LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 21 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.
- The Economics of Repairing Aging
- The Obvious Future of Medicine
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
THE ECONOMICS OF REPAIRING AGING
Just what is the cost of aging?
"For all that people try to make it complex, economics is really very simple at its root. All costs must be paid, and there are no free lunches, but new wealth and new resources can be created through investment. Illness, decrepitude and death are costs - deeply unpleasant aspects of the present human condition, but still costs that can be quantified and compared to other resources. Resources directed towards maintaining the aged are resources not directed towards technological advancement or the creation of wealth. The aged themselves are resources that fade in value - for people of health, capacity and vigor are the root of all progress.
"Once you start to make this comparison between the cost of degeneration and other goals that could be achieved with the same use of resources, it quickly becomes clear that the level of resources we direct as individuals to medical research is low to the point of irrationality."
If you take a closer look at the staggering numbers, it quickly becomes apparent that no level of investment in healthy life extension research - that could plausibly be attained by the human race - could ever be too much. The level of destruction caused by aging dwarfs that of global wars, and yet we are blind to it, because it is constant and omnipresent.
THE OBVIOUS FUTURE OF MEDICINE
Some avenues of medical development for the next decade or two are foregone conclusions: now obvious, planned and underway. This known technology in waiting is impressive, even without considering the impact of unforeseen new discoveries. To pick one example:
"The use of biodegradable guide materials in conjunction with signaling chemicals is in the very first stages today, but I'm sure you can see just how sophisticated this could quickly become. For example, the growth of entire organs or complex tissue can be envisaged: researchers a decade from now will use rapid prototyping technologies to build three-dimensional guide material frameworks, layered with chemicals known to produce the right growth and cellular differentiation characteristics, and add stem cells to get the job started. These initiatives and technologies exist today at varying stages of progress and sophistication ... Regeneration of bulk parts and replacement of damaged tissue is not rejuvenation, but it should lead to a fair degree of healthy life extension. If life extension of 10 to 20 years is plausible from a simple extrapolation of systems biology, then a far better control over regeneration should add to that. It certainly won't hurt our prospects."
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/
Dendrimers and Lasers (May 20 2007)
The power of dendrimers as a technology platform for precisely targeted therapies is in the reduction in time and cost to develop and test a new therapy. Hook up the biomolecular keys, seekers and tools you need to the dendrimer, and set it loose. From EurekAlert!: "A nanocomposite particle can be constructed so that it has a mix of properties that would not otherwise happen in nature. By combining an organic matrix with metallic clusters that can absorb light, it is possible to incorporate such particles into cells and then destroy those targeted cells with a laser. ... A laser can be used to kill cells indiscriminately, but it is really a blunt instrument. High powered lasers do so much damage that the tissue becomes opaque to further light. Yet, lower-powered lasers do not deliver enough energy to kill cells. By labeling cells with [composite nanodevices like loaded dendrimers], light absorption can be selectively and locally enhanced wherever composite nanodevices are present. Irradiation of the mix of labeled and unlabeled cells by laser light, causes tiny bubbles to form that disrupt and damage the labeled cells, but leave unlabeled cells unaffected. This technology holds promise as an alternative therapy for cancer patients." Any widespread, low cost, efficient method of identifying and killing specific cells is a medical revolution in and of itself.
Programmed Versus Non-Programmed Aging (May 20 2007)
The debate over the degree to which aging is programmed into our biochemistry still continues. An example from ScienceDaily: "To date, there are two basic concepts of reasons for ageing. The first one is death as a result of damage accumulation, and the second is death as a suicide program. There are multiple arguments in favour of both concepts. A new - astrocytic - hypothesis has been put forward ... In the framework of this hypothesis, ageing is treated as a result of changes in cerebrum cells. The key role is played by transmutation of cells of the radial neuroglia into stellate cells - astrocytes. Since such cell transmutation is a programmed process, the researcher is inclined to the opinion that ageing and following death have been programmed." The SENS approach, treating all change as damage and working to fix it, somewhat sidesteps this debate. It doesn't matter why change happens with age: just figure out what it looks like at the biochemical and cellular level, and then develop a fix for it. Engineering, especially medical engineering, is all about working around the unknowns to attain a good result.
More On Stem Cells Versus Parkinson's (May 19 2007)
You'll find a fair degree of interesting work taking place in India these days, often in connection to medical tourism, as illustrated here by Express Healthcare: "Stem cell research seems to be promising in regenerating hope to cure [Parkinson's disease (PD)]. This will motivate innumerable patients across the world to explore this new modality. However, we need to observe the long-term clinical effects in large number of patients to decide its role in the treatment of the degenerative diseases ... After stem cell therapy last year, Andrew has shown remarkable recovery in his symptom as he has started walking without support, there has been significant reduction in the tremors [and] his medication for PD has been withdrawn since the last months. ... The successful clinical outcomes from our stem cell research programme have given us the confidence to share this new hope with the public at large so that a greater number of people can participate in the clinical research for getting relief from major diseases and disabilities." The economics dictate that you'll see progress being driven in less prosperous countries by the flow of comparative wealth from outside, driven on by the high cost of regulation in places like the US.
Towards Brain Regeneration (May 19 2007)
I've long said that repairing and sustaining the brain is a vital goal for longevity, and that we will see overcoming myriad neurodegenerations as the greatest challenge to healthy life extension two or three decades from now. Progress is being made, however, as reported by ScienceAlert : "neuroscientists have identified the stem cell population responsible for production of neurons, and the mechanism which drives this process. ... For the first time, we've been able to identify a mechanism that's able to regulate production of nerve cells, a step that's crucial to our understanding of memory and learning. The same mechanism helps regulate growth of healthy brain tissue, so identifying this process is essential for the development of therapeutics to treat conditions such as dementia. ... With this knowledge, we are well placed to further develop our understanding of the basic mechanisms that regulate the generation of healthy, new nerve cells in the brain. Our long-term goal is to develop new therapies whereby nerve cells can be generated to replace those lost or damaged in disease or trauma."
The Financial Industry and Longevity (May 18 2007)
From SmartMoney.com, another reminder that those with the most money on the table are betting on increasing healthy longevity: "Think you'll make it to your 100th birthday? Your insurance company does. And so does most of the financial world around you. ... That's presented a new challenge for financial planners, who traditionally have been able to follow the old models of folks retiring at 65 and dying within a good 10 years after that. The old approach of an advisor sitting down with you to make sure you had transitioned to a safe, yield-based portfolio the day you rode down your office elevator for the last time is out of date. And dangerous. Without a rethinking of longevity into the picture, a financial plan can become a recipe for running out of money well before you physically run out of steam. ... The life insurance companies have raised their actuarial tables to account for lifespans of 115 years. When we hear things like that, we think about it, and we now calculate our retirement plans to age 100. ... living longer can pose problems if there's inadequate financial planning, and the expectation of a longer life in retirement can pose some challenges for today's aging boomers. But 'it's a problem I hope to have myself.'"
An Interview With Michael Anissimov (May 18 2007)
RU Sirius interviews Michael Anissimov at 10 Zen Monkeys, discussing radical life extension and other topics: "Think of ten possible lives you could live, and then think that you don't necessarily need to choose between them. You could live them back to back. ... Recently Peter Thiel, former CEO of Paypal, offered three million dollars in matching funds for projects related to [repairing aging]. And [the Methuselah Foundation] started coming up with ways to actually use over a million dollars, I believe. They have the MitoSENS project and the LysoSENS projects. ... lysomal junk is this stuff that builds up between cells. And our natural metabolism doesn't currently have any way of breaking it down. So researchers are trying to exploit the law of microbial infallibility - the notion that no matter what organic material you’re talking about, you're going to be able to find a microbe that can eat it. ... some of these researchers have even gotten permission to get soil samples from the people that run graveyards because that's where you'd expect to find the bugs. Basically, they're looking for specialized microbes that can dissolve that lysomal junk."
The Micronutrient Camp (May 17 2007)
I see the exploration of micronutrients and other supplements as an aspect of the mainstream direction of aging research - interested in optimizing and tinkering with metabolic processes to gain only very modest, incremental gains in healthy life span. Slowing aging a bit, in other words, rather than any more ambitious project based upon modern biotechnology. From ScienceDaily: "The evidence suggests that lipoic acid is actually a low-level stressor that turns on the basic cellular defenses of the body, including some of those that naturally decline with age ... Researchers at LPI are studying vitamins, dietary approaches and micronutrients that may be implicated in the aging or degenerative disease process, and say that lipoic acid appears to be one of those with the most compelling promise. The goal of LPI research, Hagen said, is to address issues of 'healthspan,' not just lifespan -- meaning the ability to live a long life with comparatively good health and vigor, free of degenerative disease, until very near death. The best mechanisms to accomplish that, scientists say, have everything to do with diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle habits and micronutrient intake." Which is true - if you ignore the entirety of the modern biotechnology revolution. Live in the past, or live in the future? Not a hard choice for me.
Towards Cell Therapy For Diabetes (May 17 2007)
As noted at Genetic Engineering News, Geron continues to show progress in the manipulation of embryonic stem cells (hESCs): "the paper describes studies showing how the researchers differentiated hESCs into cell clusters containing the main cellular components of the islets of Langerhans. The islets of Langerhans are structures in the pancreas that are responsible for regulating and producing insulin in response to changing glucose concentrations and are targets for autoimmune destruction or dysfunction in Type I Diabetes. ... These studies show that the islet-like clusters contain the major cellular components of islets and are sensitive to glucose, the key sugar to which they must respond to be therapeutically beneficial. Our major goal moving forward is to improve the purity, yield and maturational status of these cells ... The protocol to produce the ILCs drives hESCs through a series of cell culture steps that mimic the progressive differentiation stages during development of the pancreas in humans. Other pancreatic cell types resembling those of the exocrine pancreas were also observed during the differentiation process."
Advances In Human Cryopreservation (May 16 2007)
The Advances in Human Cryopreservation conference, sponsored by Suspended Animation Inc, starts on May 18th. As I noted at the end of last year, some bold claims are being made, and I'm pleased to see signs of progress in the cryonics field: "Major scientific breakthroughs will be revealed [followed] by demonstrations of advanced cryopreservation equipment ... This event will feature the first details about a revolutionary research project to achieve perfected human cryopreservation. In the short-term, this research will lead to advanced methods of cryopreserving terminal patients for future revival in good health and vigor. In the long-term, it will lead to human suspended animation. ... conference banquet on Saturday night will feature internationally acclaimed cryobiologist Gregory M Fahy, PhD, who will announce a major grant to fund research to perfect whole body vitrification, which is a method of cooling organs, tissues, and entire organisms to super-low temperations without damaging ice formation." No-one wants to die, but all too many of us are going to do just that before real longevity medicine arrives. The choice between cryopreservation and the grave should be an obvious one.
Delving Into Mammalian Regeneration (May 16 2007)
Scientists continue to work on the nuts and bolts of regeneration in mammals: greater understanding will lead to greater ability to improve upon what we have. From EurekAlert!: "Researchers previously believed that adult mammal skin could not regenerate hair follicles. In fact, investigators generally believe that mammals had essentially no true regenerative qualities. (The liver can regenerate large portions, but it is not de novo regeneration; some of the original liver has to remain so that it can regenerate.) ... In this study [dormant] embryonic molecular pathways were awakened, sending stem cells to the area of injury. Unexpectedly, the regenerated hair follicles originated from non-hair-follicle stem cells. ... We've found that we can influence wound healing with wnts or other proteins that allow the skin to heal in a way that has less scarring and includes all the normal structures of the skin, such as hair follicles and oil glands, rather than just a scar ... By introducing more wnt proteins to the wound, the researchers found that they could take advantage of the embryonic genes to promote hair-follicle growth, thus making skin regenerate instead of just repair. Conversely by blocking wnt proteins, they also found that they could stop the production of hair follicles in healed skin."
Healthy Life Extension Scenario Planning (May 15 2007)
Anders Sandberg searches for scenario planning resources for healthy life extension and finds the cupboard comparatively bare: "Yesterday I held a ExtroBritannia scenario planning event with the theme of life extension. As a warm-up I did a quick survey of papers related to scenarios of life extension. Overall, I was surprised by the lack of good scenarios: this ought to be a great area to explore, but likely many researchers shy away from the imagined radicalness of life extension. That will likely change over the next years. Right now most people are making scenarios merely of current demographic trends, not willing to assume any effective life extension." Sandberg lists a selection of papers and works that are probably worth your time, or at least worth being aware of. Not that I see this absence of policy-forming work as a bad thing. The less policy making, the more room for progress - there's nothing quite like getting government involved early to flatten the growth and inventiveness of a prospective field of development.
One Longevity Dividend Viewpoint (May 15 2007)
In this PDF document, the Longevity Dividend viewpoint on aging research is filtered through the Kronos Longevity Research Institute: "Scientists are making discoveries every day about how aging works and how to keep it from slowing us down so that we stay healthier and feel younger longer. Dietary changes, genetic engineering and hormone activity can all play a role in the aging of the body's systems. Scientists are discovering that the aging of those systems can be delayed and thereby delay the onset of deadly diseases. Slowing the aging process is not a new idea, and there is no quick fix or magic mirror ... We're not trying to increase lifespan so we add 20 years of life at the end when you're frail. We want to increase the middle part - the healthspan. ... The belief that aging is an immutable process, programmed by evolution, is now known to be wrong. ... In 2002, Cambridge associate and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey developed the radical idea that reversing cellular aging could extend life. De Grey predicted that the next great social debate would occur when aging research matures to the point that public funds can be used to speed effective aging treatments. That future is now."
A Look At the Wake Forest Institute (May 14 2007)
Via WRAL, a look at the work of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine: "The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine includes scientists and physicians in the fields of biomedical and chemical engineering, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, materials science, nanotechnology, genomics, proteomics, drug delivery, surgery and medicine. ... we push forward in our efforts to develop more efficient ways to enhance cell growth and function in vitro and fabricate biomaterial scaffolds for tissue generation in three-dimensions. ... We have numerous ongoing and planned projects that represent the next phases of advancement toward the clinic as well as expansion into an increasing array of tissue types, ranging from organs such as kidneys, livers and heart valves, to tissues and cells for therapy, such as cartilage, bones and nerve cells. I would, however, recommend cautious optimism in this complex and nascent field of regenerative medicine. Our team, together with renowned scientists from other institutions, have been working on these or similar projects for almost two decades, and it could be years before commercial-scale production of engineered organs is viable."
Calorie Restriction and the Hippocampus (May 14 2007)
The function of the hippocampus declines with the ongoing accumulation of biochemical wear and tear in the body. As for so many aspects of aging, calorie restriction makes some modest difference here: "Caloric restriction (CR) extends life span and ameliorates the aging-related decline in hippocampal-dependent cognitive function. In the present study, we compared subunit levels of NMDA and AMPA types of the glutamate receptor ... Each of these parameters has been reported to be a potential contributor to hippocampal function. Western blot analysis revealed that NMDA and AMPA receptor subunits in [ad libitum (AL)] animals decrease between young and middle age to levels that are present at old age. Interestingly, young CR animals have significantly lower levels of glutamate receptor subunits than young AL animals and those lower levels are maintained across life span. ... These results indicate significant aging-related losses of hippocampal glutamate receptor subunits in AL rats that are consistent with altered synaptic function. CR eliminates that aging-related decline by inducing stable NMDA and AMPA receptor subunit levels."