LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 14 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.
- Ending Aging
- Just What Is "Normal Aging" Anyway?
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
There is nothing wrong with becoming old. There is everything wrong with becoming frail and sick. The future I'd like to see is one in which "old" is all upside - experience and wisdom without decrepitude and death. The forthcoming "Ending Aging" is a book that explains the best course we can presently chart to that end:
"Aimed squarely at folk who want to know more about the science of repairing the molecular damage that causes aging, but find navigating the wild waterways of scientific publications too intimidating or time-consuming, this is a step by step, detailed explanation of how we could achieve radical life extension within our lifetimes, as best we understand from our present knowledge of our biochemistry.
If you're used to the 'eat this, take supplements and exercise' longevity bookshelf, Ending Aging is a big step up - very much more 'research this science to develop this specific therapy based upon that sound basis established over the past two decades.' You'll be seeing more of that in the years ahead, and this exactly where your attention should be focused if you care about your own longevity."
JUST WHAT IS "NORMAL AGING" ANYWAY?
I encourage you to play the Fund SENS Research game: put a dollar bill in a box every time you read that a specific age-related medical condition is "not a part of normal aging" - or words to that effect. Empty out the box and write a check to the Methuselah Foundation every so often.
What is "normal aging" anyway? Who gets to decide?
"Arthritis was absolutely thought to be a part of the 'normal aging process' - until it wasn't. The dividing line between solemnly named condition and mysterious process of aging is utterly arbitrary; the 'normal aging process' only really exists if you want to define it into existence. When you say 'normal aging,' you are applying a name to a collection of changes, damage, diseases and medical conditions, some of which have their own well-worn taxonomy, and some of which don't. But all changes can be identified, and medical technology developed to repair, prevent and reverse them.
"Whether and what we name these undesirable changes for the worse is rather beside the point.
"The mantra of 'not a part of the normal aging process' is irrational. It's an irrational response to the irrational acceptance of aging as normal - folk slowly carving off one piece of 'normal aging' at a time by giving it a new name and repeatedly asserting its individual nature as a thing apart from aging. It works with the funding sources and regulators, so scientists have made something of a habit of this over the years."
This all has to come to an end at some point. We can already, on the basis of existing scientific research, completely divide up aging into named categories of change at the cellular and molecular level. There might be some dispute over the details of that division, but there it is, all laid out and backed by research in varied fields of biology and medicine. Where then is there room for this mythical and mysterious beast "normal aging" to hide? Good riddance, I say.
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/
A Reminder That Only Fools Rush In (May 13 2007)
Via the PubMed listings, a reminder that for all the noise about growth hormone from the "anti-aging" marketplace, the scientific backing isn't there: "Growth hormone release and IGF-I synthesis decrease with increasing age. The regulation of the GH/IGF-I system is dependant on the integrity of the hypothalamus, pituitary and liver. During aging there are several changes which contribute to the decline in GH/IGF-I including changes in signal to the somatotrophs from growth hormone releasing hormone, somatostatin and other factors such as body composition, exercise, diet and sleep. ... The phenotypic similarities between aging and adult growth hormone deficiency syndrome combined with this decrease in GH/IGF-I with aging have prompted the question whether aging is a GH deficient state. The advent of recombinant growth hormone has led to a number of studies treating elderly patients with GH alone or in combination with sex steroids or exercise. The results of these studies would not back up the use of GH in elderly non-hypopituitary patients as they did not show efficacy, showed high rates of adverse events and there is also some evidence associating GH/IGF-I and risk of neoplasia. If GH therapy is to be used in this cohort of patients further long term efficacy and safety studies are required."
Glancing at the Opposition (May 13 2007)
Who are these people who are trying to tell us to reject healthy life extension research and suffer and die instead? Here's a glance at some of the thought processes and opinions from that side of the line at Crisis Magazine: "The search for eternal youth is an ancient human impulse, going back to the world's earliest recorded epic, Gilgamesh. But with modern medical technology, we now seem closer to achieving that end than ever before. ... But does this go too far? Theological critics of anti-aging technology have pointed out that aging has long been considered a consequence of the Fall, and that we are undoing God's command when we radically extend life through medical means." At the base of it, these folk are trying to sell a deeply hostile message: suffer and die on their schedule, when you don't have to, because that's the only thing they can come up with that doesn't require them to utterly abandon their present positions. It's always very clear when someone sets out a hierarchy in which the maintenance of his or her own intellectual comfort zone is way and above whether the rest of us live or die.
The Conservative View of Calorie Restriction (May 12 2007)
The Mayo Clinic accurately reproduces the cautious, conservative line on calorie restriction. As for many such resources, it manages to be technically accurate while overstating the difficulty of practicing calorie restriction responsibly and safely, and missing some of the latest science: "Short trials of calorie restriction diets in people have shown some benefit. ... people who subscribe to calorie restriction carefully monitor their food intake to ensure they're getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need. ... Scientists have their doubts about the viability of the calorie restriction diet in a Western culture where overweight and obesity seem to be the norm. ... People undergoing calorie restriction, whether through a restricted diet only or through a combination of diet and exercise, typically have seen positive changes in their: blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat percentage, cholesterol levels, heart rate, weight ... Calorie restriction studies may help researchers better understand the aging process, and they may provide clues for developing new anti-aging drugs. Researchers hope to study how calorie restriction works on the body so that drugs may be developed to work in the same way."
A High Level View of Aubrey de Grey and SENS (May 12 2007)
From the Daily Sundial, a high level profile of biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), and the past couple of years of public discussion on the topic: "Speaking at conferences in Europe, the U.S. and China, and interviewing with major media outlets such as '60 Minutes,' the New York Times, and Popular Science, De Grey has sent ripples, and sometimes waves, through the technology and scientific community by claiming that he has developed an age-reversal model that may feasibly work in as little as a decade in mice and 20 to 30 years in humans." Conditional on large-scale funding and growing research community, which people often miss out. "I'm convinced that de Grey's strategy for achieving life extension is the best that has been proposed. We have a comprehensive list of the types of age-associated damage that kill people in a normal life span, and a corresponding list of therapies for treating each type, which are widely supported by experts in the relevant fields ... Scientists find things out for the sake of finding things out. Engineers find things out in order to solve some problem so they are always looking for ways to minimize how much they need to know to implement a solution or ways to sidestep their own ignorance. This is antithetical to the scientist's raison d'etre, so scientists constantly overlook it."
An Example of the Damage Done (May 11 2007)
From Immunity & Aging, one PDF-format example of the way in which the cytomegalovirus-compromised aging immune system lets you down: natural killer (NK) cells "are a component of nonspecific immune response involved in the defense against viral and bacterial infections ... infections and pathogen burden have been considered as a potential risk factor for [coronary heart disease (CHD)]. The main suspects linked to the vascular disease are wide-spread organisms such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Chlamydia pneumoniae. ... as infections deteriorate the course of CHD and NK cells are the first line of defense against infections, there might be a link between development of CHD and NK cells. ... These data indicate that an active infection with specific pathogens may affect NK cells functions. Vice versa, low NK activity may be one of the possible gates of spreading infection, and this may be a way of deepening of NK cell deficiency. Altogether, it creates a positive feedback loop leading to accelerated progress of diseases associated with chronic infections." When your system starts to run down, the process of degeneration accelerates - but the initial accumulation of damage is gradual, which is why the development of repair strategies can be a path to greatly extending healthy life span.
Demyelination and Alzheimer's (May 11 2007)
Commentary from FuturePundit on recent research into the mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease: "Myelin is the fatty sheath that coats the axons of the nerves, allowing for efficient conduction of nerve impulses. It is key to the fast processing speeds that underlie our higher cognitive functioning, including, yes, wisdom. Myelination continues sheathing axons until we reach the age of about 50, but in these later stages, the myelin becomes more and more susceptible to damage. ... [a report] suggests that it is the breakdown of this late-stage myelin that promotes the buildup of toxic amyloid-beta fibrils that eventually deposit in the brain and become the plaques which have long been associated with Alzheimer's disease. These amyloid products in turn destroy more and more myelin, [disrupting] brain signaling and leading to cell death and the classic clinical signs of Alzheimer's. ... Your myelin slowly breaks down after age 50. That, by itself, is thoroughly disgusting even before we consider the threat from Alzheimer's. The brain is our most powerful tool. Our brains become less powerful. In the process of its decay and aging we become less capable and lose parts of who we are. Shouldn't we try much harder with research funding to find ways to stop and reverse brain aging?"
Towards Very Early Disease Detection (May 10 2007)
Catch cancer very early on - or any one of a range of other age-related, progressive conditions - and much more effective options for dealing with the problem exist, even today. Just like precision targeting, the impact of biotechnologies of very early detection is not to be underestimated. It's not as flashy as cures, but will save just as many lives. Judging by the low cost of entry into the tool development field these days, we'll have bioscanners in every clinic a decade from now: "the simple and inexpensive system, which can be built from off-the-shelf components, can rapidly detect the presence of cancer biomarkers - telltale proteins in body fluids that can signal the presence of malignant tumors - at very low levels. ... With this technology, a future scenario might be that you go to the doctor every year for an annual checkup; he draws about 10 cc's of your blood and runs it through our machine. The machine is equipped to detect the biomarkers for all the common types of cancer. Half an hour later it produces a list of the biomarkers that it has found. And then either a software program or the physician examines this list to determine whether you have any cancers that need treating. ... The researchers are focusing on lung cancer as an initial application because there is currently no adequate way to detect it at an early stage."
Fighting Cytomegalovirus (May 10 2007)
Age-related degeneration is sped along by the failing of the immune system, due in part to the cellular troops all facing the wrong way - geared up to fight cytomegalovirus (CMV) to the exclusion of all other tasks. Here, EurekAlert! reports on progress in eliminating CMV: scientists identified "the critical molecular targets controlling virus persistence, and two ways in which we can modulate immunity in vivo with the desired result of blocking virus spread to uninfected individuals. The potential excitement in the findings is that we may be able to one day use this kind of treatment in humans to block or significantly reduce the spread of cytomegalovirus and other chronic virus infections ... IL-10 is a messenger molecule which suppresses the protective T cell response that would normally attack the cytomegalovirus. By blocking the ability of the IL-10 molecule to bind to its receptor, then you allow these T cells to do their job and reduce or eliminate this virus. ... It significantly reduced the virus load in all the animals and in 50 percent of them it completely eliminated it." Sadly, this would only prevent ongoing damage if made to work in humans - it won't restore a CMV-focused immune system from its dysfunctional state. Other potential strategies are on the table for that task, however.
Most Likely a Common Viewpoint (May 09 2007)
Via the Synapse, what is most likely a common view of calorie restriction: "Obviously the idea of living disease free into old age is desired by most, but few people would seriously consider making the sacrifices required of such a complex diet. ... Since hundreds of people are restricting caloric intake [there] is sure to be an abundance of data about the long-term effects of calorie restriction on humans in the (not too distant?) future. This means that [we] can wait and see where this research leads and then change our minds later ... But before you have your cake and eat it too, consider that there may be an additional take-home message from this research. I would make the case that the potential benefits of short-term caloric restriction reported here seems to underline the prudence of eating in moderation." The human tendency to laziness at work: if there's the possibility of benefits later for work later, wait and see how it turns out rather than working now. But maybe you can get something for a little work now, since the results of the work look pretty compelling - but not compelling enough to propel you to action. It should be said that you can only call calorie restriction complex in comparison to a diet of "whatever, whenever, no attention to nutrition given" - and if you haven't actually tried it.
Profile Of an Anti-Cancer Virus (May 09 2007)
The Scientist profiles one of many initiatives to engineer viruses to destroy cancer: "He had been studying ways in which pox viruses evade the immune system and looking at ways to disable them. ... He had pox viruses from China and from Russia and India that were used as vaccines. He had elephant pox, camel pox, you name it; so we could immediately tap into that treasure trove and try to identify the best anticancer strains ... Of particular interest [was] a form of vaccinia known as extracellular enveloped virus (EEV), which appears tailored for long-distance travel through the blood stream and seems resistant to complement and neutralizing antibodies. He saw EEV as a key to achieving systemic spread of a therapeutic virus, in order to hunt down distant tumor metastases. ... Advances in bioengineering have provided the means to sharpen viral activity, fine tuning its targeting and adding transgenes that might aid in the destruction of cancer. Kirn is eager to get these infectious agents into humans. ... Even with more than a century of work on oncolytic viruses that hasn't spurred a major breakthrough, Kirn says that things are different now. The goals of research are more sharply defined, and the questions being asked in trials are more specific. Instead of merely documenting the effects of available or slightly-modified viruses, new candidate viruses can meet specific criteria."
More State Funding For Stem Cell Research (May 08 2007)
As for New York, New Jersey and California, Massachusetts continues to move towards large-scale funding of stem cell research from public monies: "Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday unveiled a $1.25 billion proposal intended to help the state maintain its status as a pre-eminent place for stem cell research and other life sciences. The money would provide grants for university and hospital scientists, establish special research centers to make their work faster and more efficient, and train workers for biotechnology businesses. It would also establish the first stem cell bank, a repository of all the stem cell lines created in Massachusetts laboratories, which would serve as a kind of stem cell lending library to scientists around the world. ... Mr. Patrick's plan involves $1 billion in state money over 10 years, some borrowed through bond issues, plus $250 million in matching money from private business." Nothing like massive centralization to remove the accountability and incentives that lead to efficient use of funds - not to mention the terrible waste of resources spent on fighting for control of the purse.
New Look For the Methuselah Foundation (May 08 2007)
You might have noticed the reworked Methuselah Foundation website: "The golden age is before us, not behind us." Quite true, albeit in ways that Sallust could only have dreamed of; the ancients had a keen vision for longevity and health, but never the tools to attain it. This new design places a sharper focus on the mission and present activities of the Foundation: "a non-profit 501(c)(3) volunteer organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the near-term potential for evidence-based interventions in the aging process. To this end, we perform research focused on repairing the damage that accumulates at the cellular and molecular level with time causing age-related dysfunction, and offer the multi-million dollar Methuselah Mouse Prize (Mprize) for significant, scientifically reproducible life extension in already aged lab mice." Degenerative aging will one day be defeated through the development of more advanced biotechnology, and the Foundation serves as a rallying point for those willing to help make it happen sooner rather than later.
Pseudocells As Targeted Delivery Vector (May 07 2007)
Building medical technology from biological components is the new black, and a great deal of very inventive work is presently taking place out there in the world. From the New Scientist, here is one that continues the cellular micromachine theme: "When bacteria divide, they normally do so at their centres. But [researchers] have found a way of forcing them to divide at their ends, producing small buds of cytoplasm each time. They have also discovered that a range of different drugs could be packaged into these particles. These 'mini bacteria', or EnGeneIC Delivery Vehicles (EDVs) as the company has dubbed them, are cheap and easy to produce, and can be used as targeted drug delivery vehicles. ... They look like bacteria but they have no chromosomes and are non-living. And because they have a rigid membrane they don't break down when injected, so they carry their payload happily to the target site ... The EDVs are able to selectively target different tissues thanks to [antibodies] attached to their surface." Hopefully we all recall just how revolutionary good targeting technologies are in medicine - they will be the difference between life and death for millions every year.
Repairing Blood Vessels With Stem Cells (May 07 2007)
News of the latest technology demonstration from Advanced Cell Technology: "hemangioblast precursor cells derived from human embryonic stem (hES) cells can be used to achieve vascular repair ... When the cells were injected into animals that had damage to their retina due to diabetes or ischemia-reperfusion injury (lack of adequate blood flow) of the retina, the cells homed to the site of injury and showed robust reparative function of the entire damaged vasculature within 24-48 hours. The cells showed a similar regenerative capacity in animal models of both myocardial infarction (50% reduction in mortality rate) and hind limb ischemia, with restoration of blood flow to near normal levels. ... These cells were able to generate functional blood vessels in the presence of severe tissue injury, as well as in chronic disease states. These cells have a robust vascular reparative ability under what is typically considered very adverse growth conditions making them potentially ideal for treatment of diabetic vascular complications where profound tissue compromise exists and healing is typically severely compromised."