LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
December 31 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.
- What You Have In Common With Naked Mole-Rats
- The Latest Rejuvenation Research
- On Inexorable Technological Progress
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
WHAT YOU HAVE IN COMMON WITH NAKED MOLE-RATS
What you have in common with naked mole-rats if you're lucky, that is:
"You might recall that different fatty acid or lipid composition in cell membranes was floated as a reason for the nine-fold longevity of naked mole-rats over related rodent species. Plenty of oxidative stress in the older mole-rats, but little sign of biochemical damage resulting from it - in comparison to those other rodents long since aged to death, that is. Better, more damage-resistant building blocks down at the molecular level might be the cause. A forthcoming Rejuvenation Research paper discusses the results of a similar consideration of cell membrane differences and longevity within the human species."
It looks like some of the biochemical differences that may help naked mole-rats live so much longer than other rodents can also be seen in human biochemistry. According to this study, the descendants of people who lived to 90 and beyond tend to have cells that look more mole-rattish in their membrane construction than people of more short-lived families. It is fascinating to see real, structural differences down at the lowest level start to appear as a result of the search for the roots of human longevity.
THE LATEST REJUVENATION RESEARCH
The latest issue of Rejuvenation Research is now available online. Remember that the journal will become bi-monthly in 2008. Links to scientific papers of interest and commentary on some of the non-scientific content can be found in this Fight Aging! post:
ON INEXORABLE TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS
A subtle and unresolved debate often rears its head within the healthy life extension community:
"Many people see activism in support of longevity science to be of limited necessity because they believe, I think, that general advances in technological capabilities drive entrepreneurial development cycles that drive public support for new uses. In effect, this is a belief in the robustness of a free market to explore every possible economically viable avenue for human betterment, and to leap upon newly viable avenues as soon as they arise.
"My position is that this is probably the case in the long term. However, as always, it is easy to point out many economically viable and technologically possible projects that have not been started, in medicine or other fields, in the decades since they became viable. In addition to the economy of the free market, there exist economies of regulation, attention, understanding and philanthropic support - just because something is viable does not mean it will happen within your lifetime.
"There of course is the crux of the matter. If we are to benefit from healthy life extension therapies, from medical technologies capable of repairing the damage of aging, progress must be rapid. Healthy life extension through scientific advancement is inevitable - but not for us, unless we get our act together."
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/
Thoughts on the AGEMAP (December 28 2007)
Some punchy thoughts on the AGEMAP project by the Grailsearcher: "Databases are usually quite dull. They are filled with tedious gobs of data like shoe size, date of birth and other boring tidbits that are meaningless on their own. Having to work with them on a day to day basis can sometimes makes you want to bore a hole in your head with a spoon. The AGEMAP database kicks ass though and I'll tell you why. ... 906 gene expressions were shown to change with age across the various mouse tissues. Who cares? You do. It sets the stage for similar human studies and understanding why gene expressions change will lead to therapies that will very likely extend your healthy lifespan in the coming decades. Significantly. ... This is the century where the human race will see significant and perhaps even radical extensions in lifespan due to research taking place now. Decoding the human genome was a big step in that direction and the subsequent leaps such as the AGEMAP database which details specific gene expressions are already taking place." Unvarnished enthusiasm is a good thing, for it it is inenvitably the enthusiasts who help to make progress happen.
An Economist's View of Healthy Longevity (December 28 2007)
Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias notes that the prospects for healthy life extension have "sparked many debates, conferences etc. over the last few years. The invited participants have naturally been intellectuals who have published on the topic recently, mainly activists and bioethicists. We economists have not published on this topic, and so have not been included. But this is not because we have nothing to say. Instead, no economist has anything special to say. We can all easily see that standard economic theory seems to say longer healthy lives are a good thing. So none of us thinks any of us should get precious academic publication credit for saying such an obvious thing. As a result, life extension debates ignore economic theory. ... it still seems to me a shame that observers of this debate can remain unaware of what standard economic theory seems to say on this subject."
A Glance At Alzheimer's Immunotherapy (December 27 2007)
As reported in the Orlando Sentinal, immunotherapies aimed at Alzheimer's disease are reaching late stage clinical trials: "The immunization -- gradually injected into a patient's bloodstream with a needle -- is one of several experimental treatments that use antibodies to attack what are called beta-amyloid protein plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Many scientists think such plaques can cause the disease or its symptoms. ... It is a phase-three trial, which means it could be the final step before the drug gets federal approval for more widespread use. Eventually, the trial will involve 1,600 patients in about 200 centers worldwide. ... The immunotherapy approach now being tested uses antibodies, either made by scientists or by the patient's own immune system, to attack and dissolve the plaques. The drug is administered through the veins in the arm and repeated every three months to replenish the antibodies. Patients' progress is charted through tests and brain scans." These first attempts are not expected to do more than slow progression of the condition. The next generation of therapies will be much more impressive, judging by progress in the labs today - but of course the inane and expensive regulatory hurdles mean it will be a decade before any of it is available, if at all.
Protein Synthesis and Aging (December 27 2007)
Metabolism, the workings of our cells in concert, is a process of tremendous complexity. This is why many seemingly important correlations remain to be explored and understood: "Protein synthesis is a tightly regulated cellular process that affects growth, reproduction, and survival in response to both intrinsic and extrinsic cues, such as nutrient availability and energy levels. A pronounced, age-related decline of the total protein synthesis rate has been observed in many organisms, including humans. The molecular mechanisms underlying this decline and their role in the aging process remain unclear. A series of recent studies in the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, have revealed a novel link between protein synthesis and aging. Remarkably, these research findings, in their totality, converge to indicate that reduction of mRNA translation prolongs life in worms. Signal transduction cascades implicated in aging, such as the insulin/insulin growth factor-1 pathway, interface with mechanisms regulating protein synthesis via a battery of key mRNA translation factors. Are the effects of these pathways on aging mediated, in part, by alterations in protein synthesis? This is an intriguing possibility in light of the latest discoveries."
Telomeres, Longevity and Storm Petrels (December 26 2007)
Telomeres shorten over time in mammals, are lengthened by telomerase, and this all seems to be important for aging, cancer and age-related disease. But many of the important details are still up for debate, even as companies are working on telomere-based therapies. This paper caught my eye as illustrative of the complexities that bedevil any sort of biological research. Given a brace of storm-petrels, what can you determine about telomeres and longevity? As it turns out, even the fundamental points are a challenge: "Given that telomeres generally shorten with age, it was surprising to find that in a population of a long-lived seabird, Leach's storm-petrel, telomeres appear to lengthen with age. This unique finding suggested that the longest-lived individuals are able to elongate telomeres, an interpretation we call the Elongation Hypothesis. Alternatively, the Selection Hypothesis states that the longest-lived individuals start with the longest telomeres and variation in telomere length decreases with age due to the selective disappearance of individuals with short telomeres." The Selection Hypothesis wins, but "the oldest adults also show little or no accumulation of short telomeres over time, a pattern unknown in other species. Long telomeres are thought to provide a buffer against cellular senescence, and be generally indicative of genome stability and overall cell health." Biology is always more complex than you'd like it to be.
Death For Everyone Before Inequality For Anyone (December 26 2007)
I was just talking about the "inequality for any is worse than death for all" meme over at Fight Aging!, though the definitive examination is back somewhat further in the archives. Here is another example, via Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology, demonstrating that the "death for all" school of thought is sadly thriving: "longevity and immortality research exhibits the same discourse problems as the other new and emerging technology discourses, namely that [it] makes light of potential and real social risks that it tailors to a minority of the world and ignores the marginalized majority of the world." I see this sort of viewpoint - that we should block progress at the speartip while the hindmost are brought up to par - as a fundamental misconception of economics and human nature. Equality is the mirage that leads to death in the desert. The world works this way in reality: we can labor and trade to move everyone ahead, benefits for all and inequalities for all, or we can redistribute what presently exists - which at best leads to stagnation and no progress, and at worst becomes a repetition of Soviet era Russia and Eastern Europe. In both cases, inequality will exist - you can't kill it. The choice is between open inequality in comparative and advancing wealth or painful inequality in stagnant, deteriorating poverty, disease and rubble.
A Facebook Group For Ending Aging (December 25 2007)
By way of a little reminder to folk such as I just how far behind the curve we are, I recently discovered the existence of a fair-sized and well maintained Facebook group for the book Ending Aging, the Methuselah Foundation and Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) research. 900 members isn't to be sniffed at; you'll need a Facebook account to see it, however. As I understand the way Facebook-like social networks operate, a group is a way to show your affiliation to a cause or ideal, a repository for links, files and other resources of interest, and a place for discussion. A web site in miniature, contained with the social network, in other words, and which can be used in much the same way in support of advocacy and activist goals. Social networks like Facebook are one part of the ongoing process of lowering the cost of advocacy, making it possible for more people to meaningfully support a cause with small investments of time. When the cost of making a modest difference is close to zero, everyone who so desires can be a part-time patient advocate for longevity research. This can only be a good thing.
World Transhumanist Association Pledge Drive (December 25 2007)
From the Transhumanist Declaration: "Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth." The World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an organization supportive of healthy life extension science and advocacy, is presently holding a pledge drive to match $25,000 before the end of January: "Bill Faloon of Life Extension Foundation and Brian Cartmell of Cartmell Holdings, LLC, have generously offered to help us kick off our first fundraising event by matching your donations up to $25,000 until January 31, 2008. We need 250 members to give $100 each, so your donations can be doubled. This is a unique opportunity we cannot afford to miss!" The pledge drive website explains how the funds will be used to expand the reach of transhumanist ideas.
Evolutionary Effects on Human Life Span (December 24 2007)
Theorizing on evolutionary effects and diversity in human life span via PhysOrg.com: "researchers point out that one characteristic unique to but common among many pygmy populations is their short lifespan compared to other humans. With this in mind, the researchers suggest that pygmies represent the 'fast' extreme of life history strategies, with short stature being a side effect. ... when I went to the field, and started to interview them, I noticed the very high mortality rates – really high compared to any other population. So when we checked that different pygmy groups followed the same pattern, we thought that these facts should be linked. Also, life history theory has been used for a long time to understand body size diversity among mammals, and we thought it should also apply to the understanding of human diversity ... Because of their short life expectancies, the researchers speculate that pygmies have had to shift their reproductive years forward. The average life expectancy at birth for different pygmy populations ranges from just 16 years to 24 years." We humans are not immune from the historical environments that have shaped animal species - and we will extend our own healthy life spans, just as we are extending the healthy life spans of laboratory animals today.
Aging of the Other Genome (December 24 2007)
In this video presentation in the Google Techtalk series, biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey discusses the role of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in aging: "Among other things, mitochondria perform the chemistry of breathing - they extract energy from nutrients by exquisitely regulated chemical reactions that consume oxygen and create [carbon dioxide]. This vital function depends on the 13 proteins encoded by the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), as well as on hundreds of proteins that are encoded in our more famous genome and imported across the mitochondrial surface after construction in the body of the cell. The mtDNA accumulates mutant, non-functional variants far faster than our main genome, so 20 years ago scientists began looking at the idea of putting copies of the 13 genes of interest into the nucleus after making modifications that would cause them to be processed by the same 'protein import' machinery that processes the mitochondrion's many other proteins, thus making the mtDNA itself superfluous and mutations in it harmless. ... Progress has been very erratic in the meantime but is now very rapid, partly because of Methuselah Foundation-funded research. However, this approach may still prove impossible, so many other, ostensibly simpler ideas - some more promising than others - have been proposed, and I will describe some of these too."