LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 24 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.
- Donations Rolling in to the Methuselah Foundation
- "Too Sciencey"
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
DONATIONS ROLLING IN TO THE METHUSELAH FOUNDATION
With the attention drawn by the SENS3 conference and publication of Ending Aging, I'm pleased to note that the pace of new donations to the Methuselah Foundation has increased - new members of the Three Hundred, and funding for both ongoing longevity research and the Mprize:
The words of Joseph P Jackson III, the most recent new member of the Three Hundred: "In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that vastly accelerates the rate of a chemical reaction by lowering the activation energy required; wonderful things (like life) then occur which would otherwise take an eternity or not happen at all! The Mprize is just such a 'social catalyst,' one that can shake humanity from its pro-aging stupor. Today, each human born on this earth is sentenced. Not sentenced to death, since perhaps we could come to terms with eventual oblivion. No, the horrible truth is that we are sentenced to live. Built to break down, and made to wither away, we are forced to witness our own demise - first a gradual decay then an accelerating spiral of frailty. On top of this biological damage, society imposes an equally devastating plague - social aging - the rigid hierarchies, labels, and roles that have co-evolved to 'ease' the transition into obsolescence. Enough! This cycle of despair ends now, in the first few decades of the 21st century. Never doubt that the powers of creativity, intelligence, and love can triumph over any adversity. It is a joy and privilege to join a group whose mission is nothing less than to heal the world."
You can look over the thoughts of other donors at the Foundation website:
Aubrey de Grey was booked for Good Morning America a week ago to talk about healthy life extension research and possibilities for the decades ahead, but the appearance was cancelled on the grounds that the subject matter is "too sciencey."
It's somewhat sad that this great world-spanning society of ours, enabled entirely by the dedication of generations of researchers and supporters to science and the scientific method, now sees so many people wealthy and insulated enough to drift through life, shunning the very foundations upon which their wealth rests. Our ancestors applied science to build technologies that enable us to live in the comfort of kings of their time, and where is the respect for past labor and suffering?
But this is in many ways an unfair judgment. Folk work at and value what is important to them, at the times at which it becomes important - and we still live in a culture that respects science, even if that sentiment is well hidden at times by the wealth created and piled high by the application of that science.
Television as a mode of reaching people for activism and advocacy is increasingly irrelevant these days, cast into the shade by YouTube and social tools, and the GMA crew know the economic necessities of their programming and advertiser relationships better than I. It's their ball. But "too sciencey" is really an arrogant nonsense, dismissive of people and their complexities.
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!
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/
p53 and Fly Longevity Again (September 21 2007)
You might recall that researchers have achieved some success in extending fly longevity via p53 - a cancer suppression gene in humans, but also related to the biochemistry of calorie restriction. Via ScienceDaily, more on that line of research: "Bauer spent a year conducting painstaking experiments. He'd take a batch of young flies, each genetically altered to reduce p53 activity in a small portion of their nervous systems, and watch the flies age. Time and again, the flies lived for about two months - the average lifespan for these insects. But when Bauer manipulated a cluster of 14 insulin-producing cells in their brains, the flies lived about 15 to 20 percent longer. ... Bauer and Helfand then wanted to know if this was caloric restriction at work. So [they] restricted the diets of the flies and ran the same experiments. The calorie-restricted flies didn't live any longer when p53 was reduced in the insulin-producing cells. This evidence supports the notion that p53 reduction is one of the direct effects of caloric restriction."
Aubrey de Grey in AARP (September 21 2007)
I have been patiently waiting for the AARP magazine's piece on Aubrey de Grey to become available online; finally, here it is: "Viewing old age as an 'engineering system failure' (and the phrase 'successful aging' as a contradiction in terms), Aubrey leapfrogged the ambiguous medical questions that paralyzed his peers and went straight to fix-it solutions. 'We don't have to understand the weather to repair the roof after a storm,' he insists with the bravado that drives his critics nuts. Aubrey dubbed his seven-step strategy SENS, which stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. It consists of seven baseline causes of aging, dealing with general types of cellular damage, and offers repair methods for each. Eliminate that cellular damage and, he believes, we could live to 125 and beyond in disease-free bodies that simply do not age. ... He has many credible defenders, including Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who has called him 'highly visionary.' Even scientists who staunchly refute SENS, such as renowned University of Illinois at Chicago scientist S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D. (who duked it out with Aubrey last year on CBS's 60 Minutes), cannot deny the benefits of his rabble-rousing. 'Ideas are the currency of science,' Olshansky says. 'Aubrey is developing an important currency, which I really appreciate. He's getting research scientists to think outside the box."
The Latest on Calorie Restriction Biochemistry (September 20 2007)
Via EurekAlert!, we note that Sinclair's research team are exploring the role of SIRT3 and SIRT4 in calorie restriction biochemistry: "Mitochondria, a kind of cellular organ that lives in the cytoplasm, are often considered to be the cell's battery packs. When mitochondria stability starts to wane, energy is drained out of the cell, and its days are numbered. ... SIRT3 and SIRT4 play a vital role in a longevity network that maintains the vitality of mitochondria and keeps cells healthy when they would otherwise die. When cells undergo caloric restriction, signals sent in through the membrane activate a gene called NAMPT. As levels of NAMPT ramp up, a small molecule called NAD begins to amass in the mitochondria. This, in turn, causes the activity of enzymes created by the SIRT3 and SIRT4 genes - enzymes that live in the mitochondria - to increase as well. As a result, the mitochondria grow stronger, energy-output increases, and the cell's aging process slows down significantly. (Interestingly, this same process is also activated by exercise.) ... We're not sure yet what particular mechanism is activated by these increased levels of NAD, and as a result SIRT3 and SIRT4, but we do see that normal cell-suicide programs are noticeably attenuated."
A View of Aging and Longevity Research (September 20 2007)
Here's a piece from Legion Magazine I missed earlier this year: a high level view across the voices and aspects of aging and longevity research. "De Grey believes it will be possible to postpone aging indefinitely - even up to the age of 1,000 - by adopting an 'engineering' approach to taking care of our bodies. In his approach, the cellular damage that occurs as a 'side effect' of being alive is allowed to occur, but it is then repaired using interventions such as stem cell therapy ... Additional significant increases in life expectancy can only come from advances in biomedical technology that alter the course of aging itself ... Perrott believes such advances are around the corner, and that they will relieve the suffering and social burdens brought on by age-related diseases and frailty. ... There's just an awful lot of hope. People like to get old; they just don't like falling apart. Right now, the priority is to get people healthy. Then we can work on life extension. ... Whereas it used to be thought that aging was 'way too complex' to tackle as a whole, and that different diseases were caused by a host of different things going wrong, he points out that in the last 15 years, science has shown that 'there may be only a few causes of many diseases,' and indeed only a few causes of aging."
Understanding Life Expectancy (September 19 2007)
The American Scientist is running a great piece on the measurement of life expectancy, and how the modeling of life expectancy overlaps with progress in the science of aging: "The systems-based explanation argues that complex machinery fails because many things go wrong. According to this model, as with your Toyota, so too with your body: The force-of-mortality curves for automobiles (called failure-rate curves) complied by demographers [bear] an uncanny resemblance to their human counterparts. Both human and automobile curves show an exponential increase in the force of mortality that tapers off in later years ... Surprisingly, mortality in the early years is eerily similar in people and automobiles: Defects in manufacture (machines) or development (organisms) reveal themselves early on. ... Such systems, whether we speak of Toyotas or biologists, are characterized by redundancy brought about by engineering (in the first case) or evolution (in the second). But, as University of Chicago gerontologists Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova have argued in their influential book The Biology of Life Span: A Quantitative Approach, the very redundancy that permits complex systems to endure a constant rain of light damage also allows such damage to accumulate, resulting in aging and eventual failure."
Arnold Kling Reviews Ending Aging (September 19 2007)
Arnold Kling reviews "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime" at TCS Daily: "Too often, academics use their credentials to spit out biased polemics dressed up as science. Ending Aging is the opposite. It is a crash course in state-of-the-art science dressed up as a polemic. De Grey wears his passion for undertaking a war on aging on his sleeve, yet most of the book consists of scientific analysis that, although simplified to enable a layman to follow, is conscientious in reporting doubts and objections to the author's point of view. ... It gives a sense of the possibilities, drama, and frustration of scientific inquiry. Also, it might inspire some young geniuses to undertake the sort of investigations and experiments that de Grey thinks will help win the war against aging. ... Today, the incentives to experiment with general-purpose anti-aging technologies are limited. Only if a technique can be demonstrated as helping to treat a specific disease can its development be funded and its efficacy tested in humans. Of course, many of the techniques necessary to achieve de Grey's vision can be shoehorned into a disease-fighting agenda somewhere, which is why he can report results that justify his belief in the potential to conquer aging. However, there remains the fact that the current system gives too much incentive to find stopgap solutions to specific diseases and too little incentive to develop general-purpose anti-aging technologies."
Engineering the Immune System to Kill Cancer (September 18 2007)
Another good technology demonstration for cancer immunotherapy from ScienceDaily: "Human white blood cells, engineered to recognize other malignant immune cells, could provide a novel therapy for patients with highly lethal B cell cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) ... By administering repeated doses of T cells designed to express an artificial receptor which recognizes human B cells, the researchers were able to eradicate cancer in 44 percent of mice bearing human ALL tumors. ... The immune system has evolved to police the body for infections and diseased cells, but it has a difficult time recognizing malignant cells since they largely appear normal to the immune system. The idea is that we can take a patient's own T cells, re-educate them by inserting a gene into them that will enable them to produce a receptor to recognize B cell cancers, and then return them to the patient where they should be able to attack and kill the tumor cells." Highly efficient, cheap and widespread cures for cancer are only a couple of decades away; the breadth and pace of present research is very encouraging.
Aubrey de Grey on New York Public Radio (September 18 2007)
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey was interviewed for the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC New York Public Radio just recently. He talks about the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), his new book "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime", and the concepts of actuarial escape velocity. You can stream or download the audio recording from the WNYC website: "Will people in the future suffer mid-life crises at the age of 100? Many biologists believe that someday we will be able to substantially slow down the aging process, but Dr. Aubrey de Grey is perhaps the most bullish of all such researchers. Dr. de Grey believes that the biomedical technology – that may eliminate aging-derived debilitation and even death entirely – is now within reach. Ending Aging explains the process of aging, and how this biotechnology may reverse age-related decay." The comments posted online make for interesting reading - a real range of opinions. It seems to me that the proportion of positive, pro-longevity voices is growing.
Bootstrapping to an Ageless Future (September 17 2007)
Edge excerpts Ending Aging: "An important fact is that the therapies we develop in a decade or so in mice, and those that may come only a decade or two later for humans, will not be perfect. Other things being equal, there will be a residual accumulation of damage within our bodies, however frequently and thoroughly we apply these therapies, and we will eventually experience age-related decline and death just as now, only at a greater age. Probably not all that much greater either - probably only 30-50 years older than today. But other things won't be equal, and I'm going to explain why not - and why, as you may already know from other sources, I expect many people alive today to live to 1000 years of age and to avoid age-related health problems even at that age." It's a good explanation of the plausibility of actuarial escape velocity - the step by step process by which we could bootstrap our way to agelessness, one rejuvenation therapy at a time.
Holding Back the Years (September 17 2007)
The Observer is running a long article on the SENS conferences and the work of Aubrey de Grey and other gerontologists, starting with SENS2 in late 2005 and working forward: "Until recently a lot of people thought ageing was too complicated to ever get a real handle on. Someone described it rather graphically as like a car crash - everything just gets wrecked. The exciting thing about the current science is that we are becoming like sophisticated accident investigators. We can actually understand what influences the process of ageing and what parts of the body work most successfully to keep us in good health for as long as they do. The research is moving forward fast. ... During the conference I wander over to King's College to visit a friend struggling into his eighties with bronchitis, sciatica and other health problems. I feel a little embarrassed telling him about de Grey's theories, which shows how intoxicated I've become by the notion of a future where he will die soon and younger people will live for an extraordinarily long time. He listens patiently then recites the prayer to serenity: 'Give us the grace to accept the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.'"