LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 23 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.
- A Thought For the Day: 20 Extra Years
- The Ambitious Is Not the Impossible
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
A THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: 20 EXTRA YEARS
What would you do with 20 extra years, in good health and without further aging, were they suddenly dropped into your lap? How would that change your plans?
"Are there good reasons why you haven't take a few years off to be a low-cost traveler around the world? To learn blacksmithing because you think it's interesting? To work for a non-profit and give your time to an important cause? If you have additional decades given to you, would those reasons change?
"These hypotheticals are not quite so hypothetical, of course. They are all worth thinking about, because one day, sometime prior to 2020, those us who grew under the learned expectation of threescore-and-ten-and-then-you're-old-and-done - dripping from every education in the classics, or daily saturation in popular culture for that matter - will suddenly realize that the real world has actually become something more like fourscore-and-ten, with that limit increasing at a fair clip."
THE AMBITIOUS IS NOT THE IMPOSSIBLE
We humans are very good at confusing ambitious plans with impossible plans. We're the children of apes, and apes respect the norm of the day, creatures of hierarchy and habit as they are. Anything radical is suspect, great change even more so. For all that, the ambitious is not impossible - but it's often the case that the hardest part of progress is convincing enough people to take part. So it is with the path to plausible, near-future medical technologies of longevity, rejuvenation and healthy life extension.
"There is a strong pressure, both internal and external, to conform to the median view in any human society; we're still very much rickety devices built upon a pillar of apes in that way. But you don't enact change by hiding your real views under a bushel. Equally, you can't take the average knee-jerk objection to healthy life extension seriously - give the objector 20 years or so, and they'll be conforming to the new median view you helped bring about.
"If you want to change the world for the better, read around the subject of healthy life extension via scientific progress. Make your own mind up, and plant the flag exactly where you think it should be. The farther out the better, given just how far behind popular culture is these days. Then help make it happen, and convince as many people as you can along the way. That's how progress is made - not by bowing down to the unseen pressure and agreeing that the plausible is instead impossible."
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/
NYAS On Cancer Stem Cells (April 22 2007)
It's all cancer all the time this week: the cancer research community is large, and the annual meetings generate a great deal of coverage from the popular science press. Here, the NYAS gives another of their excellent overviews: "Although the groundswell of interest in cancer stem cells is new, the concept has been around for more than 40 years. [It] languished until the mid-1990s, when researchers finally obtained the tools and knowledge to explore the hypothesis. ... Researchers believe that cancer stem cells are either stem cells that have mutated to undergo uncontrolled cell division and differentiation, or are already-differentiated tumor cells that through mutations have regained the ability to self-renew. ... If a normal stem cell acquires mutations, or one of its progenitor cells acquire mutations, this could form a cancer stem cell ... Still under discussion is how similar cancer stem cells are to normal stem cells. ... The 'stem cell' term implies that the cell is like normal stem cell but that may or may not be more accurate. 'Tumor-initiating cells' might be a more accurate definition. ... The opportunity for finding new targets and new mechanisms to attack cancer is extremely exciting. I think we have a lot of challenges ahead."
Aubrey de Grey at the Global Investors Forum (April 22 2007)
The Methuselah Foundation chair Aubrey de Grey recently presented at the UBS Global Investors Forum: "The event was attended by somewhat more than 100 quite senior people from pension fund management, life assurance and wholesalers of long duration investments to institutional clients. Aubrey de Grey was one of three speakers to open the event, addressing the whole audience. His warm-up man was Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize Economics 2001) and he was followed by Sir Christopher Hum (formerly HM Ambassador to PRC). ... the audience did not seem to find the ideas expounded ludicrous. There were some titters at the "1000 year lifespan" slide. I asked people around me afterwards what they thought, and nobody denied the plausibility/desirability of the notion. My neighbour unprompted told me that the rich would find the prospect of more life irresistible. Questions from the floor concerned timescale and current indications of progress. ... the industries most exposed to financial risk and gain as a result of rapid changes in life span are further ahead than the man in the street in appreciating the possibilities ... those with a large stake in the future will take the time to evaluate the prospects for longer lives, and go on to educate others. This meeting was a leading indicator, showing that the idea of dramatic longevity gains is beginning to enter the mainstream."
The Trend (April 21 2007)
Eric Mahleb illustrates the trend to a future of great and increasing longevity by way of reviewing Rapture: "For many years, scientists have tried to disassociate themselves from what has been perceived by many as the extravagant rants of a few delusional individuals whose only purpose is to become immortal ubermensch. Yet, in the past 15-20 years, words such as cloning, gene therapy, designer babies, artificial intelligence, stem cells, and nanotechnology have taken their place in the everyday language of millions of people. And many scientists are no longer afraid to state that they are working on ways to stop disease, aging, death, and on how to improve human performance and appearance. Whether you are against them or for them, these technologies are slowly becoming part of our lives. ... There is a counter movement, naturally, that tries to warn humanity of the perils of such a direction. ... For them, disease, sadness, death, all are part of our human nature. Try telling this to someone whose son or daughter are in a wheelchair or were born with an incurable disease that will prevent them from living past the age 30. The future can be scary, but the future is inevitable. Part of our 'nature' is to continuously move towards it, good or bad. I am prepared." People want health and life; if we can but illustrate how close we are to technologies of rejuvenation, support and resources directed towards research will increase greatly.
WebMD On Cancer Stem Cells (April 21 2007)
WebMD gives an overview of some of the latest research into cancer stem cells: "Are most current cancer treatments -- as well as many in development -- aimed at eradicating the wrong cancer cells? That's the position of some leading researchers, who say that cancer is, fundamentally, a stem cell problem -- and that therapy should be targeted at so-called cancer stem cells. ... In the stem cell hypothesis, cancer is driven by specific cells that contain stem cell properties ... These cells then reproduce and replenish malignant tumors. Currently, most treatments target cancer cells, but not necessarily cancer stem cells ... While the treatment may shrink the tumor and keep it in check for a while, eventually, the untreated cancer stem cells proliferate into cancer cells, leading to a return of the tumor and death ... If the treatments targeted the cancer stem cells, however, the tumor would lose the ability to generate new cancer cells, eventually resulting in a cure." The article goes on to look at some specific demonstrations of errant stem cells and stem-like cells from recent months.
Cancer Gene Therapies Becoming Very Impressive (April 20 2007)
(From EurekAlert!). It seems as though we will have the chance to see whether widespread access to efficient therapies for cancer is good enough to ensure the healthy life extension brought about by other advances in medicine. The work presently taking place in the lab is fairly impressive: researchers "designed a novel viral-based gene therapy they say blasts through a body, targeting both primary and distant tumors, while leaving normal cells untouched. In the 15 mice they tested, injections of the therapy in tumors on one side of the mouse eliminated those cancers as well as tumors on the other side of the animal's body, producing a cure in all of the mice. This study tested this 'dual cancer-specific targeting strategy' with aggressive therapy resistant prostate cancer. The researchers have also shown it works in animals with breast, and melanoma tumors. ... The beauty of this approach is that two methods are being used to destroy a tumor. The virus we designed replicates within a tumor, and at the same time produces a massive amount of a cancer killing compound. Either action alone is damaging and potentially deadly, but together they are lethal."
The High Level View of Curing Cancer (April 20 2007)
This ScienceDaily piece illustrates well that to eradicate cancer utterly will require radical change to our biochemistry. "Cancer is a fundamental consequence of the way we are made. We are temporary colonies made by our genes to propagate themselves to the next generation. The ultimate solution to cancer is that we would have to start reproducing ourselves in a different way. ... Although DNA repair is favourable to the organism; it may not be favourable to the individual cell. ... Deciding when to stop for repairs and when to keep on going is a difficult challenge. Making repairs assures an optimized vehicle, but it also consumes valuable time and resources. At first thought, it may seem obvious that a damaging environment calls for more repair. Paradoxically, however, the effect may be exactly the opposite. Imagine that you are racing through a war zone with constant bombardment. Stopping for repair can then be a fatal strategy, and it is better to keep on going with flat tires and a screaming engine than to stop for repairs ... Cells exposed to particular carcinogens die if they have the relevant repair mechanism, while genetically unstable cancer cells continued to grow." But we can get a long way on the next generation of prevention and therapies - hopefully far enough to see much more advanced technologies needed to remove cancer from the human condition.
Cheaper Antibodies, Faster Medical Progress (April 19 2007)
Continuing the infrastructural theme for today, ScienceDaily reports on better ways to produce antibodies for new therapies: "The group [developed] the new antibody-production approach to improve upon processes used previously to identify new drugs. Drug companies have used those more time- and labor-intensive processes to develop antibodies for treating rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and other diseases. The new approach [overcomes] those obstacles, and has other advantages. ... Our approach can provide a significant time savings. and it enables antibodies to be isolated to treat human diseases that may not be possible to obtain otherwise. ... Getting mammalian cells to produce lots of antibodies costs more, and can take several months. The direct bacterial approach [shaves] weeks off the production process." Real progress lies in making your tools and products work better and cost less in time and resources. That's what leads to more research, more widespread usage, and thus a greater rate of experimentation and improvement.
Stem Cell Infrastructure Improving Rapidly (April 19 2007)
(From innovations report). A good place to watch for meaningful trends in science and engineering is infrastructural work - rarely flashy, but always a better measure of progress. In the stem cell field, progress is continuing apace: researchers "developed an economical tissue engineering approach which could offer new possibilities for restoring damaged or lost knee cartilage tissue. ... 'Routine tissue culturing methodologies cannot cope with the scale of cell production required to create world stem cell banks for engineering knee cartilage tissue,' explains Professor Al-Rubeai. His research group has optimised the tissue culture techniques so they can grow more stem cells in vitro which have the characteristics or morphology of in vivo stem cells. This is the first study to factor in economics. A key objective of our work is to develop a model for the biopharmaceutical industry by generating a cell bank using an affordable technique. A 17-fold expansion factor was consistently achieved and large numbers of stem cells for tissue culture engineering were obtained." Cheaper tools mean more experimentation, which leads to more rapid results - which leads to cheaper tools. It's a virtuous cycle that will accelerate progress in medicine capable of tackling aspects of age-related degeneration.
Alzheimer's Drugs Looking More Promising (April 18 2007)
Better biotechnology means a better approach to new drugs: start with an understanding of the biochemical mechanisms of age-related disease, and find a compound that can safely interfere in those mechanisms. From ScienceDaily: "Tang discovered a key enzyme called memapsin 2, or beta-secretase, that is involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease. The action of this enzyme on a special protein, called the amyloid precursor protein, leads to the formation of plaques in the brain. The development of an inhibitor compound targeting memapsin 2 could block this reaction, thus preventing the disease. Utilizing Tang's information about the enzyme, Ghosh designed the first memapsin 2 inhibitor. ... This is the most exciting target today for Alzheimer's disease intervention. These interactions happen at a very early stage in the disease, and if we could block them, we could prevent many of the harmful steps that follow and drastically reduce the impact. In our most recent tests, a single dose of the designed compound reduced the beta-amyloid level by 30 percent."
Investing in Immortality (April 18 2007)
A pitch for one facet of shaping the context of the rest of your life - for what else is investment? - via Accelerating Future: "Few would rush to accept an offer of immortality if each successive year were to bring an ever-increasing burden of broken hips, memory loss, and incontinence. This may help explain why so many people find the thought of extreme life extension unpalatable; the best years are not usually represented by triple digits. Hence, those who actually intend to live forever usually know something about the technology that would make this possible. They understand how the same research that could ultimately conquer aging will also be critical to treating the ailments associated with it. This conclusion is not a difficult one; even today, the leading causes of death for people in their physical prime are not diseases, but accidents, homicide, and suicide. If the biological clock could be stopped or reversed, careful individuals could live in excellent health for a very long time. ... No single portfolio can ever right for everyone. But if you are interested in the possibility of living indefinitely - if the thought of going 'gentle into that good night' angers you - there are investments you can make."
The Future of Regenerative Medicine (April 17 2007)
The promising future of regenerative medicine is evident in the work taking place now - both so obviously crude and so obviously far ahead of what has been possible in the past. Genetic Engineering News illustrates: "The idea of growing an organ from one's own cells or healing spinal cord injuries with cells transformed from embryonic stem cells used to be considered fodder for science fiction movies, but no more. Companies are not only developing technologies that can do exactly that, but these methods provide real potential to cure certain conditions and diseases. ... We have published a paper showing, for the first time, that we can create RPE (retinal pigment epithelium) from human embryonic stem cells ... RPE is the layer of cells that maintains the photoreceptors, cones, and rods and enables vision. ... We're hoping to transplant these cells to attenuate vision loss or prevent further progress of macular degeneration ... the same RPE can significantly attenuate visual loss in animal models due to RPE loss. We were able to significantly rescue the photo receptors and saw about 100% improvement in visual acuity in the animals transplanted with these cells."
More Edmonton Aging Symposium Video (April 17 2007)
Much more video from the Edmonton Aging Symposium is available for download: presentations on calorie restriction science; searching for the mechanisms of regeneration in lower animals; AGEs and AGE-breakers; the latest results from studies of MRL mice; progress in LysoSENS; mitochondrial DNA mutations and their role in aging; immunotherapies directed against age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's; how and why the aging immune system becomes ineffective; healing damaged hearts with stem cells; and much more. "The University of Alberta Audio/Visual support, Koi Media and especially Capital Health provided absolutely amazing service and professionalism in putting this together. I cannot thank them enough for the hardwork and dedication when the going got rough. They made the chaos appear a lot less so. I hope you enjoy this chance to review some of the presentations you may want to see again or watch the ones you may have missed." The content is hosted on Methuselah Foundation hardware, so please do your part to help take the load off the servers by posting these videos to Google Video, YouTube, or other video sharing sites.
Follow the Money To Find the First Therapies (April 16 2007)
ABCNews reminds us that you'll find the first (expensive, comparatively crude) experimental application of new technologies right where the money is. In the case of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, modern athletics is one such location: "some researchers are optimistic that sports medicine could reap the benefits of stem cells in the foreseeable future. ... In athletes, we will probably first see stem cells being used to treat meniscus injuries in the knee and tendon injuries ... We could also see it used in ligament reconstruction in the knee. ACL repair is a common operation -- typically you take part of a ligament from a donor site in the knee. Instead we might be able to use a patient's own cells to grow their own ligament. ... one company is currently in the early phases of a clinical trial for a new technique to repair the meniscus -- a crucial wedge of cartilage in the knee joint. ... Although the trial is still in its early stages, he said these therapies may one day allow athletes to heal more completely and faster than ever before. ... Stem cell therapy is much closer than people think. Once that happens, it's really going to open up the door for large-scale stem cell therapies to invade into other areas and become part of the armament of sports medicine physicians."
Deciphering the Cause of ALS (April 16 2007)
SFGate looks at one of the promising uses of stem cells in practice: as testbeds to uncover biochemical mechanisms in neurodegenerative disorders. "Researchers reported evidence Sunday as to what may be causing ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is marked by the loss of specialized nerve cells, known as motor neurons, that drive conscious movement. The studies implicate a toxic factor in the cellular environment surrounding the motor neurons, rather than something in the neurons themselves. That means any transplanted nerve cells - even healthy motor neurons produced in pristine laboratory conditions from colonies of human embryonic stem cells - would probably die, too, if implanted in an ALS patient. But that doesn't mean stem cells are useless in treating ALS - in fact, they were used in the very laboratory experiments that produced the latest findings. ... Further research is under way to identify the toxin, and perhaps find out how the astrocytes go awry, possibly through some combination of genes and environmental exposure. Eventually, researchers may be able to concoct a drug to neutralize the poisonous effect or use some other strategy to make nerve cells resistant."