LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 09 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.
- Video and Reports from the Edmonton Aging Symposium
- Why Not Sequence the Long-Lived Animals?
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
VIDEO AND REPORTS FROM THE EDMONTON AGING SYMPOSIUM
In the news and headlines for this past week, you'll see a selection of reports and articles on the Edmonton Aging Symposium, held at the end of last month. By all accounts, the event was well received, and the scientists in attendance seemed very happy with the results of volunteer efforts behind the scenes:
The symposium was recorded, and the first videos are available online: Ronald Bailey's presentation on the economics of radical life extension; the Gregory Stock / Daniel Callahan debate on ethics and healthy life extension; Aubrey de Grey's presentation on repairing the biomolecular damage of aging. Links to the videos can be found in this Fight Aging! post:
It has always been strange to me that some folk are willing to take the position that more healthy life is somehow a bad thing from an economic perspective. People produce more when they are alive and healthy, and being alive and healthy is valued more than being dead; economies only exist because there are healthy living people to create them. More people means more ongoing creation of wealth, in other words. You really have to twist things around to argue for mass death as anything other than a horrific destruction of value and potential. We see that on a day in which a tsunami sweeps away 100,000 lives, so why not on every other day, in which age-related degeneration and illness brings more than 100,000 deaths worldwide?
WHY NOT SEQUENCE THE LONG-LIVED ANIMALS?
A few mammalian species stand out from near relatives due to their exceptional longevity. What could we learn from sequencing their genomes? One group of scientists is working up a proposal to open the genetic book on naked mole-rats and bowhead whales, amongst other animals:
"Recent research has revealed several gene systems that can regulate longevity, aging, and multiple age-related diseases in short-lived model organisms. Nonetheless, the longevity effects of these genes are modest when compared to the lengthening of lifespans during evolution. Among mammals alone there is at least a 40-fold variation in maximum longevity. We still do not know why different species of similar body plan, biochemistry, and physiology can age at such different rates, but these differences must be seated in the genome."
This, I envisage to be a project with a long horizon for benefits to trickle down to us humans. Manipulating our present metabolism for longevity and health is fearsomely complex, and I suspect that to be a good deal easier than reaching into other species for new tricks to fold back into our own genome.
The odds are we'll be able to rejuvenate humans by understanding and repairing the damage of aging before we'll benefit from understanding how whales resist cancer so well, or naked mole-rats thrive with levels of free radicals in their tissues that would eat away at human health. But, as always, there could be enough funding to have our cake and eat it too - if we do a good enough job of fundraising, education and generating support. There's no reason not to have all lines of research progressing well at the same time, beyond the work needed to make this a reality:
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/
Narrow and Incremental (April 08 2007)
CNN takes a look at the commercial end of the stem cell research and development pipeline: "Two biotechs, Cytori Therapeutics and Osiris Therapeutics, each hope to get their experimental stem cell products approved by the Food and Drug Administration and into the U.S. market by 2008. ... Cytori is planning to launch its first stem cell medical device in Europe this year [using] stem cell technology to rebuild breast tissue in cancer survivors. ... Osiris, [currently] has the only stem cell-based product that's been approved by the FDA. OsteoCell, which stimulates bone growth and is already on the U.S. market, is actually considered an implant rather than a drug or device. ... Prochymal, a potential treatment for acute Graft vs. Host Disease (also known as GVHD) and Crohn's disease, is in late-stage trials." Applications are narrow, incremental and slow in coming because the regulatory regime forces development in this direction; this becomes the cost-effective path, rather than anything more ambitious.
More Science From the Edmonton Aging Symposium (April 08 2007)
Over at the Methuselah Foundation blog, LysoSENS researcher John Schloendorn provides a report on the recent Edmonton Aging Symposium: "Progress has been solid and steady in the other fields pertaining to the removal of age-related damage according to the SENS proposals: Too few cells, and too many cells, and the three types of junk (inside cells, between cells and protein crosslinks). The cellular work featured Conboy and Conboy from Berkeley, pioneers in investigating the role of how an aged bodily environment dictates the aging various stem cell types, and presented excellent data with implications on how one might go about shielding the stem cells from this influence. This might one day allow the stem cells in an aged person to ignore the body's calls to stop regenerating ... Judith Campisi [attempted] to get rid of unwanted cells [and] reported on overcoming matrix metalloproteinases, an important mechanism by which such senescent cells can defend themselves against immune cells attempting to clear them out. ... In the field of age-related storage diseases, atherosclerosis researcher Jay Jerome explained the need for enzyme therapies to resolve arterial plaques, and Rittmann showed how his Methuselah Foundation-funded work to clone suitable enzymes from environmental microbes has made excellent progress over the past year."
Medical Tourism Illustrated (April 07 2007)
Medical tourism brings in resources that allow researchers in locations such as India and Thailand to test new therapies. It's all very much caveat emptor, as for any buying decision, but the end product of this industry informs more rigorous and costly development. Take this news from MedIndia.com: "A premier hospital in the southern Indian state of Karnataka claims to have made a major breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's disease utilizing the stem cell therapy. ... the patient's bone marrow was harvested at the regenerative medicine department and the mesenchymal stem cells were injected into the part of the brain, which was affected because of Parkinson's disease. ... The successful recovery of the patient would give hope to scores of Parkinson's cases which affects one per cent of the population. ... However, we need to observe the long term clinical effects in larger number of patients to decide whether it is primary or secondary or supplementary treatment option for degenerative disorders."
TransVision2007 Coming Soon (April 07 2007)
The Transvision2007 conference will be held July 23rd to 26th in Chicago, IL. The organizers "urge you to register soon, as we will fill up and will cut off registration once we reach capacity. If you register by Sunday, April 15th, you will receive a $200 discount off of the regular registration fee. So don't wait. ... the theme of TransVision 2007 is: Transhumanity Saving Humanity: Inner Space to Outer Space, and will feature three full days of compelling dialogue with the greatest minds of today about creating the civilizations of tomorrow. TV07 brings extraordinary people from across the globe together with more than 30 distinguished speakers, entertainers and visionaries including: award-winning inventor, futurist, author Raymond Kurzweil; acclaimed longevity scientist, Aubrey de Grey; and Emmy award winning actor, William Shatner." The pre-conference event is entitled "Securing the Longevity Dividend" and includes presentations from S. Jay Olshansky and Aubrey de Grey with a policy focus aimed at "scholars and journalists interested in the future of aging and healtcare; legislative aides and policy makers considering Longevity Dividend as a policy program; pro-longevity, health care and senior activists interested in building the Longevity Dividend campaign."
Towards Regenerative Cures For Deafness (April 06 2007)
Via ScienceDaily, a snapshot of progress towards regenerating the loss that causes one type of deafness: "researchers have isolated 'cochlear stem cells' located in the inner ear and already primed for development into ear-related tissue due to their proximity to the ear and expression of certain genes necessary for the development of hearing. ... Previous work in our lab with young-adult mouse cochlear tissue showed expression of genes normally found in stem cells and neural progenitors. This led us to hypothesize that cochlea harbors stem cells and neural precursor cells. Our work in collaboration with Miller's lab supports our hypothesis ... Clearly we have miles to go before we reach our end goal, but the exciting part is now we can test compounds that could promote regeneration of hair cells from these precursor cells in vitro, we can study the genes expressed during the transition from stem cells to hair cells, and we can think of developing strategies for cell replacement, i.e. transplanting these cochlear stem cells into the adult cochlea to affect hair cell replacement in the mouse, by extension, in humans."
Science at the Edmonton Aging Symposium (April 06 2007)
One of the scientists attending the Edmonton Aging Symposium talks about the event at Ouroboros: it "was an interesting mix: scientists from all over the interdisciplinary field of aging research, and educated laymen who have a keen interest in our work. ... Irina Conboy (my boss) presented our lab's currently in-press data on how an aged tissue environment negatively affects the ability of muscle stem cells to differentiate. The proximity of [embryonic stem cells], however, can locally rescue the affects of a 'polluted' niche. We are currently investigating the soluble factors that regulate the ability of cells and tissues to renew and regenerate. ... Ellen Heber-Katz gave an update on the MRL (Murphy Roths Large) mouse story. She has discovered that this regenerating mouse breaks down the basement membrane in the vicinity of an injury (apparently similarly to other, more 'traditionally' regenerating creatures such as salamanders). Matrix metalloproteinases secreted by inflammatory cells recruited to the wound site are apparently essential to this aspect of the healing process."
More From the Edmonton Aging Symposium (April 05 2007)
From The Gateway, another report from the recent Edmonton Aging Symposium: "held at the University of Alberta last weekend, [the symposium] brought together 37 top scientists, academics and theorists from around the world to take a look at the science and ethics of aging. This conference explored the possibility that the detriments of aging are no longer unavoidable, and that technologies capable of drastically extending the human lifespan are almost within reach. ... 'It's very probable that the first person to live to 1000 will be less than 20 years younger than the first person to live to 150,' de Grey suggests. Although this claim may seem surprising, [the] feat of doubling life expectancy has already been accomplished in one lifetime. ... At the turn of the century average life expectancy was somewhere around 39 ... now it is much older, [around 80 years old] ... The logic of [a 1000 year lifespan] is actually much more certain and much more incontrovertible than any of the more near-term stuff that I talk about - which is, after all, the nuts and bolts of how to get there in the first place - and yet it's the discussion of four-digit lifespans that really gets people upset."
Calorie Restriction Research Roundup (April 05 2007)
As Chris Patil notes, "The calorie restriction (CR) literature is exploding: dozens of papers are published each month, many of which are noteworthy in some way. ... Calorie restriction in adult men and women causes beneficial metabolic, hormonal, and functional changes, but the precise amount of calorie intake or body fat mass associated with optimal health and maximum longevity in humans is not known ... Fertility was not altered by CR in any of the examined groups. ... This preliminary study encourages speculation that mild regimens of CR can produce health and longevity benefits without the 'costs' of impaired reproductive potential. ... These observations combined with the recent suggestion of active alterations in aging processes by antiaging genes do suggest the potential for significant beneficial effects of CR in humans consistent with the effects that are emerging in the nonhuman primate studies. However, some theoretical analyses alternatively suggest that there may be only a limited potential of CR to extend lifespan and reduce morbidity in humans."
New York State To Fund Stem Cell Research (April 04 2007)
(From Science). Following on from my last note on the topic, it looks like public funds will be directed to stem cell research in New York: "On the night of 31 March, minutes before the beginning of the state's 2008 fiscal year, legislators passed a budget that includes $100 million for stem cell research. The money will be administered by a new entity set up within the state health department. In addition, for the next 10 years, the state will provide up to $50 million annually for stem cell research from a fund created from the sale of state-run insurance plans to private entities. In addition to [this], stem cell supporters are optimistic that the legislature will appropriate an additional $50 million a year. ... The law calls for the establishment of a 13-member Empire State Stem Cell Board to be appointed by the governor, which will administer the new Empire State Stem Cell Fund for research in the state. ... the board will set up panels of outside scientists - most likely not from New York - to review the grants."
On the Way To Replacing the Brain (April 04 2007)
If we are going to replace the brain for the long term, it will be slowly, neuron by neuron, with something more durable. The first, early steps on the path to the necessary technology are already underway, as reported in Popular Science: "The chip's ability to converse with live cells is a dramatic first step, he believes, toward an implantable machine that fluently speaks the language of the brain - a machine that could restore memories in people with brain damage or help them make new ones. Remedying Alzheimer's disease would, if Berger's grand vision plays out, be as simple as upgrading a bit of hardware. No more complicated drug regimens with their frustrating side effects. A surgeon simply implants a few computerized brain cells, and the problem is solved. ... I don't need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem. A repairman doesn't need to understand music to fix your broken CD player. ... What the chip is saying is anyone's guess - the content of the conversation is beside the point ... It's straight mechanic-talk from the man who has created a prototype of the world's first memory implant, basically a hardware version of the brain cells in your hippocampus that are crucial to the formation of memory. The chip is meant to replace damaged neurons in the same way other prosthetic devices stand in for missing limbs or improve hearing."
Pondering Pancreas Cell Regeneration (April 03 2007)
From EurekAlert!, a good example of challenge, learning and progress in the field of regenerative medicine: "Replacing faulty or missing cells with new insulin-making cells has been the object of diabetes research for the last decade. Past studies in tissue culture have suggested that one type of pancreas cell could be coaxed to transform into insulin-producing islet cells. Now, [researchers] have demonstrated that these pancreatic acinar cells do not become insulin-producing cells in an animal model. However, they did show that injured pancreatic cells readily regenerate back into healthy acinar cells, which has implications for treating cancer and inflammation of the pancreas. ... Under certain conditions in tissue culture, acinar cells can synthesize insulin as well as amylase, a digestion enzyme. ... It is very clear that the acinar and islet compartments remain separate during regeneration in a live animal ... Although our work shows that acinar cells do not contribute to the insulin-producing compartment of the pancreas in an animal model, it is possible that other strategies might be successful in generating the islet cells. The hope is that these acinar cells would continue to make insulin after being transplanted back into the mouse."
The Latest Mprize Competitor Steps Forward (April 03 2007)
The Methuselah Foundation announces the latest competitor for the Mprize: "The focus of Mr. Cash's research and development at Terra Biological LLC is on small molecules that simulate the genomic effects of caloric restriction ("caloric restriction mimics" or "CR mimetics"). CR mimetics have been shown to increase the lifespan of laboratory test animals, namely C. Elegans worms, D. Melanogater flies and, in a small pilot test, M. Musculus mice by up to 36%. ... The NIA/NIH is currently evaluating the inclusion of one of Terra Biological's CR mimetics in its ITP test program in mice to measure its biological effects on life and health span. These larger scale mouse tests will constitute the entry into the Mprize competition. ... My hopes in entering the Mprize competition are to demonstrate and confirm, on a larger scale in mice, the effectiveness of specific small molecule, biochemical control of aging. This biochemical control, which has already been shown to simulate calorie restriction - CR, a scientifically tested and accepted method of increasing life and health span - will be tested beginning with middle aged mice, about 16 months old."
Heart Valve Grown From Stem Cells (April 02 2007)
From the Guardian, another modest step towards bioengineered replacement hearts: "A British research team led by the world's leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If animal trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years. ... By using chemical and physical nudges, the scientists first coaxed stem cells extracted from bone marrow to grow into heart valve cells. By placing these cells into scaffolds made of collagen, [scientists] then grew small 3cm-wide discs of heart valve tissue. Later this year, that tissue will be implanted into animals - probably sheep or pigs - and monitored to see how well it works as part of a circulatory system. ... Growing a suitably-sized piece of tissue from a patient's own stem cells would take around a month but he said that most people would not need such individualised treatment. A store of ready-grown tissue made from a wide variety of stem cells could provide good matches for the majority of the population."
Calorie Restriction Late in Life (April 02 2007)
How and why does calorie restriction provide health benefits if started late in life? EurekAlert! notes work on these and related questions: "Much research has shown that reduced calorie intake can increase health and longevity. Professor Stephen Spindler [and] his collaborators have discovered that reducing calorie intake later in life can still induce many of the health and longevity benefits of life-long calorie reduction. Importantly, this also includes anti-cancer effects. They are using this knowledge to establish a novel screening technique to find drugs which mimic this longevity effect. ... Physiological changes associated with ageing include cell damage and the emergence of cancer cells. The most important effects of low calorie diets and longevity therapeutics given late in life may not be to prevent this damage, but instead to stimulate the body to eliminate damaged cells that may become cancerous, and to stimulate repair in damaged cells like neurons and heart cells. Low calorie diets drive the body to replace and repair damaged cells. This process usually slows down as we age, but low calorie diets make the body re-synthesise and turn over more cells - a situation associated with youth and good health."