Longevity Meme Newsletter, October 22 2007

October 22 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 Prospects for Enhancing Autophagy
- Thoughts on Funding for Aging Research
- A Letter to Casual Deathists
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Autophagy is the process by which damaged cell components are broken down to be recycled - a form of maintenance in the dynamic machinery of your body. Present evidence indicates increased autophagy to be one root of the health and longevity benefits provided by calorie restriction. More active maintenance should in theory mean fewer damaged components creating lasting harm in the cellular environment:


Scientists are now beginning to manipulate levels of autophagy independently of calorie restriction to establish the prospects for therapies:


"As an application, intensification of autophagy, by the administration of antilipolytic drug, rescued older cells from accumulation of altered [mitochondrial] DNA in less than 6 hours. It is concluded that the pharmacological intensification of autophagy [has] anti-aging effects and might prove to be a big step towards retardation of aging and prevention of age-associated diseases in humans."

Damage to mitochondria - and their DNA, separate from that in the cell nucleus - is of particular importance. The following Fight Aging! post outlines how a comparatively small number of damaged mitochondria, your cellular power plants, could lead to widespread damage and degeneration throughout the body:


Safe repair of mitochondrial DNA is a big deal, however it is accomplished, as is the sight of ever more researchers writing openly about the defeat of aging.


Why is the mainstream of aging research so underfunded and absent public understanding in comparison to other fields? I suspect it has everything to do with the way gerontologists present - or fail to present - their work, goals and prospects. I dissect an illustrative funding press release in this Fight Aging! post:


"This might as well be language lifted from a mythical government release on the Full Employment Act for Gerontologists. It's all so grey and tired - rescue the scientists, pay the scientists, help the scientists. Note the utter absence of any sort of discussion of goals or results. What are these scientists actually doing? What is the value of it? Where are they going? When will they get there? What does it mean to me?

"This sort of thing is exactly why there is little public support for or understanding of mainstream aging research. I've long said that basic research is no different from any other human endeavor. It isn't magic, immune to planning - you can set goals, plans and schedules. You can invest in research in exactly the same way as commercial companies invest in research day in and day out. Those who claim that you can't set goals, timelines, explain matters to the public, create excitement and make real fireworks fly in an area of fundamental research are generally much more interested in the steady flow of dollars or their own particular hobby than in actually getting something meaningful accomplished."


Casual deathists are everywhere. I'm sure you all know someone who responds to the concept of healthy life extension with "I can't see why anyone would want to live past 100." This is what they have been taught throughout their lives, implicit in the way their peers and parents plan, act and talk. Perhaps "learned deathism" is a better term. A longevity revolution is right around the corner, yet we structure our lives in the same way our grandparents did:


There's nothing wrong with choosing not to strive for more healthy life, but I believe it's our responsibility to at least point out the lazy assumptions and false information that forms the basis of most casual deathism. Kevin Perrott, organizer of the Edmonton Aging Symposium, recently did a sterling job of this in a letter to the Globe and Mail, reproduced in this Fight Aging! post:


"As a participant in the documentary 'Living Forever: The Longevity Revolution' on David Suzuki's 'The Nature of Things' on the CBC network, it was with great interest that I read a review on the program by your Arts columnist, Kate Taylor. To be sure, given the content of the program and where the concept of 'aging' sits in the heart of western civilization, I am unsurprised at the negative impression she received from the program, but I find it personally gratifying that nothing of what she wrote was of much substance and really simply indicated her own bias. Still, our culture and society hold progress in high esteem and in the name of such forward motion I feel compelled to describe a different perspective than that written in the thoughts of Ms Taylor."

And so he does. You should take a look.


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!




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/

Tissue Engineering Nerves (October 19 2007)
ScienceDaily notes an advance in tissue engineering: researchers have "isolated the stem cells from the fat tissue of adult animals and differentiated them into nerve cells to be used for repair and regeneration of injured nerves. They are now about to start a trial extracting stem cells from fat tissue of volunteer adult patients, in order to compare in the laboratory human and animal stem cells. Following that, they will develop an artificial nerve constructed from a biodegradable polymer to transplant the differentiated stem cells. The biomaterial will be rolled up into a tube-like structure and inserted between the two ends of the cut nerve so that the regrowing nerve fibre can go through it from one end to the other. This 'bionic' nerve could also be used in people who have suffered trauma injuries to their limbs or organs, cancer patients whose tumour surgery has affected a nearby nerve trunk and people who have had organ transplants. With a clinical trial on the biomaterial about to be completed, the researchers hope the treatment could be ready for use in four or five years."

An Update on Myostatin Science (October 19 2007)
The Technology Review looks at progress towards the safe manipulation of myostatin: "Over the past few years, pharmaceutical companies have been racing to develop ways to mimic myostatin gene mutations in the hope of treating everything from the muscle loss that accompanies muscular dystrophy, cancer, and aging to obesity and other metabolic disorders. Pharmaceutical giants Wyeth and Amgen are expected to release clinical-trial results of myostatin inhibitors for muscle-wasting diseases within the next few months. A smaller company, Acceleron Pharma, [says] that its more broadly acting drug could bring more brawn than can drugs targeting myostatin alone. ... There's been a huge amount of interest for human therapeutics. If you could increase or maintain muscle strength as people age, you could have a tremendous impact on health and well-being. ... There is [presently] no effective agent to prevent the accelerated loss of muscle associated with disease, infection, or illness, such as cancer, heart failure, and kidney disease and dialysis. As treatments of disease like cancer and heart failure become more effective, the issue becomes more prominent."

Stem Cells, Tissue Environments, Aging (October 18 2007)
From Ouroboros: "These papers add to the growing body of evidence that stem cells don't fare well in aged niches. In other words, the stable introduction of stem cells into patients will become more difficult as a function of the recipients' age; since it's a question of capacity rather than efficiency, the problem can't be solved by adding more stem cells. Clinically, this means that [we] may need to engineer the niche itself in order to cajole aged tissues into accepting a new batch of stem cells - and this will be very hard. We are much better at manipulating cells outside the body and re-introducing them than we are at making genetic changes to particular cells inside a specific tissue architecture while they remain inside the body - and by 'much better' I mean that at present we can do the former sometimes and the latter not at all. Perhaps a better approach would be to make the stem cells less sensitive to the cues they receive from the niche? Yes, that would be nice: immortal cells, freed from requirements for context-specific pro-growth and anti-apoptotic factors, free in the body to do as they pleased ... oh, wait." There's an evolutionary reason for many of the declines of aging - it's called cancer. The body is a finely tuned device; fixing problem A is often going to require fixing problems B and C as well. This is one of the reasons a general strategy of repairing all age-related changes is needed.

More On the Cost of Obesity (October 18 2007)
Via the LEF News, another look at the costs of excess fat: "While smoking reduces life by an average of ten years, the research says being seriously overweight can cut life expectancy by as much as 13 years. ... If current trends continue, by 2050 about 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and 25 per cent of children in the UK will be clinically obese - so fat that their health is in danger. At present around a quarter of adults are obese. The effects of this on the nation's health will be devastating. The report expects type 2 diabetes to rise by 70 per cent, strokes to go up by 30 per cent and a 20 per cent rise in coronary disease. The rates of certain cancers will also go up. The associated chronic health problems will cost an extra Pounds 45.5 billion a year, more than half the amount of money that goes into the entire NHS at the moment. ... the majority of adults are already overweight and that being overweight is now seen as 'normal'." Trends are trends, but insofar as your own health goes, you have all the choice in the world. Altering the trajectory of your own healthy life span by a decade or two could make the difference between living to see the first working rejuvenation therapies - or missing the boat by just a few years.

On Replacing the Wetware (October 17 2007)
We humans like to look ahead to step two as a distraction from the labors of step one. Here, Al Fin discusses options for replacing the biological basis of the mind with whatever nanotechnology can build a better neuron - versus a strategy of repairing the neurons we have, that is. He is, correctly I think, pessimistic about progress on rapid time frames for the nanotechnology option, and more optimistic about repair initiatives like the Strategies for Engineeered Negligible Senescence. First things first, I say. We will see the first brain prosthetics become widely available within the next decade, judging by the state of present research, but they will be dedicated devices, large compared to a neuron, aimed at specific errant brain components. It's quite a way from there to replacement of your fallible tissue, cell by cell, with more study artifical components. It will become possible sometime later this century, and we'll all be the better for having that choice, but it's far more useful now to focus on repairing the biology we have today, given that our expiration date approaches all too rapidly.

Regenerative Powers of the Sea Cucumber (October 17 2007)
Scientists are already hard at work on the biochemistry of salamanders and zebrafish, deer antlers and MRL mice, to see if the ability to regenerate organs can be ported to humans. The sea cucumber is another target of research, as noted by EurekAlert!: "Sea cucumbers should be viewed as the tissue regeneration equivalent of the squid for our knowledge of nerves and Drosophila for genes and the genome. They can help us learn to fix ourselves. Many people, including scientists, regard sea cucumbers and other echinoderms like star fish and brittle stars as bizarre, exceptional outcasts because of their regenerative abilities. But we've shown that they use the same 'ordinary' mechanisms and processes to both regenerate and heal wounds. ... There must be some unusual properties of the healing processes found in animals capable of organ regeneration. So it remains to be seen at a molecular level what limits healing processes being used for regeneration by all animals in all tissue. ... Many of these regenerative mechanisms are the same as those being used by other animals to heal and repair - this includes us humans. Sea cucumbers will probably provide us with the key to deciphering how to regenerate our tissues, or at least find out what is needed to do this."

Work on AGE Inhibitors (October 16 2007)
For the same reason that repair is better than good maintenance, AGE-breakers should be better than AGE inhibitors when it comes to reducing the contribution of AGE buildup to aging. Few groups are effectively working on either, however, so I am always pleased to see more published research on the topic: "The reno- and cardiovascular-protective effects of angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), have been ascribed, at least in part, to their ability to inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), independently of their effect on blood pressure. They act through decreased oxidative stress, unlike previously reported AGE inhibitors which entrap reactive carbonyl (RCOs) precursors of AGEs. The hypotensive effects of ARBs', however, may limit their use. In the present study, we report the synthesis of a new AGE inhibitor, TM2002, and its effects in vitro and in vivo. ... In vivo, TM2002, given acutely or for 8 weeks, has no adverse effects. In four different rat models of renal injury [and cardiovascular injury] TM2002 improves renal and cardiovascular lesions without modification of blood pressure." Inhibitors may be useful for the class of AGEs that are in fact broken down in the body, just more slowly than they accumulate. Unfortunately, animal studies have proven to be misleading for AGE-breakers in the past; the types of AGEs important in other mammals turn out to be much less important in humans.

Probing the Aging-Cancer Link (October 16 2007)
(From ScienceDaily). There is plenty of evidence for the proposition that the balance between cancer and aging is a tradeoff; when tinkering with the settings in mammalian biochemistry, you can pick one of those two unpleasant choices to improve. As researchers dig deeper in the mechanisms of life, they are finding that other options may be on the table: "A person is 100 times more likely to get cancer at age 65 than at age 35. But new research [identifies] naturally occurring processes that allow many genes to both slow aging and protect against cancer in the much-studied C. elegans roundworm. Many of the worm genes have counterparts in humans, suggesting that new drugs may some day ensure a long, cancer-free life. ... This is very exciting. There is a widely held view that any mechanism that slows aging would probably stimulate tumor growth. But we found many genes that increase lifespan, but slow tumor growth. Humans have versions of many of these genes, so this work may lead to treatments that keep us youthful and cancer-free much longer than normal."

Cryonics and Unhelpful Legislation, Attitudes (October 15 2007)
As pointed out at TechNewsWorld, organizing the cryopreservation of someone who will not survive to benefit from near-future healthy life extension medicine faces all sorts of hurdles from third parties who would, in a just world, have no ability to interfere: "In 2003, a daughter of Ted Williams attempted to stop the cryonic suspension of the Hall of Fame baseball player. Williams had signed a 'family pact' asking to be preserved, but delays and a media circus ensued. He is not the only one that Alcor, the nation's leading cryonics organization, has had to fight to preserve. ... Even with clear legal documentation, hospitals around the country are wary of giving up bodies for cryopreservation. In at least one state, Arizona, legislators have considered making it nearly impossible for individuals to choose to be cryonically suspended. This brings up the universal question of individual self-determination as well as the proper role of government. ... Government should have no role in deciding one's fate after death so long as the individual's choice isn't harming anyone. ... Few people thought it would ever be possible to launch airborne a large piece of machinery or to send a person to the moon. Despite this, the Wright brothers and the U.S. Apollo 11 mission succeeded. Perhaps one day a nanotechnologist and cryobiologist will join that list. ... Meddlesome government types should leave them alone."

The Meaning That Immortality Gives to Life (October 15 2007)
Eliezer Yudkowsky pens another great post on radical life extension over at the Singularity Institute blog: "Philosophers have put forth a mighty effort to find nice things to say about death. But this is scant reason to fear lifespan extension, when philosophers have not put forth an equally motivated effort to say nice things about immortality. Such is human nature, that if we were all hit on the head with a baseball bat once a week, philosophers would soon discover many amazing benefits of being hit on the head with a baseball bat: It toughens us, renders us less fearful of lesser pains, makes bat-free days all the sweeter. But if people are not currently being hit with baseball bats, they will not volunteer for it. Modern literature about immortality is written primarily by authors who expect to die, and their grapes are accordingly sour. ... In truth, I suspect that if people were immortal, they would not think overmuch about the meaning that immortality gives to life. People in the Deaf subculture may ponder the implications of deafness; some Deaf parents even want to ensure that they have deaf children. Yet I rarely find myself pondering the meaning of hearing - perhaps I should! Only clouds must be searched for silver linings." Immortality here meaning agelessness - the result of working technologies capable of repairing and reversing the aging process.



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