LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
October 15 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.
- Enter the Conspiracy Theorists
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
ENTER THE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS
I'm always happy to see new subcultures discover and explore healthy life extension, the Methuselah Foundation, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence and related topics - there's no such thing as bad publicity for good ideas whose time has come.
That said, however, engagement by some subcultures is less constructive than by others. Just this past week, a post I'd written on the inevitability of healthy life extension was broken up for use as stage props by voices in what I'll call the conspiracy theorist community. Some background and a response to all that is here:
"But really, how silly is all this? Start out by presenting Fight Aging! as an 'organization' that issues 'reports' and build up to fantastical cold war-styled sci-fi predictions of new overlords and oppressed masses. Along the way, blame the present lack of research infrastructure for longevity medicine on the ever-present 'elites,' and generally otherwise see planning and hidden controllers where there are none. It's all very melodramatic, and no doubt helps sell products to people who get a kick out of that memetic space.
"So I'll say this, for what it's worth: stop being foolish. Get a grip. Take off the blinders. I'm just a person, Fight Aging! is just a blog. The world is made of people, and people talk and get things done. There are no shadowy organizations, no nefarious controlling 'elites,' no plans for the future that are any different in nature than the plans you make for your own life and the organizations you support. Want a say in the future? Stand up and wave your arms, speak up, accomplish tasks. It's easy - I'm doing it, and there's nothing special about me."
Folk are ever odd. People who intuitively and sensibly reject Malthusian objections to healthy life extension carry a whole range of other wrong, handicapping views about the way the world works. Coincidentally, I'd just written on that topic a week earlier:
"Make no mistake, there are factions in our centralized, over-regulated, over-governed societies that aspire to call themselves 'elites,' enriching themselves at cost to the rest of us, parasites warring to leverage the mechanisms of the state to force their agendas. But you'll note that these 'elites' - whomever you might think they are - have no greater access to medical technologies than any average fellow who takes care of his finances. This is the way the world actually works: new technologies move from dream to expensive, clunky reality to cheap and effective product in a fraction of a lifetime. So it was - and continues to be - for heart surgery, so it will be for gene therapy, and so it will be for the first true longevity therapies capable of repairing age-related cellular and biomolecular damage."
When it comes to the advance of medicine, we all win together, or we all lose together. There are a great many battles worth fighting in this life, but those involving visions of all-powerful, shadowy "elites," a plot behind every happenstance, and intricate plans to create global overlords are not real battles. By believing in these myths, a person winds up disempowering himself, fighting phantoms, and missing the chance to make a real difference.
My last thought on this topic for today: the conspiracy theorists who rejected Malthusian overpopulation arguments were all for healthy life extension, and as much healthy life as everyone wanted. There's a silver lining for you.
My summary of the problems with blanket statements of overpopulation issues can be found here:
For good measure, more on the economics or "we all win together or lose together" here:
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/
On Supporting Cryonics (October 12 2007)
The folk of the People Database Project have transcribed Aubrey de Grey's presentation from the 7th Alcor conference: "the idea that a biologist can go out and just assert ex cathedra that [cryopreservation] for most organs is a wonderful thing to be researching, and doing it for the brain is simply outrageous, it's just so exceptionally not true. But you have to ask, how you can get away with it. And the answer is of course, he's relying on the public's yuck factor. What it means is that publicly funded scientists, you can't trust what they say in fora that may influence their subsequent funding. If they say, at the moment that cryonics is reasonable because it's reasonable for other organs, then they know they're going to be in trouble the next time they try to get a grant application funded. I don't want to be too dismissive. In a real sense it's not their fault. So, we have to take the lead and point these things out, and essentially help these people out of the trap that they find themselves in. ... you should not treat the battles that you fight, in terms of controversy, as being independent from each other. Expediency, the attempt to sound reasonable but to pull the wool over people's eyes, that tends to get spotted these days." When the rest of the world is wrong, you're not going to become a better person or achieve great things by bowing down to the crowd. Remember that and you'll do well in life.
On The Drive For Radical Life Extension (October 12 2007)
A little Canadian TV from CBC: "Scientists from around the world are racing to answer one of humanity's chief questions: can we turn back the human clock? Hitch a ride on this controversial roller-coaster with charismatic gerontologist Michael Rose as he leads us to where the cutting-edge science in life extension is happening: biotechnology, genetic research, therapeutic cloning and stem-cell research – fields which have moved to the outer reaches of our wildest imagination. ... Just to be clear, Living Forever is not a documentary about 60-year-olds who want to look like young and sexy 25-year-olds. This is a film about stopping, slowing down - even reversing - human aging. It is about the modern quest to create a longer, healthier old age, or - the Holy Grail - eliminating old age altogether. So, what happens if humans are able to live for another 100 or 500 years? Should we create a race of immortals, just because we have the know-how? At what evolutionary cost? What about the ethical issues? Given humanity's trajectory thus far, it's likely that most people will say ethics be damned: let The Longevity Revolution begin." We can hope they do more than just talk about getting the job done.
Ever More Stem Cell Therapy Trials (October 11 2007)
The first generation stem cell therapy trials aimed at regenerating damaged hearts continue to roll out - here's an example via ScienceDaily: "The technique begins with the extraction of myoblast cells, by means of a biopsy of muscular tissue from the leg of the patient, a procedure carried out under local anaesthetic. From the tissue fragment obtained, the researchers isolate the adult muscle stem cells. These cellular units must be cultured for a month in order to obtain sufficient numbers of cells to carry out the transplant. ... the cells obtained are injected into the heart of the patient [using] a special injection catheter. The cells are implanted in and around the damaged areas of cardiac muscle. ... In order to implant myoblasts it is necessary to generate an anatomical reproduction of the left ventricle, which is the zone to be treated. ... This technique manages to reconstruct the left ventricle in a three-dimensional form, a system that enables the location and analyses of low-voltage areas. ... It is these zones without electrical activity that anatomically correspond to the heart attack. ... The procedure is undertaken using local anaesthetic, with the patient being conscious, and lasts three or four hours. To date 14 patients have undergone the trials, all with satisfactory results."
Ouroboros on Hormesis and Oxidative Stress (October 11 2007)
From Ouroboros: "A counter-intuitive proposal for a mechanism of lifespan extension comes from Schulz et al., who contend that glucose restriction extends worm lifespan by increasing mitochondrial respiration and thereby the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Wait, you thought that ROS were deleterious? Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of hormesis, the biological equivalent of Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker, in which a little bit of a bad thing is actually a very good thing. ... Usually, however, hormesis comes from acute exposure to stress: even if it's repeated, there's a chance for the cells (or the body) to recover before the next challenge. What I'm having a tough time wrapping my head around is how a chronic stress (i.e., elevated ROS levels resulting from lifelong glucose deprivation) could protect the body from another chronic stress that is essentially identical (i.e., elevated ROS levels pursuant to aging). For the model to hold true, it seems that either the system must be exquisitely tuned and the authors were lucky to hit a very narrow 'sweet spot', or ROS production must be increasing resistance to other stresses that are more relevant to C. elegans lifespan than oxidation."
SENS3 Conference Report For Non-SENS Scientists (October 10 2007)
Researcher Attila Chordash shares a conference report originally intended for journal publication: "Missions in science and technology are no other than macro problems that need to be solved, beyond the 'publish or perish' horizon. One such mission is to find an all pervasive cancer therapy and probably the oldest mission is to understand aging in order to increase healthy lifespan. As we know more and more about how deeply aging and cancer are interrelated, it might turn out that those old missions are really the two sides of the same coin. The convergence of different science motivations can eventually lead to a yet unseen multifaceted scientific co-operation and amplify the efforts of extending our healthy human lifespan. In a wider sense, a well-funded life extension community might finally revise the notion of the basic human right for life. On the SENS3 conference, the emphasis was not on the big non-ideological mission (that was taken for granted), but on the scientific-technical and cultural details, which is a sign of maturity."
Stem Cell Decline and Aging Niches (October 10 2007)
ScienceDaily notes progress in our understanding of why stem cell function declines with age: "A stem cells' immediate neighborhood, a specialized environment also known as the stem cell niche, provides crucial support needed for stem cell maintenance. ... During the aging process, the level of support drops off, diminishing the stem cells' ability to replenish themselves (self-renew) indefinitely. ... in older flies a steep decline in the growth factor unpaired (upd), which is necessary to maintain stem cells, results in fewer stem cells in the testis of the fruit fly Drosophila. Identifying the reasons for reduced upd expression could reveal how aging leads to changes in stem cell behavior, and counteracting these changes may slow the loss of adult stem cells during aging. ... Taken together, our results suggest that over time the niche is changing to the point where you start losing self-renewing stem cells." Understanding these mechanisms is a step on the path to doing something about the loss of regenerative capacity with age.
Towards Artificial Corneas (October 09 2007)
Prosthetics research continues to threaten to give tissue engineering a run for its money over the next decade or two. Here, CORDIS looks at building artificial components for the eye: researchers "have developed an artificial cornea that may be tested on humans as early as the beginning of 2008. ... So far it has proven difficult to produce suitable artificial corneas due to [conflicting requirements]: While the implant has to grow firmly into the natural tissue, the centre has to remain clear of cells, so as such cell growth would impair vision. ... Our artificial corneas are based on a commercially available polymer which absorbs no water and allows no cells to grow on it ... Once the polymers have been shaped, the edge of the cornea is coated with a special protein, which the cells of the natural cornea can latch onto. ... The new artificial cornea has already been tested in the laboratory, being implanted in rabbits. Those tests have produced promising results ... [other research groups are] trying to reconstruct a human cornea in vitro, using tissue engineering. Such a development would transform eye surgery and dramatically cut the number of experiments conducted on animals."
Much Needed Irreverence (October 09 2007)
This punchy YouTube short entitled "How to Cope With Death" is not the normal sort of thing I point out, but it caught my attention. What I see as the right attitude towards death by aging is so sorely lacking in this culture of ours that positive thinking - and positive art, for that matter - stands out without even trying. So here is a little irreverence for the day, in the hope that we see many more fists shaken in the face of death in the years ahead. It's that attitude that leads to setting forth to do something about age-related degeneration - a great and now plausible goal in this age of accelerating biotechnology. Those who set out afresh upon this road soon find there are many traveling companions. Who wants to suffer and degenerate, really, when it comes down to it? Who wants oblivion? How much better it is to contribute towards the end of aging, to work towards the elimination of the greatest source of suffering and death in the world. To hell with death and aging - we can do better!
Dwarf Mice and the New Biotechnology (October 08 2007)
Given a longevity mutation, the logical thing to ask is "how does it work?" This is especially true in the case where the mutants suffer undesirable characteristics, as in the case of dwarf mice - we'd like to see if there's something to be salvaged. The rapid advance in biotechnology takes us ever close to answers; more can be done in a year by a single small group now than by the entire research establishment of 1980. "Long-lived strains of dwarf mice carry mutations that suppress growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) signaling. The downstream effects of these endocrine abnormalities, however, are not well understood and it is unclear how these processes interact with aging mechanisms. ... Comparative analysis of microarray datasets can identify patterns and consistencies not discernable from any one dataset individually. ... In this context, 43 longevity-associated genes are identified and individual genes with the highest level of support among all microarray experiments are highlighted. These results provide promising targets for future experimental investigation as well as potential clues for understanding the functional basis of lifespan extension in mammalian systems." This would be life extension through manipulating the system rather than by repairing it however; I see building a better metabolism as the less promising way forward.
More On Microglia and Alzheimer's (October 08 2007)
You might recall research suggesting that more or different microglia could be used to attack amyloid plaque in Alzheimer's. Here is a different slant on this branch of inquiry from Ouroboros: "Why do amyloid plaques cause Alzheimer's disease? While it would seem to be self-evident that neurons would prefer not to be surrounded by tangled forest of malfolded, insoluble protein deposits, the mechanism by which these plaques cause neuronal death remains an active subject of inquiry. ... What if the primary action of amyloid plaques is on another type of cell entirely - such as the ubiquitous, essential, yet still poorly understood neuronal support cell, the microglia? Flanary et al. argue that the presence of amyloid plaques accelerates the process of microglial senescence. ... The authors do not demonstrate a direct connection to Alzheimer's pathology, but it's easy to build a model in which senescent microglia contribute to cell death." As noted in the post, a connection between Alzheimer's and senescent cells would boost research aimed at the targeted destruction of those cells - which is one strand of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.