Longevity Meme Newsletter, November 26 2007

November 26 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.



- Shooting More Videos For the Science of Ending Aging
- A Truly Astounding Opinion
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The Methuselah Foundation folk are buckling down to shoot more video to span the gap between introductory overviews of longevity science and scientific publications. Comments are sought; what would you like to see?


"This Monday, Aubrey de Grey and I will be recording several short videos explaining the science of SENS, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, for the benefit of the general public. These videos are intended to serve as an intermediate step between the brief overviews at the SENS website and the scientific literature. This is a similar niche to that successfully occupied by Ending Aging, but intended to address a slightly different target demographic. The resulting videos will be hosted at the Foundation website, as well as being uploaded to YouTube and Google Video. We hope they do as wonderful a job of raising awareness that 'SENS makes sense' as the many existing presentations and interviews with Aubrey have done in past years."

"We would like this to be an ongoing process of engagement, reaching out to hit those points brought up by those people interested in SENS, and will be coming back to the studio many times in the months ahead. In order for this series to make as much impact as possible, please chip in with suggestions for slides, specific questions to tackle, or anything presentation-wise you feel we should bear in mind while we're recording."

More about SENS goals and SENS research can be found by following the links below:



I felt obliged to revisit a opinion from Richard Sprott of the Ellison Medical Foundation:


"'We're all going to croak,' says Richard Sprott, the Ellison Medical Foundation's director, who expects that humans may eventually live as much as 30 years longer, but only in the distant future."

Read the full post; I find it incredible that anyone with Sprott's background can stand in the midst of the present outright revolution, of wild, foaming progress in bioscience, and say that things just aren't going to change all that much. It's an outlandish position - and an outlandish position held by someone who directs a fair amount of funding for aging research:


It's a sad state of affairs we're in, wherein so much of the research establishment has declared defeat and stasis before even setting goals for aging science. How is it that we have an establishment community disbursing so much in the way of funds to exactly the people who are not going to make significant progress - those who say that progress is impossible or far distant in advance of any initiative?

The advance of science and technology is change itself, is the growth of opportunity and choice, and is the opening of new doors in the halls of the human condition. The hidebound and defeatist are not really contributing - if you want things done, if you want bold new progress, fund the people willing to set goals and shake trees.


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/

On Thymic Regeneration (November 23 2007)
The aging immune system runs out of space, it's capacity taken up by memory T cells uselessly dedicated to cytomegalovirus. One approach is to remove all those errantly specialized memory cells (or eliminate cytomegalovirus early on). Another approach is to expand immune capacity by preventing or reversing involution of the thymus: "The immune system undergoes dramatic changes with age - the thymus involutes, particularly from puberty, with the gradual loss of newly produced naive T cells resulting in a restricted T cell receptor repertoire, skewed towards memory cells. Coupled with a similar, though less dramatic age-linked decline in bone marrow function, this translates to a reduction in immune responsiveness ... Given that long-term reconstitution of the immune system is dependent on the bi-directional interplay between primary lymphoid organ stromal cells and the progenitors whose downstream differentiation they direct, regeneration of the thymus is fundamental to developing new strategies for the clinical management of many major diseases of immunological origin."

Desired and Useful Cell State Transitions (November 23 2007)
Randall Parker comments on the latest work in controlling cell state: "For several years I've been expecting clever scientists to figure out ways to basically program around the limitations on embryonic stem cell research. By finding ways to turn the knobs on genetic switches in the cell it was inevitable that scientists would figure out how to make cells change state into embryonic cells. They will next find more genetic knobs to turn in order to convert embryonic cells into precisely desired cell types and they will even find ways convert between various non-embryonic cell types while totally avoiding an intermediate state where the cells are like embryonic cells. Cells are just complex state machines. The next few decades of advance in biotechnology can be seen as a series of advances in techniques for causing desired and useful cell state transitions. ... These scientists basically figured out how to apply a software patch to human cells that made them express genes that make them act like embryonic cells. Scientists have already identified these genes as active in early stage embryonic stem cells and have experimented with activating them in mouse cells. ... It seems unlikely that these cells have been pushed into a state that is exactly like the state of an embryonic stem cell. That state might have very subtle aspects that are important in ways we have not yet discovered."

More On Alzheimer's as Type 3 Diabetes (November 22 2007)
The Scientist looks at recent thinking on Alzheimer's: "accumulated evidence suggests that insulin and insulin-like growth factor signaling is impaired in patients with Alzheimer's disease. ... It looks like in Alzheimer's disease you end up having a defect in these kinds of pathways, which are similar to the pathways for insulin-resistant diabetes ... But, it's unknown as to which comes first, the disease or the insulin resistance, although de la Monte is confident that the signaling defects precede the disease. As for a decrease in insulin in the brain 'if that deficit is important, we don't know.' ... In July of this year, Morris White at Children's Hospital Boston found that insulin might actually be bad for the brain. He knocked out insulin signaling in mice and found that they live nearly 20% longer. Although he didn't conduct a cognitive assay, the animals appeared more resistant to oxidative stress, which should be protective against neurodegeneration. 'Attenuated insulin signaling in the brain is probably a good thing.' ... Excess insulin is also thought to compete with amyloid plaques for degradation, thereby contributing to their nefarious accumulation in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. White says that while these results appear to oppose de la Monte's findings that insulin deficiency is the problem, he agrees that approaching Alzheimer's as a diabetes-like disorder is a good direction to follow."

Towards Reconstructed Immune Systems (November 22 2007)
EurekAlert! passes on news of more progress towards the safe reconstruction of an age-damaged or otherwise dangerously malfunctioning immune system: "researchers found a way to transplant new blood-forming stem cells into the bone marrow of mice, effectively replacing their immune systems. Many aspects of the technique would need to be adapted before it can be tested in humans ... When those barriers are surmounted, the benefits are potentially big. ... [researchers] mice with molecules that latch on to specific proteins on the surface of the blood-forming stem cells, effectively destroying the cells. That technique eliminated the blood-forming stem cells without otherwise harming the mice. ... It is essentially a surgical strike against the blood-forming stem cells ... When they transplanted new blood-forming stem cells into the mice, those cells took up residence in the bone marrow and established a new blood and immune system." This is one of a number of lines of research aimed at the goal of rebuilding the immune system. You might recall trials of another method aimed at curing type 1 diabetes, for example.

Another Calorie Restriction Mimetic (November 21 2007)
Scientists are turning up calorie restriction mimetic compounds left, right and center now that there's serious money to be had for this branch of longevity research: "the antidepressant drug mianserin can extend the lifespan of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans by about 30 percent. ... Our studies indicate that lifespan extension by mianserin involves mechanisms associated with lifespan extension by dietary restriction. We don't have an explanation for this. All we can say is that if we give the drug to caloric restricted animals, it doesn't increase their lifespan any further. That suggests the same mechanism may be involved ... In our studies, mianserin had a much greater inhibitory effect on the serotonin receptor than the octopamine receptor. One possibility is that there is a dynamic equilibrium between serotonin and octopamine signaling and the drug tips the balance in the direction of octopamine signaling, producing a perceived, though not real, state of starvation that activates aging mechanisms downstream of dietary restriction."

Strange Positions Held By Longevity Researchers (November 21 2007)
An interesting article from Esquire amply demonstrates the lengths some researchers go to convince themselves that it is fine to combat age-related degeneration, but not to lengthen life. "Should we change the aging program in humans? I can't make that decision. There has to be a regulatory body somewhere down the road that will make that decision. I have to believe that I'm doing this for age-related disease, and I have faith that there will be regulation later on. ... we will probably be able to show that the drug we have upregulates longevity, and that puts us on a slippery slope. ... To some degree, the future [is] already taking place right before his eyes ... In the past, the accumulation of a man's wealth was always offset by the accumulation of a man's years; now he sees men who are experiencing age as pure advantage [and] he finds the spectacle appalling. At the same time, he sees vigorous old scientists [still] doing crucial work, and he finds them inspiring. ... sure enough, striding energetically across the courtyard is some famous scientist or another, shod in sandals and wearing a towel, his white hair wet and his white teeth grinning. Dillin has no idea where he came from; but he does know where he's going - to his lab, and to science - and who is to say he shouldn't be able to go there forever?" No-one can judge how - or how long - you or I would like to live, and it is nothing less than cowardice to call for government to force your choices upon the rest of us.

The Answer Is Easy (November 20 2007)
As Ronald Bailey points out, the answer to the final question in this MSNBC op-ed by bioethicist Art Caplan is indeed easy and immediate. "Is it right to repair ourselves if it means that we live much longer than any human being has ever lived? ... The answer is easy: Yes. A long healthy life is a moral good. More life is better." As I've long pointed out, bioethicists are people who have put themselves into the position of requiring a constant stream of problems to justify their income. So of course, once they've exhausted debate over the limited range of actual problems - without helping in any way to overcome those problems - they drum up pseudo- and non-problems from nothing. There should be no debate over longevity; those who want to live longer, healthier lives will strive to do so, and those who do not will choose to suffer and die earlier than they might. But more life is good, for everything that is good in this world depends on someone being alive and well to make it happen. After that, all there is to argue over is why it is that some people feel they can force their choices of aging and longevity upon the rest of us.

Forging Ahead With Cellular Reprogramming (November 20 2007)
ScienceNOW reports on progress in turning ordinary cells into pluripotent stem cells by means other than somatic cell nuclear transfer. Competition in methodologies is always a good sign of progress: "Two groups report today that they have reprogrammed human skin cells into so-called induced pluripotent cells (iPCs). ... Yamanaka and his colleagues show that their mouse technique works with human cells as well. And [Thomson] and his colleagues report success in reprogramming human cells, again by inserting just four genes ... The crucial next step, everyone agrees, is to find a way to reprogram cells by switching on the genes rather than inserting new copies. The field is moving quickly toward that goal ... It is not hard to imagine a time when you could add small molecules that would tickle the same networks as these genes [and] produce reprogrammed cells without genetic alterations." Readily available, low-cost sources of tailored stem cells are fuel for the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine of the future.

Better, Stronger, Longer Lived (November 19 2007)
From the Globe and Mail: "It's natural that our physical and mental abilities deteriorate in old age. Thus, all of the [everyday technologies aimed at changing that] could be described as 'unnatural.' They are unnatural but not, on that account, morally objectionable. It's fallacious to equate what's natural with what's good. ... Today, no one worries much about the ethics of analgesics or eyeglasses. Quite the opposite: You'd seem a complete idiot if you rejected all artificial aids to better living. So why is there so much fear and fretting about the present and future use of biotechnology to make ourselves healthier, stronger, smarter and longer-lived? John Harris, a leading British bioethicist, believes that the ethical controversy swirling around such new technologies as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, embryonic stem cell cloning and regenerative medicine is mostly the product of ignorance, prejudice and bad reasoning." Good to see sense from the bioethics community for a change; would that it spreads.

Never Say Die - And Fund the Winners (November 19 2007)
Investment in longevity science is examined in Portfolio: "The longevity field is splintered between people like De Grey, who think a cure for aging is a realistic goal, and those like the researchers at Ellison, who argue that medical science will indeed be able to extend life, but not eternally. (Since 1970, the average U.S. life span has crept up by four years, to 77.9, not the kind of increment that the immortalists have in mind.) "We're all going to croak," says Richard Sprott, the Ellison Medical Foundation's director, who expects that humans may eventually live as much as 30 years longer, but only in the distant future. As for the rest of it, including cryonics, Sprott says, "I don’t know how anybody takes some of this stuff seriously." Such skepticism explains why Peter Thiel, now head of Clarium Capital Management, a $2.7 billion hedge fund, has raised some eyebrows with his very public funding of De Grey's immortality work. ... In Thiel's view, "Aubrey is the rare combination of a first-rate scientist with an out-of-the-box thinker. In just the past five years, the notion of radical life extension has moved from the fringes to the mainstream, and he's been one of the central figures in bringing about that shift. Every myth on this planet tells people that the purpose of life is death. It's time for us to move beyond mythology and try to find a real cure for this universal disease." From where I stand, you fund the guys who are going to get the damn job done - which won't be the folk who say it's impossible before the attempt has been made.



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