LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
May 12 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.
- Understanding Aging Conference, June 27th
- Looking to the Future of Medical Technology
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
UNDERSTANDING AGING CONFERENCE, JUNE 27TH
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and the Methuselah Foundation volunteers are working hard on the Understanding Aging conference to take place in late June at UCLA, Los Angeles. If you're in that part of the world, consider volunteering to help organize and fill out the opening public symposium on seeking a cure for aging:
"Applying the new technologies of regenerative and genetic medicine, the engineering approach to aging promises to dramatically extend healthy human life within the next few decades. How do you and your loved ones stand to benefit from the coming biomedical revolution? Are you prepared? Is society prepared? At ADCI you will engage with top scientists and advocates as they present their findings and advice, and learn what you can do to help accelerate progress towards a cure for the disease and suffering of aging."
The main scientific conference website is here:
As you can see from the agenda, it's very much like the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) conferences of the past five years. You'll see heavy hitters and well known scientists at the top of their fields, coming together to discuss and present on the repair of age-related damage in the body.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE OF MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY
When we look at what is happening in laboratories today, we can make predictions for what is plausible in the clinic tomorrow:
"Mitochondria inside your cells produce fuel to power cellular machinery, but side-effects of that process tend to damage the DNA the mitochondria carry within them - quite separate from the DNA in the cell nucleus, and much more fragile. An accumulation of damaged mitochondria over the years leads to more free radicals in the body, which in turn cause all sorts of varied destruction to molecular machinery and important molecules. That contributes to, and some would say is the dominant cause of, aging and age-related disease.
"The best way to deal with all this? Either replace all the mitochondrial DNA with fresh undamaged versions every few decades, a feat demonstrated in mice a few years ago via protofection, or make the damage to mitochondrial DNA irrelevant by blocking its ability to generate more free radicals. This latter approach is used by Methuselah Foundation funded researchers, amongst others, and is a part of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence."
"Sixty years ago, room sized computers for extremely specific applications were an impressive technology demonstration. We all know how that evolved. At a comparable stage in the advance of biotechnology, today we see that bioartificial implants - cells combined with microscale and chemical engineering - can perform one of the tasks of a pancreas ... So to the future of bioartificial organs. A computer doesn't look much like a brain, a slide-rule, or a typewriter. The bioartificial pancreas of the future won't look a whole lot like the pancreas you're carrying around with you at the moment. In parallel to work on regenerative medicine and repair of aging - aiming to maintain the body we have - we will see a great breadth of development in semi-organic prostheses and other functional replacements, and the growth of support infrastructure for that technology."
"I think that it's a viable prediction to say that the fundamental building blocks of artificial bodies will mostly be demonstrated by the 2040s: advanced nanorobotics; artificial cells; bioartificial organs; massive computational capacities; a complete control over evolved biological cells; a working understanding of all human biochemistry (with small gaps, rather than the present great gaping unknowns); reverse engineering of much of the brain's functionality. Biology and machinery will be well blended by that time, as much of the new nanomachinery in the molecular manufacturing industries will operate at the scale of cells and molecules.
"However, it's a big jump from what is demonstrated in the laboratory and what is commercialized, proven and widely available as a product, especially in oppressively regulated areas like medicine. We live in interesting times, in that the rate at which new medical technologies become available over the next few decades - and therefore the length of healthy life we can expect - is much more dependent on what we want and are willing to pay for, and, sadly, what regulators are willing to forbid, than on constraints imposed by what is scientifically possible."
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/
David Deutsch Speaks With Aubrey de Grey (May 09 2008)
Via Thoughtware.TV, a video interview on the science of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), a path to repairing the biochemical damage of aging and greatly extending the healthy human life span: "Renowned Quantum Physicist, and father of the Quantum Computer, David Deutsch [speaks] with Aubrey de Grey about the scientific details, and feasibility of life extension technology SENS ... Filmed in the Natural History Museum, Oxford, with kind permission of the trustees." Beneath the dinosaur skeletons, in fact. SENS is far more than just research and medical technology, just as the challenge in engineering longevity is far more than a matter of science. SENS is also very much about educating the public of the potential of today's science, raising support for directed funding in longevity science, and forging a new research community enthused to intervene in the aging process as soon as possible rather than just passively documenting it.
The Future of Regeneration (May 09 2008)
If only the future of longevity science was as widely supported, understood and acclaimed as the future of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. The Times Online notes that "within decades stem-cell technology will make it possible to grow replacements for virtually any part of the human body ... the emerging field of regenerative medicine would enable a patient's own cells to be used to build hearts, livers and kidneys, complete with their own blood supply, to replace diseased organs. The advance could make many transplants unnecessary and allow the regeneration of brain tissue and limb parts. ... We know the human genes that can do this do exist, because human foetuses can do it. If a finger is lost before three months' gestation in the womb, it will grow back. The genes are there; we just need to know how to reactivate them. When we started on this work in the 1960s, we knew all these things would become possible . . . it will not be far off. The biggest stumbling block has been money, but now there is huge investment in the field and things are moving rapidly."
Improving Targeted Nanoparticles (May 08 2008)
A great deal of tomorrow's better, more effective medicine will rest on targeting nanosystems that can deliver therapies to specific cell populations in the body. Much of this development is taking place in the cancer research community, but you can be sure there are a thousand and one other uses: "Using nanoworms, doctors should eventually be able to target and reveal the location of developing tumors that are too small to detect by conventional methods. Carrying payloads targeted to specific features on tumors, these microscopic vehicles could also one day provide the means to more effectively deliver toxic anti-cancer drugs to these tumors in high concentrations without negatively impacting other parts of the body. ... Most nanoparticles are recognized by the body's protective mechanisms, which capture and remove them from the bloodstream within a few minutes. The reason these worms work so well is due to a combination of their shape and to a polymer coating on their surfaces that allows the nanoworms to evade these natural elimination processes. As a result, our nanoworms can circulate in the body of a mouse for many hours. ... We are now using nanoworms to construct the next generation of smart tumor-targeting nanodevices."
CIRM Funds For the Buck Institute (May 08 2008)
The Buck Institute for Age Research is one of the recipients of research funds awarded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM): CIRM "has awarded $20.5 million to the Buck Institute for Age Research to build a 'CIRM Center of Excellence' on its Novato campus. ... The Buck Institute's proposed research program for the Center of Excellence is guided by the promise that human embryonic stem cells may provide a model system to study and understand the process of human aging and age-related disease. ... The specific aims are to use human embryonic stem cells or their differentiated progeny to study how cells self-renew and to examine processes involved in the biology of aging including DNA repair, genome integrity and programmed cell death. The long-term goal of the program is to unravel the mysteries of aging and age-related human diseases by understanding the fundamental biological process of aging in appropriate human cell models." Which is an excellent summary of the slow boat, look-but-don't-intervene approach, and shows why those researchers invested in this approach - rather than the much more direct repair of damage approach and the goal of curing aging as soon as possible - believe, incorrectly, that any successful intervention in aging is a long way away.
A Discussion on Animal Longevity (May 07 2008)
Researchers talk about the basis for animal longevity at the Post-Gazette: "What is it about tortoise biology that makes them so long-lived? The same thing can be asked of some even more intriguing creatures in the Methuselah Club, including the rough-eye rockfish (up to 205 years), the bowhead whale (211 years) and the ocean quahog clam (225 years). ... In the bowhead whales, researchers have been able to chart the slow change in the orientation of amino acids in their eyelids, he said, while the rockfish and quahog lay down age-related rings, the rockfish in an ear bone and the quahog on its shell. ... Dr. de Magalhaes said he did a survey two years ago of hundreds of species of mammals, and 'what we showed is there is really no correlation between metabolic rate and life span in mammals.' ... 'I'm a little bit skeptical about the idea that telomeres contribute that much to aging,' said Dr. de Magalhaes, given the fact that mice, which live about four years, have longer telomeres than humans. ... scientists have been able to create mice with short telomeres and with long telomeres, and 'the mice with long telomeres don't have a significant difference in life span.' Unfortunately, the article doesn't delve into mitochondrial biochemistry, which looks like it might be much of the root of differences in life span, in mammals at least.
$7 Million For Longevity Research (May 07 2008)
The Methuselah Foundation has reached $7 million pledged to Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence research, aimed at the repair and reversal of molecular and cellular damage that causes aging. "Congratulations are due to all the Methuselah Foundation volunteers and generous donors who have made our ongoing SENS research programs a reality. Thank you all! You can find out more about the SENS research funded and organized by the Methuselah Foundation at our website, and in the most recent progress report ... The Foundation currently sponsors research in two of the seven strands of the SENS program: preventing the harm caused by mitochondrial mutations (MitoSENS) and degrading damaging, long-lived cellular debris (LysoSENS). ... A selection of [further] projects within the SENS plan are ready to be launched as Foundation-sponsored research programs. [As] for MitoSENS and LysoSENS, these projects will start small (likely with only a single researcher), with the aim of delivering high leverage in terms of the credibility of the approach."
Rebooting the Immune System Repairs MS (May 06 2008)
This is interesting news from the Australian, considering past work on rebooting the human immune system to repair otherwise irreversible damage: "Dr Freedman, who specialises in treating [multiple sclerosis (MS)], wanted to study how the disease unfolds. He set up an experiment in which doctors destroyed the bone marrow and thus the immune systems of MS patients. Then stem cells known as hematopoeitic stem cells, blood-forming cells taken from the bone marrow, were transplanted back into the patients. ... We weren't looking for improvement. The actual study was to reboot the immune system. ... Once MS is diagnosed [you've] already missed the boat. We figured we would reboot the immune system and watch the disease evolve [but] have yet to get the disease to restart ... Not a single patient, and it's almost seven years, has ever had a relapse ... We are trying to find out what is happening and what could possibly be the source of repair." This is still a comparatively unsafe procedure, but with enough incentive, resources will be allocated to make it safer and better. This is good, because benefits to health and longevity are likely to result from a safe way of rebooting an age-damaged immune system.
Regenerating the Trachea (May 06 2008)
Regenerative medicine moves forward, organ by organ: "The trachea and other respiratory tubes, like most tubes in the body, have an intricate, three-layer architecture. The inner layer, or epithelium, interacts with whatever is flowing through the tube; in the case of the trachea, air. The middle layer is composed of muscle that constricts or relaxes the tube, and the outer layer consists of connective tissue that supports microvessels and small nerves. ... researchers found that it is not necessary to recapture the ordered layering to heal injuries. Instead, they concentrated on restoring cellular health. When cells are intact and have regained their biological function, they need only reside near the injured tissue to enhance overall repair. [Scientists] achieved this repair state by delivering a mixture of new healthy cells derived from the epithelial lining and the nourishing blood vessels. The combination of epithelial and endothelial cells take over the biochemical role lost with cell damage. The healthy cells release growth factors and other molecules necessary for healing tissue, and can modulate their delivery in response to physiological feedback control signals."
Interviewing the CSO of CIRM (May 05 2008)
Over at Nature, an interview with the new chief science officer of the California Insitute for Regenerative Medicine: "I really think that we're getting awfully close to working with patients now. We will never institutionally neglect basic science, but the shift to translational work is definitely now a priority ... The unknown is that we have no control over the cells once they're transplanted or transfused. I feel very strongly that the animal models of disease do not reflect the heterogeneity of the environments into which we will be putting the cells in diseased humans. Pharmacologically induced Parkinson's disease is not the same as the natural human disease, for example. ... The immunogenicity issue of the transferred cells is far from solved. People are also concerned about tumorigenesis, and there's been a lot of in vitro progress in addressing that. ... I think people underestimate how expensive this research is. Yes, it's a lot of money, but it's certainly not unlimited. We have to figure out a way to be involved in clinical trials, and how best to use our resources in clinical trials. ... We've got to make concrete decisions, at least as far as phase I trials, in the next couple of months."
What If Cryonics Wasn't Cold? (May 05 2008)
The purpose of cryonics is to preserve the body and brain with as little small-scale damage as possible for revival via plausible future technologies, most likely medical nanomachinery. To save lives, in other words. Depressed Metabolism has previously argued that it's something of an accident of history that the cryonics industry uses cold-based preservation rather than a form of warm chemical preservation, and here elaborates on future molecular nanotechnologies that may achieve warm biostasis: "To see how one approach would work, imagine that the blood stream carries simple molecular devices to tissues, where they enter the cells. There they block the molecular machinery of metabolism - in the brain and elsewhere - and tie structures together with stabilizing cross-links. Other molecular devices then move in, displacing water and packing themselves solidly around the molecules of the cell. These steps stop metabolism and preserve cell structures."