Longevity Meme Newsletter, June 25 2007

June 25 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.



- Striking Back at Cytomegalovirus
- There is No Secret
- Rejuvenation Research, Volume 10 Number 2
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


If you don't know what cytomegalovirus (CMV) is doing to you and everyone you know ... well, time to find out. A great deal of the deterioration of the immune system with advancing age is due to CMV:


"CMV doesn't really hurt you at all in the short term; most people don't even show symptoms. But because you cannot clear it from your system, its presence chews up more and more of your limited immune resources with time. This is what happens to all of us with increasing age, speeding the downward spiral: if your immune system isn't up to snuff, you're that much less able to resist further damage."

Scientists are making progress in developing a vaccine, however - which is good for those of us not already damaged to the hilt:


"Using a two-pronged approach, we successfully created and tested a vaccine in a mouse model with CMV that shows enormous promise for re-directing the body's immune system, enabling it to fight the virus."

For those with significant damage to the operation of our immune system, more adventurous medical technologies will be required - reconfiguring our immune systems by destroying the wrongly specialized cells, for example, or forcing the body to completely recreate the immune system from scratch. Fortunately, researchers are moving through the early steps on that path also:


"Revimmune works by temporarily eliminating peripheral immune cells ... stem cells uniquely have high levels of a particular protective enzyme that can be measured in advance of therapy, which makes them impervious to Revimmune, and allows the surviving stem cells to give rise to the new immune system over 2 to 3 weeks."


There is no secret to healthy life extension, no hidden knowledge. There never was, and never will be:


"Healthy life extension, making money, losing weight, learning a new skill. You name it - if it requires hard work, you'll find any number of people who think there are hidden secrets to it all; knowledge held by the few that will enable you to succeed if you can but uncover the key.

"No such thing, however. There are no secrets.

"You can find the high level synopsis - and a fair stack of details for later reading - of everything presently known or proven to be of use relating to extending the healthy human life span in a single afternoon online. You'll have to wade through a moat of nonsense and idiots who don't know what they're talking about, but no one is hiding anything. All the latest knowledge is right there, out in the open."


Speaking of knowledge: if your taste in reading extends to the more scientific end of the spectrum, you'll be pleased to note that the latest issue of Rejuvenation Research is available online:


While we're out there fighting the good fight, remember that some segments of the biomedical research community are very willing to sign their names to the defeat of aging - and are publishing in a well-regarded, influential journal:


"Rejuvenation Research is an international, interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed academic journal that covers all aspects of biology and biomedicine relevant to the combating, and ultimately the reversal, of age-related physiological and cognitive decline, in nonhuman species and eventually in humans. ... I'm pleased to tell you that we obtained the very agreeable ranking of 8.571. This puts us at No. 1 in the 'Gerontology and Geriatrics' category by a large margin, even including Aging Cell at 6.013 (which, for whatever reason, is not listed in that category). For a wider comparison, we would be No. 20 in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and No. 17 in Cell Biology, ahead of such prominent titles as Human Mol Genet, NAR, FASEB J, MCB, MBC, JCS, and Oncogene."


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/

Attacking the Mechanisms of Alzheimer's (June 22 2007)
The research here is illustrative of the improvement of present biotechnology over the past decades: precisely designed interference in specific, understood biochemical mechanisms of disease. "In 2000, Tang identified beta-secretase, a key enzyme in the progression of Alzheimer's that triggers the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. Various stages in plaque formation produce toxic proteins that harm the brain, causing damage that eventually leads to dementia. Later that year, Ghosh built a molecule that binds to this key enzyme and inhibits its activity, a beta-secretase inhibitor. ... We created a molecule that fits with a key piece of the Alzheimer's disease puzzle. When the treatment molecule binds to the enzyme, it changes the shape of that puzzle piece so that it no longer fits in its original spot. This halts the chain reaction that leads to the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer's disease ... The molecule is both highly potent and highly selective, meaning it does not appear to affect other enzymes important to brain function or cause harmful side effects. ... The company expects to begin generating human clinical data by the end of 2007 and to begin phase II studies in Alzheimer's patients in 2008."

Backup and Restore the Immune System (June 22 2007)
Researchers are already destroying and recreating the immune system to remove existing damage; the next logical step from there is reported by the New Scientist: "Imagine having a spare copy of your immune system on ice, ready to replace your existing one should you fall victim to AIDS, an autoimmune disease, or have to undergo extensive chemotherapy for cancer." Or indeed, perhaps, should you do no more than get old. "An Anglo-American company called Lifeforce has received permission from the US Food and Drug Administration to do just that. The firm collects 480-millilitre samples of blood from healthy individuals, extracts the white blood cells and stores them as an insurance policy against future disease. The service comes at a price, though: around $800 for taking the initial sample then $25 per month for storing the cells ... That sample would have the complete repertoire of all your white blood cells ... By taking some of the stored cells and exposing them to natural growth factors such as interleukin-2, whole new armies of white blood cells could be grown in the lab and reinfused into the patient. ... we can send them their 'pristine' system from 25 years ago." The normal cautions apply, but this seems to be a promising idea.

Ever More Stem Cell Therapy Trials (June 21 2007)
Trials of stem cell therapies are rolling out more rapidly as the years pass, often alongside with existing techniques. Here's another one from EurekAlert!: "60 patients who have recently suffered a major heart attack will be injected with selected stem cells from their own bone marrow during routine coronary bypass surgery. The Bristol trial will test whether the stem cells will repair heart muscle cells damaged by the heart attack, by preventing late scar formation and hence impaired heart contraction. ... In a heart attack, part of the heart muscle loses its blood supply (usually due to furring up of the arteries with fatty material) and cells in that part of the heart die, leaving a scar. This reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood around the body. While the blood supply to the heart can be improved with coronary bypass surgery or angioplasty, thereby reducing the risk of further heart attacks, these techniques do not restore the viability and function of the area already damaged. ... Current treatments aim to keep the patient alive with a heart that is working less efficiently than before the heart attack. Cardiac stem cell therapy aims to repair the damaged heart as it has the potential to replace the damaged tissue." These are yet the early days on a path that soon leads to the complete regeneration of organs.

Straightforward Fears (June 21 2007)
People don't fear being old, they fear being decrepit. The two are so linked in our culture, experience and education that any discussion of life extension is doomed without carefully explaining that you mean extension of healthy, vigorous life. "There's only one thing that scares me more than death. It's the thought that I might live to be 100. The idea that 60 years from now I might still be pulling my arthritic limbs and degenerating mind out of bed is daunting. The sagging skin, wasted muscles, false teeth and declining memory, vision and hearing will be only half my worries - will my superannuation last that long? ... I'm taking a deep interest in the science of ageing - know your enemy, I say. And as medical science improves, living to 100 may not be as terrifying as you'd think. .... Quality of life rather than sheer length is what most of us want. John McCormack has studied Australians aged over 110 and found all of them reported health problems from chronic arthritis and diabetes to constipation. ... Forty per cent rated their ability to do things for themselves as fair/poor. But only six per cent said they were not satisfied with life and only 10 per cent thought it was not good to live to 100." Healthy life extension means to use the science and medicine to come to separate "old" from "decrepit" - to choose to repair the damage of aging in order to live longer in wisdom, health and vigor.

Justified By Who, Now? (June 20 2007)
This Gulf Breeze News piece illustrates a real problem with the present level of centralized control over the provision of medicine: "After adjusting for non-medical factors in longevity such as reduced smoking rates and declines in death rates from accidents, suicide and homicide, the researchers conservatively estimate that 50 percent of the increase in life expectancy can be attributed to medical care. ... 70 percent of the gains from health care came from better treatment of heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease, and 19 percent was the result of improved medical care for newborns. ... The rising cost of health care has been the source of a lot of saber rattling in the media and the public square, without anyone seriously analyzing the benefits gained. But the dramatic increase in life expectancy that we've seen over the last decades shows that rising medical costs have been largely justified. The increased spending has, on average, been worth it." Justified by who, now? Worth it to who? It's a nonsense that anyone other than the individual has any say over what the medical costs of that individual happen to be. Let everyone find their own comfort zone. Remaining alive and in good health has a cost associated with it at any age; whether and how to pay that cost - and whether and how to help reduce that cost in years to come - should always be up to the individual.

Metabolic Rate and Longevity - Not Linear (June 20 2007)
While one might think that metabolic rate and longevity are linked - run faster, wear out faster - that isn't the case. Nothing is ever simple in biology, and the actual situation points once more to the significance of mitochondrial free radical generation: "In animals, longevity (maximal lifespan) is inversely related to mass-specific basal metabolic rates. However, contrary to expectation, in several mammalian taxa, exceptional longevity is associated with high basal metabolic rate, and also fast evolution of mtDNA-coded proteins. The association of these traits was suggested to result from adaptive selection of mutations in mtDNA coded proteins, which accelerates basal respiration, thus inhibiting the generation of reactive oxygen species that constrain longevity. In Serinus, a genus of finches (canaries) that exhibits the highest rate of cytochrome b evolution, and the highest values of exceptional longevity and lifetime expenditure of energy in all birds, many of the substitutions in cytochrome b are clustered around Q(i), a ubiquinone binding site adjacent to the mitochondrial matrix, apparently selected to increase the rate of ubiquinone reduction. We therefore suggest that, in songbirds, the accelerated evolution of cytochrome b involved selection of mutations that reduce the generation of reactive oxygen species, thus contributing to the evolution of exceptional longevity."

Biomarkers in Longevity Science (June 19 2007)
Chris Patil looks at gene expression profiles as a biomarker of aging: "The discovery (and approval) of anti-aging pharmaceuticals is hindered by at least one major practical impediment: Measurement of the simplest biological endpoint of interest - length of lifespan - takes a long time. ... Consequently, much attention has been paid to the idea of aging biomarkers, i.e., phenotypes that can be measured throughout the lifespan and that reflect the percent of lifespan that has elapsed. ... essentially, anything quantifiable that correlates biological age with chronological age is fair game. ... Gene expression measurements are excellent biomarkers: they are both quantitative ('I am expressing three times as much of gene A at age 2 than I was at age 1'), and also robust - because one can measure all of the genes in the genome simultaneously, using microarrays or similar approaches, small perturbations in the levels of single transcripts don't obscure the overall picture. This might not be the case for biomarkers that focus on single phenotypes like bone density, since individual genetic variation might mask the aging signal in the data." For all that researchers are amassing data on gene expression changes with aging in various tissues, the only way to establish the relevance of a potential biomarker for sure is the long way - wait and watch.

SIAI Interview With Aubrey de Grey (June 19 2007)
The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) interviews Methuselah Foundation chair Aubrey de Grey: "Dr. Aubrey de Grey is an SIAI Advisor and chairman and chief science officer of the Methuselah Foundation, a nonprofit focused on accelerating the development of evidence-based rejuvenation therapies to combat aging. In this interview, Aubrey discusses his role with SIAI, the relationship between Methuselah's work and SIAI's, the potential negative side of the singularity, the reasoning behind Friendly AI research, and more." There is quite the overlap between the younger strong AI research and healthy life extension communities - lots of transhumanists, for one, who formed ties in the earlier and more cohesive phase of online transhumanist groups. Those folk have gone on to make what each thinks is the best mark on the world; a great deal of the focus is on strong AI, nanotechnology, biotechnology and healthy life extension. I'm more of the opinion that full-on strong AI work is not as utilitiarian at this time as effort spent on healthy life extension, but that's just my take on the present state of progress.

Biochemistry of Stress and Alzheimer's (June 18 2007)
The advance of biotechnology is shedding light on the mechanisms underlying common sense on health - in this case, that chronic stress is bad for you: "A long-term study of about 800 members of religious orders had found that the people who were most prone to stress were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, but the nature of the link between the two has been elusive ... The group's findings [suggest] that the brain-damaging effects of negative emotions are relayed through the two known corticotropin-releasing factor receptors, CRFR1 and CRFR2, which are part of a central switchboard that mediates the body's responses to stress and stress-related disorders. ... Lee made available his mice that had been genetically engineered to lack either CRFR1 or CRFR2. ... In the absence of CRFR1, stress-induced tau phosphorylation was abrogated, while in mice missing CRFR2 the effect was amplified. Pharmacological studies with small molecule inhibitors replicated the effect. Currently, several companies are actively pursuing small molecule drugs that bind CRF receptors ... Such drugs could have a prophylactic effect or delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease."

The Simple Answer is the Right Answer (June 18 2007)
Straightforward thinking from the Singularity Institute Blog: "If a young child falls on the train tracks, it is good to save them, and if a 45-year-old suffers from a debilitating disease, it is good to cure them. If you have a logical turn of mind, you are bound to ask whether this is a special case of a general ethical principle which says 'Life is good, death is bad; health is good, sickness is bad.' If so - and here we enter into controversial territory - we can follow this general principle to a surprising new conclusion: If a 95-year-old is threatened by death from old age, it would be good to drag them from those train tracks, if possible. And if a 120-year-old is starting to feel slightly sickly, it would be good to restore them to full vigor, if possible. With current technology it is not possible. But if the technology became available in some future year - given sufficiently advanced medical nanotechnology, or such other contrivances as future minds may devise - would you judge it a good thing, to save that life, and stay that debility? ... If you believe professional bioethicists (people who get paid to explain ethical judgments) then the rule 'Life is good, death is bad; health is good, sickness is bad' holds only until some critical age, and then flips polarity. Why should it flip? Why not just keep on with life-is-good?"



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