Longevity Meme Newsletter, May 26 2008

May 26 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.



- We're All Invited to Aging 2008 at UCLA
- Essays on Healthy Life Extension
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The Methuselah Foundation invites us all to the Aging 2008 public symposium at UCLA in June:


"The speakers at Aging 2008 will argue that the near-term consequences of intense research into regenerative medicine could be the development of therapies that extend healthy human life by decades, even if the therapies are applied in middle age. Peter Thiel, president of Clarium Capital, initial investor in Facebook, and lead sponsor of Aging 2008, said, 'The time has come to challenge the inevitability of aging. This forum will provide an excellent opportunity to look at the scientific barriers that must be overcome to substantially extend healthy human life, as well as the ethical implications of doing so.'"

Speakers include Aubrey de Grey, Gregory Stock, William Haseltine, Michael West, and a brace of other folk you should recognize from the aging research and advocacy communities.

Remember that the Methuselah Foundation is still looking for additional volunteers in the UCLA area; here's a great chance to help raise the profile of longevity science:



Introductory essays on healthy life extension turned out to be the theme this week at Fight Aging! Here are three for you to read:


"The difference between us and cars is that we know everything there is to know about repairing cars. Just as a Ferrari would have been impossibly complex to build two hundred years ago, so is the body today. The difference is that biology is quickly becoming an information science. As loyal readers of this column know, information technologies increase at an exponential rate. Just like computers, biotechnology such as DNA sequencing or fMRI imaging roughly doubles in capability every year. We will soon be able to deal with the nanoscale devices that make up the human machine and fix the damage that occur to them."


"Age-defying creams and lotions, esoteric herbs and elixirs, botox and plastic surgery, what do they all have in common? None of them will actually increase your lifespan. Usually, they're snake oil. At best, they improve external appearance without actually extending life. We deserve better, and we'll need it if we want to live longer than the typical four score and ten years."


"The problems involved in conquering aging have not been solved. They will never be solved unless people decide that they want to conquer aging - that they want to extend their lives. History has shown that man is capable of solving monumental problems once he sets his mind to it. At the turn of the century heavier-than-air flight was believed to be impossible, but the Wright brothers wanted to fly; just a few years ago rocket travel to the moon was looked upon as a fantasy, but scientists such as Werner Von Braun wanted to go to the moon. If we truly want to extend our lives - to maintain youth, vigor, and vitality indefinitely, we must become emotionally involved in the project."


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/

Another Way Your Aging Immune System Harms You (May 23 2008)
An interesting paper: "Recent studies suggest that activation of the peripheral immune system elicits a discordant central (i.e., in the brain) inflammatory response in aged but otherwise healthy subjects compared with younger cohorts. A fundamental difference in the reactive state of microglial cells in the aged brain has been suggested as the basis for this discordant inflammatory response. Thus, the aging process appears to serve as a 'priming' stimulus for microglia, and upon secondary stimulation with a triggering stimulus (i.e., peripheral signals communicating infection), these primed microglia release excessive quantities of proinflammatory cytokines. ... there is a propensity for this response to be maladaptive in aged subjects, resulting in greater severity and duration of the sickness behavior syndrome." Your immune system evolved for a life span of a few decades, optimized to help you live long enough to pass on genes. It's all downhill after that, as some of those optimizations start to be actively harmful later on in life. Repairing these deficiencies in the aging immune system is an important component for future longevity science.

Upgrading Cells With Artificial Organelles (May 23 2008)
If you can build artificial cells, why not build artificial organelles within natural cells? From the New Scientist, a look at the future: "Human cells could have their metabolisms upgraded without altering their genes by inserting tiny plastic packages of enzymes ... [researchers] coated their polymer vesicles in a chemical that encouraged human white blood cells called macrophages to engulf them. The small capsules contained enzymes, just like natural organelles. The enzymes chosen produced fluorescent chemicals, signalling they were working without problems inside their new host. ... Artificial organelles might also be able to treat conditions caused by a deficit of a particular enzyme. For example, someone with lactose intolerance could have their digestive cells given artificial organelles containing lactose-digesting enzymes. In the far future, it might be possible to introduce non-human metabolic functions into human cells. ... We could, in principle, bring in a nanoreactor that [lets] your skin do something like photosynthesis. So if you are hungry, you just lie in the Sun." For "in the far future," read "twenty years from now." I'm sure you can imagine a thousand and one other, more directly beneficial applications of this technology: for example, enzymes to degrade damaging aggregates that accumulate with age.

Watch Those With Money at Risk (May 22 2008)
If you want to see what people really think about the future of longevity, don't listen to what they say. Rather, watch what they do when money is at stake. The pension, insurance and actuarial industries are good places to start: the institutions are very conservative in their worldviews, but a great many people stand to lose a great deal of money by being wrong about the timeline for longevity medicine. That's a powerful incentive to make good, informed predictions. Here's an update from the BBC on a few of the changes that have been taking place in the past few years: "Many UK companies are now assuming their male pensioners will live, on average, one year longer than they assumed in 2006. ... The assumed life expectancy has steadily risen in recent years to 86. ... It was 83 in 2004, 84 in 2005 and 85 in 2006. ... It's interesting they are going by one year, every year. There is an element of catch-up but there is great uncertainty about how this trend will go in the future." That uncertainty is driven by the tremendous promise offered by research programs like the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, and prospects for breakthroughs in related fields.

Understanding Embryonic Stem Cells (May 22 2008)
Continuing the infrastructural bioscience theme, ScienceDaily notes new knowledge that will lead to greater and more effective control over totipotent stem cells: "Our study suggests that what we believe about how embryonic stem cell self-renewal is controlled is wrong. Our findings will likely change the research direction of many stem cell laboratories. ... Contrary to the current understanding of stem cell self-renewal and differentiation, the findings suggest that embryonic stem cells will remain undifferentiated if they are shielded from differentiation signals. By applying small molecules that block the chemicals from activating the differentiation process, the natural default of the cell is to self-renew, or multiply, as generic stem cells. ... This study presents a completely new paradigm for understanding how to grow embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. The discovery has major implications for large scale production of specialized cells, such as brain, heart muscle and insulin producing cells, for future therapeutic use." Replacing cells lost to aging is one important part of any suite of longevity therapies, and advances that bring that goal closer are welcome.

Improving Gene Therapy Thirtyfold (May 21 2008)
When watching progress in medical science, you have to keep your eye on less flashy improvements in infrastructure and methodology. It is progress at that level that enables the later big, bright advances that capture all the attention. Here's an example of the type from ScienceDaily: "geneticists say they have developed a new version of the adeno-associated virus used in gene therapy that works about 30 times more efficiently in mice than vectors scientists currently rely on ... Based on our studies and those of others, it's become clear that the reason you need so much is because about half the [adeno-associated virus (AAV)] particles get stuck in the cytoplasm. It doesn't get to the nucleus very efficiently. The reason for that is obvious. AAV is seen by the body as an invading protein and it tries to block it ... We didn't change anything except the amino acid that does not allow phosphorylation to occur ... We were very surprised. It's amazing to think that changing one amino acid could produce these results." Gene therapy is a very important tool, and order of magnitude improvements in cost and efficiency here will ripple out through the cutting edge of medical research - including many areas important to the longevity medicine of tomorrow.

Robert Butler's View of Longevity Research (May 21 2008)
Via Longevity Science: "This book about the ongoing revolution in human longevity and its implications for society was written by Robert Butler, a professor of geriatrics who is still working at the age of 80. ... Butler states that his proposed program 'could be dubbed the Apollo Program for Aging and Longevity Science' and goes on to explain that 'the present level of development of aging and longevity research justifies an Apollo-type effort to control aging. ... Now we have both past work as a foundation and new scientific tools offering hope that we may soon have a more prolonged, vigorous and productive life and added longevity. During the twenty-first century, the century of the life sciences, longevity science should truly come of age.' Butler believes that 'it may soon be possible to delay both aging and age-related disease in humans' but that 'an orbital jump in financing of science is required to advance longevity and health as well as national wealth.'" Butler is one of the folk behind the Longevity Dividend initiative, you might recall.

Growing Body Parts In the Laboratory (May 20 2008)
RedOrbit looks at tissue engineering: "Other alternatives to organ transplants have proved elusive. Transplants from animals, for example, face serious risks of rejection or viral infections. And mechanical organs, such as heart pumps, have been only a temporary solution. ... If we want to live forever, we need to do better ... Engineering body parts - tissues and whole organs that are genetically compatible and available on demand - sounds like science fiction. But researchers at medical centers around the world are working to make it a reality. Already, a handful of children with spina bifida have received new bladders. Replacement blood vessels are being tested on dialysis patients. And researchers have re-created a beating rat heart. ... [The] first wave of tissue engineering did yield some useful products, such as artificial skin grafts that are used to treat diabetic skin ulcers. But many of the awe-inspiring breakthroughs that scientists are talking about are still many years away ... The real potential for tissue engineering is the vital organs, but we're a ways away from that, even though there's some exciting things being done." The article looks at some of the more recent advances in engineering blood vessels, building complete hearts using a novel scaffold method, and of work on tissue engineered bladders.

Longevity Science at the Methuselah Foundation (May 20 2008)
Future Current provides a transcript and video for a February presentation by Aubrey de Grey on new longevity science at the Methuselah Foundation: "will be able to initiate at least three, and perhaps even more, projects this year ... There are [problems caused] by cells that are actually not dividing, but they are not dying either, and they are accumulating slowly as a result. They get in the way and cause various problems just by being there. Probably the most serious example of this is the immune system. ... there is a good chance that we are going to be able to fund a project starting this year that will get a good deal further towards the goal in mice of [eliminating] clonal expansions of what are called anergic - essentially broken - CD8 cells. The hope certainly is that this will play a large role in rejuvenating the immune system. There is one other thing that we want to do that is also required for rejuvenating the immune system, and that is to restore the size of a very important organ in the immune system called the thymus, [which] shrinks throughout life [down] to 10 or 15% the size that it was in early life. It is believed that this has also a rather large role to play in the increasing dysfunction of the immune system. We want to regrow the thymus as well."

More Progress Towards Alzheimer's Vaccines (May 19 2008)
EurekAlert! reports on another promising Alzheimer's vaccine in the works: "Vaccinated mice generated an immune response to the protein known as amyloid-beta peptide, which accumulates in what are called 'amyloid plaques' in brains of people with Alzheimer's. The vaccinated mice demonstrated normal learning skills and functioning memory in spite of being genetically designed to develop an aggressive form of the disease. ... vaccinated mice not only performed better, we found no evidence of signature amyloid plaque in their brains ... The mice [also] harbored a mutation that causes the tau-related tangle pathology ... What we found exciting was that by targeting one pathology of Alzheimer's - amyloid beta - we were able to also prevent the transition of tau from its normal form to a form found in the disease state ... due to the number of studies required to satisfy regulatory requirements, it could be three or more years before human trials testing this type of Alzheimer's vaccine occur."

On Using the Tools to Hand (May 19 2008)
FuturePundit on the education-longevity correlation, which he presents as more of an intelligence-longevity correlation: "My guess is that as the amount of useful knowledge available to influence longevity has increased (e.g. results from dietary and lifestyle research and new types of treatments that require patients to do much self-administration of drugs and therapies) the advantage of being smart has been amplified. If you get sick and you are smart you have more clinical trials to investigate, diets to try, and treatments to follow carefully. You are better able to understand why a treatment should benefit you and therefore more motivated to stick with it. Rather than follow the advice of one doctor you can seek out multiple experts, ask tough questions, and compare notes with other smart people chasing better treatments. You are better able to see through self-serving advice of specialists who are trying to boost their income. You are more likely to recognize serious side effects of treatments and challenge the wisdom of continued use of a treatment."



Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.