so. It may be that this only works in the early stages of the disease, when symptoms are light ... The vaccine is made by inserting amyloid-producing genes into a non-harmful virus. When taken orally, the virus stimulates the immune system to attack and break down the amyloid proteins in the brain ... The treatment was tested on 28 mice genetically modified to develop Alzheimer's disease. Half the animals were given a dose of the vaccine at the age of 10 months, while the control group were not treated. Three months later, tests showed mental function in the treated mice had returned to levels close to those before they developed Alzheimer's symptoms."

Enhancing Liver Regeneration (March 28 2007)
From EurekAlert!: "researchers have used adult bone marrow stem cells to regenerate healthy human liver tissue ... When large, fast-growing cancers invade the liver, some patients are unable to undergo surgery, because removing the cancerous tissue would leave too little liver to support the body. Researchers [used] adult bone marrow stem cells to help quickly regenerate healthy liver tissue, enabling patients to eventually undergo a surgical resection. ... Our study suggests that liver stem cells harvested from the patient's own bone marrow can further augment and accelerate the liver's natural capacity to regenerate itself ... researchers compared the results of portal vein embolization (PVE), a technique currently used to help regenerate liver tissue, to a combination of PVE and an injection of bone marrow stem cells into the liver. ... Patients who received the combination of PVE and stem cell injection had double the liver growth rate and gain in liver volume, compared with those who underwent PVE alone."

Stem Cells Slow Degenerating Vision (March 28 2007)
EurekAlert! notes an accidental discovery: "In a study in rats, neural progenitor cells derived from human fetal stem cells have been shown to protect the vision of animals with degenerative eye disease similar to the kinds of diseases that afflict humans ... The finding that the brain cells protected the cells in the eye was a surprise ... The neural progenitor cells, which arise from stem cells and further differentiate into different types of cells found in the central nervous system, were being tested for their ability to deliver another agent, a growth factor that has been shown to be effective in treating some types of degenerative disease. ... On their own, they were able to support retinal cells and keep them alive. We didn't expect that at all. We've used a number of different cell types from different sources and these have given us the best results we've ever got. ... How the cells act to preserve the deteriorating eye cells remains unknown ... Like all cells, neural progenitor cells do many things and secrete many different types of chemicals that may influence the cells around them."

Engineering the Heart, Piece By Piece (March 27 2007)
EurekAlert! look at tissue engineering and the heart: "Some day, heart attack survivors might have a patch of laboratory-grown muscle placed in their heart, to replace areas that died during their attack. Children born with defective heart valves might get new ones that can grow in place, rather than being replaced every few years. And people with clogged or weak blood vessels might get a new 'natural' replacement, instead of a factory-made one. These possibilities are all within reach, and could transform the way heart care is delivered ... Technology has advanced so much in recent years [that] scientists are closer than ever to 'bioengineering' entire areas of the heart, as well as heart valves and major blood vessels. ... Although there remain tremendous technological challenges, we are now at a point where we can engineer first-generation prototypes of all cardiovascular structures: heart muscle, tri-leaflet valves, blood vessels, cell-based cardiac pumps and tissue engineered ventricles." It won't be too many years now until the simpler organs can be rebuilt from your own stem cells.

On the Edmonton Aging Symposium (March 27 2007)
The Edmonton Aging Symposium starts this Friday 30th, and those of us scattered about the world can listen in over the internet. Here's a little press on the event from the ExpressNews: "When we're born, we're given these bodies, and it's like being given the most extraordinarily complex car and not being given an instruction manual. We can't change the oil. We don't even know where the dipstick is. Imagine how much more mileage we could get out of our bodies if we knew how to do the proper maintenance. ... Once the science world started talking about the Human Genome Project, I realized that we were being given that manual to our bodies. It's in a language we're only just beginning to understand, but at least we have it now ... Up until 10 or 20 years ago, no one looked at it, because people just accepted aging as a fait accompli, that we couldn't do anything about it. That's changing now. If we have the knowledge and technology to actually address the causes and symptoms of aging and we don't do anything about it, it's like watching someone drown and not throwing out the rope that's in your hand."

Xenotransplantation: Why Aren't We There Yet? (March 26 2007)
From PLoS Medicine: "Organ transplantation across a species barrier - xenotransplantation - has been attempted for over a century. Given the rapidly increasing gap between the organs required and those available for transplantation, over the last 20 years xenotransplantation has been aggressively pursued ... It is evident from the progress to date that there are several mechanisms of xenograft rejection which still must be overcome and which will require extensive investigations ... With diminishing industry support and limited funding from granting agencies, it has become more evident that finding a solution to xenograft rejection is not within the scope of one investigator or laboratory. ... I believe that the research in this field is progressing in the right direction and, in the course of seeking to solve xenograft rejection, has significantly advanced our understanding of several important immunological mechanisms ... There is a fair amount of optimism that with careful planning and a coordinated effort, the dream of clinical xenotransplantation can be achieved." However, funding drains away as tissue engineering appears an ever brighter prospect with each passing year as a source of replacement tissue for age-damaged organs.

State Stem Cell Funding In New York (March 26 2007)
For those keeping score at home, The Scientist looks at public funding for stem cell research in New York: "Within his first two months in office, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer presented an initial budget proposal slotting $1 billion over the next 10 years for stem cell research. A final version of the budget must be approved by the three power centers of New York -- the Governor's office, the State Assembly and Senate. A similar effort proved unsuccessful -- former New York Governor George Pataki proposed a $1 billion allocation of funding to support stem cell research for the 2006-2007 budget, but it was not passed by the State Senate. Although the details of the budget are ever-changing, [those] closely involved in the process anticipate a $100 million appropriation each year for the next 10 years, beginning in 2008. ... Others involved in the process of designing the budget have raised concerns that both the Governor's and Senate's bills are too vague and may end up funding more capital projects, such as new buildings, than actual research. ... If [the New York stem cell bill] is an alternative mechanism to provide funding to research institutions, that's fine, but lets call it what it is. It's all going to depend on who's on that [oversight] board."



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