Longevity Meme Newsletter, March 31 2008

March 31 2008

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.



- Methuselah Foundation News
- Lose the Visceral Fat
- Attitudes Towards Engineered Longevity
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The March newsletter and Foundation progress report is online:


"We feel it only appropriate to begin this issue of the newsletter by expressing our deepest gratitude to our donors. Your generosity during December and January - with $1,860,000 received or pledged in those two months alone - will allow the Foundation to more than double its spending on SENS research in 2008. As well as strengthening our existing research teams, we are now ready to initiate work in at least two more strands of the SENS program during the coming year; all thanks to the generosity of our supporters."

Additionally, biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey will appear on the April 1st Barbara Walters special on longevity science:


"What's likely to happen within the next 20 to 25, 30 years, we will develop technology that will buy a bit of time. We will develop rejuvenation technology that can be applied to people that are already middle-age and keep them middle-age, or less so to speak, for another 20 or 30 years. During that 20 or 30 years, the technology will be further advanced to give them another, let's say, 15 years, and so on."


The association between excess visceral fat - the fat packed in around your abdominal organs - and age-related degeneration and disease has been known for a while. Insulin resistance, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, the atherosclerosis that ups and kills you with little warning, Alzheimer's disease, and so forth - all solidly linked to carrying more fat next to your organs than is needed. In recent years researchers have more clearly elucidated the biological mechanisms by which excess visceral fat leads to a shorter, less healthy life:


"Excess body fat held over the years causes chronic inflammation, which enrages your immune system, which leads to atherosclerosis, which tends to kill you abruptly and without warning. All very avoidable. To make matters worse, excess fat - or rather all the food you ate in order to create the excess fat - creates a feedback mechanism that leads to insulin resistance and diabetes, and this makes the atherosclerosis-generation process run faster.

"But that extra fat won't just make you much more prone to be frail, and it won't just try to kill you - it'll also eat your mind. Researchers are coming to view Alzheimer's disease as analogous to diabetes, a result of lifestyle choices for most, touching on many of the same metabolic processes as diabetes, and the risk factors seem to be much the same.

"The study of more than 6,000 people found the more fat they had in their guts in their early to mid-40s the greater their chances of becoming forgetful or confused or showing other signs of senility as they aged. Those who had the most impressive midsections faced more than twice the risk of the leanest. Surprisingly, a sizable stomach seems to increase the risk even among those who are not obese, or even overweight."

All the more reason to take care of the health basics of diet and exercise; avoiding the damage of excess fat is fortunately straightforward for most of us.


Interesting excerpts from a scientific study of attitudes to longevity and the healthy life extension technologies were posted to CryoNet recently:


"The study presented subjects with a range of positive and negative viewpoints on healthy life extension. The viewpoints vary widely in validity, with those on the economic side of the house being particularly bad, but I don't think that's too important when it comes to drawing conclusions from the reactions of study participants.

"The age of the respondent was related to life-extension attitudes [with] the older respondents tilting in the pro-longevity direction. ... The older the adult, the more likely is he or she to reject [any of the] harsh negativity toward life extension ... Correspondingly, chronological age is positively associated with endorsement of items that promise a Utopian future with life extension ... Finally, the outcome for [negative viewpoints suggesting economic problems associated with increased longevity] is somewhat counterintuitive as we observe that older adults are significantly more disposed to endorse anti-longevity items. These items concern the added costs of health-care and social welfare and hence raise the possibility of exhaustion of financial resources."

I think there's ample circumstantial evidence to suspect that those who claim to be fine with the personal suffering and death that comes with untreated aging will mostly change their minds when they get there. Unpleasant futures are all too easily hand-waved away for another day - until that day finally comes home to roost. All the more reason to step up and help to make the near future a place in which working rejuvenation technologies exist:



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/

Olshanksy on the Longevity Dividend (March 28 2008)
Here's a third transcript from last year's Securing the Longevity Dividend event. The speaker is S. Jay Olshansky, representative of those who believe the best path forward is to slow aging via metabolic manipulation. "Now, let me just give you the bottom line, and then I will give you the rationale behind it. The main argument in this manuscript was fairly straightforward, and that is, the time has arrived for us to make an investment that we have never made before, and that is an effort to slow the biological process of aging in people. We are making this argument now for a number of reasons, one of the most important of which is - and you are speaking to a very conservative individual here - I am willing to say something now that I was not willing to say just five to ten years ago. That is that I believe the technology and the field of aging has advanced sufficiently that many of us now believe that it is not just a plausible goal to slow aging in people, but a necessary goal - something that we must pursue in the coming decades, for reasons that I am going to demonstrate shortly."

Hair Follicles to Blood Vessels (March 28 2008)
Tissue engineers at work: "Engineering blood vessels for bypass surgery, promoting the formation of new blood vessels or regenerating new skin tissue using stem cells obtained from the most accessible source - hair follicles - is a real possibility ... We have demonstrated that engineered blood vessels prepared with smooth muscle progenitor cells from hair follicles are capable of dilating and constricting, critical properties that make them ideal for engineering cardiovascular tissue regeneration ... Since smooth muscle cells comprise the muscle of numerous tissues and organs, including the bladder, abdominal cavity and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, this new, accessible source of cells may make possible future treatments that allow for the regeneration of these damaged organs as well. ... The best case scenario is that from this one very accessible and highly proliferative source of stem cells, we will be able to obtain multiple different cell types that can be used for a broad range of applications in regenerative medicine."

Aubrey de Grey on Futures in Biotech (March 27 2008)
A long audio interview with biomedical gerontologist and healthy life extension advocate Aubrey de Grey can be found at Futures in Biotech: "Benjamin Franklin said: 'In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes'. But in these times of technological revolution, does this statement still hold true? And if so, for how long? Genes have been identified that upon activation can extend lifespan in most organisms. The great labs of Leonard Guarente at MIT (featured in FiB episode 2), Cynthia Kenyon at UCSF, as well [as] Linda Buck, Nobel Laureate in 2004, are all working arduously to elucidate the molecular details to both slow down the aging process and extend lifespan. Well, Aubrey de Grey is a fairly controversial figure because he proposes doing away with death all together - leaving us with only taxes, I guess?" Find out more about how the repair of aging can be achieved - as well as ongoing research to make this a reality - at the Methuselah Foundation.

Aubrey de Grey on Barbara Walters (March 27 2008)
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be one of the scientists featured in a Barbara Walters special to be aired on April 1st. I can't imagine that this will be at all rigorous in its examination of longevity science, but the more who hear the message, the better: "From a potential breakthrough pill to controversial rejuvenation technologies, Walters reports on what the future may hold, as well as what one expert says is the only proven way to extend life. ... 'I think that within the next few decades, we have a pretty good chance of effectively defeating aging as a cause of death,' says [Dr. Aubrey de Grey], a respected and controversial expert on the biology of aging. But if the keys to living a long, healthy life are not found soon, some people will rely on [cryonics] - chemically preserving one's body at very low temperatures in hope of one day being brought back to life. ... Also, how close are we to using rejuvenation technology to regenerate body parts? ... 'someday, if you get into an auto accident, we'll just take a skin cell and grow you up a new kidney... cells could, in the future, replace almost any part of the body.'"

More Thoughts on AGEs (March 26 2008)
Ouroboros looks at advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) and age-related damage in the extracellular matrix: "The authors exposed fibroblasts to two types of [AGE-modified proteins], which had overlapping but non-identical effects on gene expression. The common features of the response to the two proteins are most intriguing, however: increased transcription of matrix metalloproteases (MMPs), which break down the extracellular matrix (ECM), and decreased transcription of ECM components like collagen and fibronectin. Taken together, these effects would result in a net weakening of the ECM, which in turn would have profoundly negative effects on organ function, ranging from skin wrinkling to cardiomyopathy. ... increased MMPs and ECM breakdown are hallmarks of fibroblast senescence, which is usually associated with DNA damage or telomere shortening - could AGEs be stimulating premature senescence, either by damaging DNA or via some other pathway?"

The Biomechanisms of Pluripotency (March 26 2008)
What makes a stem cell pluripotent, or an embyronic stem cell totipotent, able to form all other cell types? It has to be down to the mechanisms of genes and proteins, and researchers are working to understand those mechanisms: scientists have "identified a network of hundreds of genes that keep embryonic stem cells in their characteristic malleable state, able to develop into any cell type when the time comes. The finding, based on studies of mouse cells, provides valuable insight into the way stem cells function, and could help researchers find ways to reprogram adult cells for therapeutic use. ... there has been a recent explosion of interest in reprogramming skin or other developed cells to act like stem cells, with the ultimate goal of treating disease. But currently, he said, the process is still essentially a "black box." ... You add genes, and the cells reprogram. What happens in between? ... This kind of work provides the materials to get a better understanding of that process. The goal is to be able to manipulate cells in a very directed way."

Methuselah Foundation March Progress Report (March 25 2008)
The March progress report and newsletter from the Methuselah Foundation is up: "A new donation program was recently launched at the Foundation. A brainchild of Dave Gobel, the 1% For Life program is a committed giving program where individuals or corporations commit 1% of their selected assets to the Foundation. ... A paperback edition of Ending Aging, including a new afterword bringing the scientific content right back up to the leading edge of current research, will be published in September this year. ... Our MitoSENS team is moving during this quarter to the laboratory of Dr. Marisol Corral-Debrinski in Paris. Corral-Debrinski's group is unique in the world in focusing specifically on allotopic expression, the technology that will eventually allow us to protect our life-sustaining mitochondrial genes from the mutations resulting from aging. Meanwhile, LysoSENS has continued to generate a stream of exciting results, including the publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the international journal Biodegradation. ... As well as strengthening our existing research teams, we are now ready to initiate work in at least two more strands of the SENS program during the coming year; all thanks to the generosity of our supporters."

Prizes for Our Folding@Home Team (March 25 2008)
I'm pleased to note that the Immortality Institute folk will be offering incentive prizes to participants in the Longevity Meme Folding@Home team on a quarterly basis going forward: "The Longevity Meme team has grown and performed very well in the years since its formation. It takes organization and active recruitment to break into the top 200 ranked teams; many of the Immortality Institute regulars have stepped up to provide that organization. Thank you all for helping to make the team a continuing success. ... Winners will be determined by how many points are accumulated over the course of three months as reported at the Stanford Folding@home statistics site. The first quarter of competition begins at 12:00 a.m. Eastern daylight time (U.S.) April 2nd and ends at 12:00 midnight, Eastern daylight time, on June 30th." Newcomers are welcome, so jump on in and help the team climb the ranks.

Therapeutic Cloning Versus Parkinson's (March 24 2008)
The New Scientist reports on the use of therapeutic cloning in development of a cell therapy for Parkinson's disease: "An international team has restored mice with a condition similar to Parkinson's disease back to health, using neurons grown in the lab that were made from their own cloned skin cells. ... All six mice that had been given grafts of neurons derived from their own skin cells got significantly better, scoring well on tests of movement. ... It was a very challenging project. You need a special set of expertise that is typically not available in an individual lab. ... If the process cannot be made less technically demanding, any treatment for human patients is likely to be extremely costly. This is why many researchers are excited about the possibility of using a simpler genetic reprogramming technique [that can] can turn skin cells into cells that have similar properties to [embryonic stem] cells."

On Progress in Limb Regrowth (March 24 2008)
Scientific American looks at work on bringing organ regeneration from lower animals to mammals like us: "Our research group has already described a natural blastema in a mouse amputation injury, and our goal within the next year is to induce a blastema where it would not normally occur. ... We hope that this line of investigation will also reveal whether, as we suspect, the blastema itself provides critical signaling that prevents fibrosis in the wound site. If we succeed in generating a blastema in a mammal, the next big hurdle for us would be coaxing the site of a digit amputation to regenerate the entire digit ... Developmental biologists are still trying to understand how joints are made naturally, so building a regenerated mouse digit, joints and all, would be a major milestone in the regeneration field. We hope to reach it in the next few years, and after that, the prospect of regenerating an entire mouse paw, and then an arm, will not seem so remote. Indeed, when we consider all that we have learned about wound healing and regeneration from studies in various animal models, the surprising conclusion is that we may be only a decade or two away from a day when we can regenerate human body parts."



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