LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
July 28 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.
- Parkinson's Disease And Aggregates
- On the Psychology of Longevity Advocacy
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
PARKINSON'S DISEASE AND AGGREGATES
Researchers are starting to consider Parkinson's disease to be caused by chemical aggregates in the brain, much like the present mainstream view of Alzheimer's:
"Patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) have elevated levels of the protein called alpha-synuclein in their brains. As the protein clumps, or aggregates, the resulting toxicity causes the death of neurons that produce the brain chemical dopamine. Consequently, nerves and muscles that control movement and coordination are destroyed.
"Simply lowering alpha-synuclein levels by 40 percent may be enough to treat some forms of Parkinson's disease."
This suggests that strategies aimed at soaking up the aggregates will be more effective in the near term than regenerative medicine aimed at replacing dopamine neurons. The researchers in the article above are more focused on manipulating genes to lower production of alpha-synuclein, but that has its own set of complications. Nothing in our biochemistry has just one job, and the controlling mechanisms for alpha-synuclein are also important in producing the component molecules of blood.
This sort of complexity is why I favor repair over manipulation. Try to remove or reverse changes rather than make more changes, as we don't yet understand enough of our biochemistry to efficiently tinker the system into new states.
ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LONGEVITY ADVOCACY
I think we have to accept that the decisions of others are not our responsibility - thinking otherwise is an easy way to lost sleep and madness:
"Once you've convinced people to think about healthy life extension on the merits, the natural result is a lot of waste and noise in addition to helpful additions to the community. That's the way we humans tend to act; we're given to look for the backsliding easy way out, even when we know it's not going to work. For every person who donates to the Methuselah Foundation's longevity research program, there will be another who decides to look into a new wrinkle cream.
"Everyone has free will; our task is to make better information available and persuade those who can be persuaded to help advance the state of longevity science. However well we do, there will continue to be a dubious 'anti-aging' snake-oil industry and some number of people making poor choices."
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/
The Dreaded Reactive Oxygen Species (July 25 2008)
It's good to see more research groups looking into targeting antioxidants to the mitochondria. From EurekAlert!: "Researchers have taken a first snapshot of how a class of highly reactive molecules inflicts cellular damage as part of aging, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and Alzheimer's disease to name a few. ... researchers have discovered a tool that can monitor related damage and determine the degree to which antioxidant drugs effectively combat disease. ... Our study provides a better glimpse of why a cell under assault by disease makes 10 times as many reactive oxygen species [ROS] as the same cell when healthy. We have discovered a chemical tool for investigating how diseases cause damage, mitochondrion by mitochondrion ... Efforts to develop antioxidant drugs (e.g. vitamin E) to treat diseases of increased oxidative stress have met with limited success to date because they tried to eliminate ROS, rather than maintain the right amount, Sheu said. He established the Mitochondrial Research & Innovation Group (MRIG) [in] 2002 with the goal of designing therapies to deliver precise amounts of antioxidants to the mitochondria of diseased cells only. MRIG teams are, for example, screening through compounds to confirm that oxidative stress can be reversed by mitochondria-specific drugs."
The Revenge of Programmed Aging Theories (July 25 2008)
I can't say I'm sold on recent research that is interpreted as supporting (genetically) programmed aging: "The question of what causes aging has spawned competing schools of thought. One side says inborn genetic programs make organisms grow old. This theory has had trouble gaining traction because it implies that aging evolved, that natural selection pushed older organisms down a path of deterioration. However, natural selection works by favoring genes that help organisms produce lots of offspring. After reproduction ends, genes are beyond natural selection's reach, so scientists argued that aging couldn’t be genetically programmed. The alternate theory holds that aging is an inevitable consequence of accumulated wear and tear: Toxins, free-radical molecules, DNA-damaging radiation, disease and stress ravage the body to the point it can't rebound. So far, this theory has dominated aging research. But the Stanford team's findings told a different story. ... Our data just didn't fit the current model of damage accumulation, and so we had to consider the alternative model of developmental drift." The article oversimplifies both positions, sadly, and the researchers don't appear aware of recent evolutionary explanations for extreme longevity in some animal species.
Hormesis-Induced Longevity Via Hypergravity? (July 24 2008)
To be filed under "interesting, but not necessarily relevant": "This paper reviews the literature on the effects of hypergravity (HG, gravity levels higher than 1g, the terrestrial gravity) on longevity and aging. The different studies showed that life-long exposures to high gravity levels decreased longevity and accelerated the age-related decline observed on some physiological and behavioral variables. In contrast, chronic exposure to HG increased resistance to heat in young and middle-aged Drosophila melanogaster. A short exposure to HG at the beginning of adult life increased male longevity and delayed behavioral aging in D. melanogaster. All these results show that HG acts as a hormetic factor. Long exposures to HG have deleterious effects on longevity and aging, whereas short exposures have beneficial effects. Some potential mechanisms of action of the beneficial effects of HG are also reviewed here. However, the ones tested so far (heat shock proteins and antioxidant defense) have proven unable to explain the hormetic effects of HG and their mechanisms of action are still unknown."
On Hormesis and Longevity (July 24 2008)
A nice overview of hormesis: "Aging is characterized by a stochastic accumulation of molecular damage, progressive failure of maintenance and repair, and consequent onset of age-related diseases. Applying hormesis in aging research and therapy is based on the principle of stimulation of maintenance and repair pathways by repeated exposure to mild stress. In a series of experimental studies we have shown that repetitive mild heat stress has anti-aging hormetic effects on growth and various other cellular and biochemical characteristics of human skin fibroblasts undergoing aging in vitro. These effects include the maintenance of stress protein profiles, reduction in the accumulation of oxidatively and glycoxidatively damaged proteins, stimulation of the proteasomal activities for the degradation of abnormal proteins, improved cellular resistance to ethanol, hydrogenperoxide and ultraviolet-B rays, and enhanced levels of various antioxidant enzymes. Anti-aging hormetic effects of mild heat shock appear to be facilitated by reducing protein damage and protein aggregation by activating internal antioxidant, repair and degradation processes."
Alcor Is Hiring (July 23 2008)
I notice that Alcor is hiring: "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. At that meeting a funding offer brought forward by board member Saul Kent was accepted by the Alcor Board after considerable discussion. The funding offer was made by three donors [who] will each contribute $150,000 a year to Alcor for three years, totaling $1,350,000. The funding provides for searches and three years of salary support for a CEO and a Transport Coordinator, who will be responsible for the early stages of the cryopreservation of Alcor patients. ... The practice of cryonics is controversial because today's methods of cryopreservation cannot be reversed by today's technology and because today's laws require that patients be cryopreserved after they are legally 'dead.' As a result, Alcor has to deal with and counter skepticism at times. The CEO should have the knowledge and presence to deal effectively with negative attitudes towards Alcor and the practice of cryonics. ... Alcor offers a competitive salary and comprehensive benefits package. Employees must reside in the greater Phoenix area, or be willing to relocate to Phoenix."
On Arguments Against Longevity (July 23 2008)
From FutureBlogger: "I believe that science and technology will make extreme life extension possible for most of us alive today. ... Some argue that humans living longer will cause overpopulation problems ... Some assume that people will continue to exhibit signs of aging and be decrepit into their hundreds ... Some say that scientific conquest of death would not be satisfying. We would be incomplete; we would lack wisdom ... In conclusion: Most arguments against extreme life extension are based on the [preconceived] idea that it can never happen, or that it shouldn't happen. As science and technology advances, these arguments are waning. Life extension is not new [for] humans; look at our past: from avoiding predators to developing antibiotics, we have always sought to extend our lives. Today's technologies simply expand this scope - live long and stay healthy - this is a worthy goal for all of us."
Yeast and Aging Research (July 22 2008)
Ouroboros looks at the humble yeast in context: "Our understanding of aging in animals owes a great debt to a large body of careful work in a single-celled organism, the brewer's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Indeed, as I've argued before, yeast is one of the two organisms with the strongest credible claim to have started modern biogerontology. An unusually large crop of yeast aging papers have appeared over the last few months, and I thought it would be appropriate to spend a few paragraphs describing them - in honor of this humble organism that rises our bread, ferments our beer, and has done so much to open our eyes to the fundamental mechanisms of aging. ... yeast mutants in worm longevity genes are significantly more likely to be long-lived than randomly chosen mutants - suggesting [that] genes that modulate aging have been conserved not only in sequence, but also in function, over a billion years of evolution. ... Given this functional conservation, it is reasonable to use yeast to help answer questions about aging in general, so long as these questions as cell-biological in scope."
New York Times on Sirtris (July 22 2008)
The New York Times looks at Sirtris Pharmaceuticals: "The hope is that activating sirtuins in people would, like a calorically restricted diet in mice, avert degenerative diseases of aging like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's. There is no Food and Drug Administration category for longevity drugs, so if the company is to submit a drug for approval, it needs to be for a specific disease. Nonetheless, longevity is what has motivated the researchers and what makes the drugs potentially so appealing. Dr. Christoph Westphal, the chief executive of Sirtris, said of the potential of the drugs, 'I think that if we are right, this could extend life span by 5 or 10 percent.' He added that his goal was to develop drugs against specific diseases, with the extension of life being 'almost a side effect of our medicine.'" There you have the most serious problem facing longevity science today: that its direct application is not permitted by the FDA. Until this changes no serious investment will be made in the US to bring longevity science to the clinic. This is a tragedy of so great a scale as to beggar belief.
Thoughts on Mortality and Its Evasion (July 21 2008)
An interesting LiveJournal post: "A person immune to the ravages of old age would still not be immune to death; accident, violence, and other misadventure is perfectly capable of ending even a 25-year-old's life. It simply means that person no longer has a cap on the maximum time he can live, if he so chooses. And that's really what it's all about. Choice. ... If you go into the doctor's office, and he tells you that you have a bacterial infection, which will slowly grow progressively worse until it kills you painfully, then offers you an antibiotic pill that will completely eradicate the infection, I bet you'll take it. Even if you don't fancy the thought of living forever. There's an important point in that. Even folks who don't much want to live forever still probably don't want to die today. Or tomorrow. Someday, perhaps, if that 'someday' is held in the abstract; some future time when things no longer seem interesting. But not today. And that's the point. A solution for aging puts the power to choose in your hands. Old age forces your hand; you don't get the choice to see your grandkids graduate from school, or to celebrate your fiftieth anniversary...the choice is made for you. And I don't see how that benefits anyone."
Growing Blood Vessels (July 21 2008)
Researchers continue to work at the blood vessel problem in tissue engineering. From the BBC: "Scientists have used human cells to grow new blood vessels in a mouse for the first time ... The ability to develop swiftly a new network of tiny blood vessels - known as capillaries - would be a prize for scientists. There are dozens of potential applications in medicine, particularly in the treatment of conditions which involve damage to a tissue's blood supply, such as that to the heart muscle following a heart attack. However, the complex structure of these vessels has slowed progress. ... What's really significant about our study is that we are using human cells that can be obtained from blood or bone marrow rather than removing and using fully developed blood vessels. ... It could certainly assist in the connection of other engineered organs to the body's blood supply. Although this approach is not yet suitable for clinical use, it is interesting that they have demonstrated you have all the elements you need to create a functional network of capillaries from a small amount of blood."