LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 16 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.
- Reminder: Aging 2008 on the 27th
- 500 Scientists
- Regenerative Medicine Will Look to Repair Aging
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
REMINDER: AGING 2008 ON THE 27TH
Don't forget that Aging 2008 will be held at UCLA, Los Angeles, starting on the 27th of this month:
"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 Aging 2008 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."
What will it take to develop the therapies to repair the damage of aging in old mice - essentially to rejuvenate those mice, giving them a more time in youthful health and vigor after they had already become old? The present rough estimate is a billion dollars and ten years of work, which is a lot of money, but also a small fraction of what is wasted by governments around the world each month. Still, it's a big, scary number: what does a billion dollars over ten years actually mean in terms of warm bodies, concrete and conferences?
"It turns out to represent something like 500 researchers, plus resources for equipment, facilities and support staff, if you keep things lean and distributed, making the best use of existing research facilities and ongoing programs. If you apply the 1:9:90 rule to a research community, you can expect that a 500-scientist strong group will include perhaps 5 researchers who are very respected and appear in the media in connection with their research, 50 who are well known in the field and very capable, and the remaining 445 ranging from research associates to skilled scientists yet to reach the heights of their careers. This community might take the form of ten dedicated laboratories at large universities, a few for-profit enterprises, and more than fifty significant initiatives within other large research organizations. For comparison, that is considerably larger than the present calorie restriction research community but considerably smaller than either the cancer or Alzheimer's research community."
At the present time, and setting aside the regenerative medicine community, I would be surprised to find more than 50 researchers worldwide working directly on biotechnologies necessary to rejuvenation in mice. Viewing the cup half empty, we have a long way to go yet. Viewing the cup half full, the seed of a rejuvenation research community is already sprouting, and these early days are the slowest part of the curve - progress will accelerate from here on out.
REGENERATIVE MEDICINE WILL LOOK TO REPAIR AGING
I am optimistic that the present direction of the large and energetic stem cell research community will lead to solid initiatives to repair the biochemical damage of aging in stem cells and stem cell niches. The drive to clinical application is presently focused on stem cell therapies for age-related conditions, such as heart disease, and researchers recognize that the effectiveness of their therapies is degraded by age-damaged tissues and bodily systems:
"Repairing the damage of aging by simply replacing tissue - even assuming you've repaired any age-related damage in the stem cells taken from the patient to use in therapy - runs into the interconnected nature of the body's systems. ... Everything of importance is influenced by everything else. New cells will be damaged by the old intracellular environment, as well as by the actions of old cells next door. An age-damaged immune system can't protect rejuvenated cells in a new heart.
"Clearly it's not enough to gain far better control over stem cells if the damaged niche then sabotages your efforts. I believe that this will likely see the large and well-funded regenerative medicine industry start down the path of trying to rejuvenate and repair stem cell niches. I don't know when that will start in earnest, but it will be a tremendous opportunity for those of us interested in the success of more general strategies for biochemical repair throughout the body - a chance to apply large-scale funding and a large research community to specific challenges in repairing the damage of aging."
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/
Aubrey de Grey on Aging Research and the Media (June 13 2008)
Dominick Burton of Ageing Research asked this of biogerontologists: "The main purpose of ageing research at present is NOT to make people young and immortal as is often publicised in the media, but instead to prevent/combat disease and disability, allowing everyone to live healthier lives for longer. Is this media representation of ageing research detrimental to the true focus of ageing research? If you disagree with the main purpose of ageing research outlined in the question please state why?" Aubrey de Grey came back with a comprehensive answer; you should take a look: "Yes, I believe it is immensely detrimental. (I don't precisely blame the journalists in question, you understand - they're just doing what they're paid to do - but still.) Ultimately, the reason why calling my goal 'immortality' sells papers is because it trivialises it - it confuses my work with something that we all know is impossible, i.e. the technological elimination of any risk of death. And an awful lot of people need that confusion - they need to be helped to believe that what I'm doing is really not science but just entertainment. Why do they need that? Because they've made their peace with aging."
Logistical Funding at Alcor (June 13 2008)
One thing to bear in mind about cryonics is that the logistics of a successful cryopreservation are far from simple, and careful preparation is a must. People focus on the technology, but organization of a cryopreservation is also a challenge - and it's a credit to the cryonics community that matters usually proceed smoothly. Here, Alcor notes new funding to improve logistics for this important step in the process: "On June 7th and 8th, 2008, the Alcor board and management held a 2-day strategic planning meeting at the Alcor facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. Many general issues relating to the organization were discussed. A major topic of discussion was a funding offer brought forward by board member, Saul Kent. The offer is for the Life Extension Foundation and two other donors to each contribute $150,000 a year to Alcor for three years, totaling $1,350,000. These contributions are to fund improvements in cryopreservation case readiness, a new Standby Coordinator staff position, and an Executive Director search and salary support. Fuller details are below. The offer, with its associated conditions, was accepted by a majority vote of the Alcor board."
Ouroboros on Resveratrol (June 12 2008)
More on recent work on low dose resveratrol from Ouroboros: "Most famously, resveratrol has been reported to increase the median lifespan of mice fed a high-fat diet, but that study has been subject to numerous criticisms. The diet in question was so unhealthy it would have made Morgan Spurlock blush, raising questions about its fairness as a model even for the most deranged Western diet. Furthermore, the quantity of resveratrol administered to the mice in the study corresponded to something like 1000 bottles of red wine per day. A skeptical reader could fairly claim that such a study, in which ridiculously high doses of a compound have an effect on an obscenely unhealthy animal, teaches us exactly nothing about what manageable doses of the same compound might accomplish in reasonably healthy people (which is, arguably, the point). So: do manageable doses of resveratrol have health benefits - specifically, with respect to diseases of aging or aging itself? The first evidence in the affirmative has recently been published by Barger et al., who demonstrate that mice eating a normal ad libitum diet supplemented with resveratrol (at a much lower dose than in previous studies) undergo many of the same transcriptional changes as animals undergoing caloric restriction (CR)."
Biogerontology Research Foundation Launches (June 12 2008)
The Biogerontology Research Foundation has launched in the UK: the Foundation "seeks to fill a gap within the research community, whereby the current scientific understanding of the ageing process is not yet being sufficiently exploited to produce effective medical interventions. The BGRF will fund research which, building on the body of knowledge about how ageing happens, will develop biotechnological interventions to remediate the molecular and cellular deficits which accumulate with age and which underlie the ill-health of old age. Addressing ageing damage at this most fundamental level will provide an important opportunity to produce the effective, lasting treatments for the diseases and disabilities of ageing, which are required to improve quality of life in the elderly. The BGRF seeks to use the entire scope of modern biotechnology to attack the changes that take place in the course of aging, and to address not just the symptoms of age-related diseases but also the mechanisms of those diseases." The Foundation is backed by a number of forward-looking, pro-longevity members of the aging research community: the chief scientific officer is researcher Michael Rose, for example.
A Twist on Intelligence and Longevity (June 11 2008)
Does intelligence correlate with longevity? And if so, is that because more intelligent people tend to make better health choices, or because some genes that correlate with intelligence also aid biochemistry in resisting the accumulation of damage and dysfunction? From the Telegraph: "Intelligent people could live up to 15 years longer than their less bright counterparts, according to scientists who have linked a 'smart gene' to longevity. Researchers in Italy found those with the less 'smart' variant of the gene, which has already been linked to IQ levels by scientists, were unlikely to live beyond 85. ... others with a 'good' version of the same gene could expect to live to 100. The gene known as SSADH is already known to 'detoxify' the brain by getting rid of excess acid. That process is believed to protect brain cells from damage which would otherwise accelerate the ageing process. ... Although the sample size is small, with only 115 taking the test compared with the thousands expected in today's studies, the reported associations with cognitive ability are significant and in line with our previous results." More questions than answers here.
A Profile of Terry Grossman (June 11 2008)
Terry Grossman is representative of the more ethical end of "anti-aging" medical practices. It's up to you to decide what you feel is useful in that toolbox, but from where I stand, for a healthy person it presently ranks below exercise and calorie restriction, and far below working to ensure that the longevity science programs like SENS advance more rapidly: Grossman "combines what he believes are the best practices from conventional and alternative medicine into a single, comprehensive procedure for detecting and preventing any and all ailments. ... Life is not a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. You only have one shot at it. So we make the best choices with the information we have. ... Grossman and Kurzweil believe this sort of aggressive anti-aging strategy is the first of three bridges that will lead humanity to eternal life. The second bridge is the biotechnology revolution, a point in the next ten years or so when scientists will learn to control our DNA, turning diseases off with ease, not to mention cloning and regenerating our organs, developments that will dramatically increase life spans. The third bridge is the point at which nanotechnology and artificial intelligence allow humans to control their existence at the atomic level, the dawn of the singularity."
The Comparative Biogerontology Initiative (June 10 2008)
Chris Patil talks about some of his recent work: "Within groups of species that share a given body plan (e.g., bats, birds, dogs, or primates), there is significant variation in maximum life expectancy, and we believe this variation is genetically determined. In other words, natural selection has performed dozens of parallel 'experiments' in which more or less similarly constructed organisms end up with different lifespans, based on variations in a range of factors (some known or long-suspected, like antioxidant enzymes, and others as yet undetermined). Some of these factors may be unique to specific body plans, whereas others might be universal. The challenge we set ourselves was ambitious: How can we use the 'data set' (i.e., variation in lifespan among related organisms) to identify novel determinants of longevity? Thus was born the Comparative Biogerontology Initiative. ... The CBI was conceived not as a replacement for more direct studies of more relevant models (like humans), but as a complement: by carefully examining aging in understudied organisms, and by systematically identifying the factors that contribute to their differential longevities, our hope is to discover entirely new determinants of aging and lifespan."
Reminder: Alzheimer's Is Not Inevitable (June 10 2008)
Alzheimer's appears to be a lifestyle disease for most people, with the same risk factors as type 2 diabetes. Via ScienceDaily: "A 115-year-old woman who remained mentally alert throughout her life had an essentially normal brain, with little or no evidence of Alzheimer's disease ... Our observations suggest that, in contrast to general belief, the limits of human cognitive function may extend far beyond the range that is currently enjoyed by most individuals, and that improvements in preventing brain disorders of aging may yield substantial long-term benefits. ... her body was donated to science when she died at age 115. At the time, she was the world's oldest woman. Examination after death found almost no evidence of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) anywhere in her body. The brain also showed very few abnormalities - the number of brain cells was similar to that expected in healthy people between 60 and 80 years old." Many people could do just as well, even without future advances in longevity science, by consistently taking care of the health basics, year after year. Why sabotage your potential with fat, gluttony and sloth?
More On Resveratrol In Mice (June 09 2008)
In the Pipeline looks at recent results for the calorie restriction mimetic resveratrol in mice: "Because most age-related diseases are likely to be secondary to the aging process itself, the discovery of such compounds could have a profound public health impact by reducing disease incidence and possibly extending the quality and length of the human lifespan. ... That's a fine list of things that everyone would like to avoid: cancer, decline, and death. And the last sentence makes a key point, that the age-related diseases are not inevitable, but can be attacked as a group by attacking aging itself. A few years back, that statement might not have made it into a scientific paper at this level, but it can now. ... So resveratrol appears to be a pretty close mimic of caloric restriction - but it's closest in the non-age-related genes, which is interesting. The thing is, there's no guarantee that all these transcriptional changes are good - presumably a lot of the ones that reverse age-related changes are beneficial (although we don't know that for sure), but the ones that aren't involved in aging could be more of a mixed bag. ... this is a very interesting study, and a very hopeful one, but it also points out just how much we don't know."
A Taxonomy of Immortality (June 09 2008)
Those folk who aspire to immortality - in the sense of "living a really long time without aging to death, and working out some of the details later" - would do well to spend a little time thinking about a taxonomy of this much abused word: "In 'Philosophical Models of Immortality in Science Fiction,' (in: Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy) John Martin Fischer and Ruth Curl construct a taxonomy for immortality. ... only some models of immortality meet the criterion of real personal immortality in which an individual leads an indefinitely long single life ... If we leave the issue of solipsistic and non-solipsistic immortality to the side (see David Deutsch on solipsism), the only mature method listed to achieve immortality which is available right now is cryonics. Strictly speaking, cryonics itself does not achieve immortality, but it can enable a person to reach a time when technologies that can produce immortality may be available. ... Even individuals who hope to benefit from SENS and have made arrangements for cryonics live in a world with a non-trivial probability of information-theoretic death. Minimizing the probability of information-theoretic death should be the objective of radical life extension."