LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 01 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: Last Day to Vote in the Amex Members Project
- Rejuvenation Research For August 2008
- On Restoring the Aging Thymus
- Aubrey de Grey in Belgium, October 1st
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
REMINDER: LAST DAY TO VOTE IN THE AMEX MEMBERS PROJECT
Labor Day, Monday September 1st, is the last day to vote on the top 25 Amex Members Project submissions, one of which is going to get $1.5 million in philanthropic funding. One of those submissions is a longevity science initiative proposed by the Methuselah Foundation volunteers, and over the past two weeks the community has enthusiastically voted it into to the top 25 projects. It is by far the most discussed project as well, which means we're in with a good chance of funding:
If you haven't voted, today is the day - see the link above for details and instructions. If this longevity science project remains in the top 25, then the next phase begins on September 9th: whittling down the 25 finalists to the five final projects that will receive funding.
REJUVENATION RESEARCH FOR AUGUST 2008
The latest issue of the Rejuvenation Research journal is available online. I picked out a couple of papers that focus on the nuts and bolts of pushing aging cells to perform greater feats of regeneration. Take a look and see what you think:
ON RESTORING THE AGING THYMUS
Our immune systems fade with age for a number of reasons. One is that specialized memory cells expand to take up resources at the expense of cells capable of fighting new threats. Another is that the thymus, source of immune cells such as T-lymophocytes, greatly diminishes its output with age in a process called involution. This is no doubt a evolutionary adaption designed to protect you from damaged cells in later life - much like the fall-off in stem cell activity - but what if we could reverse it?
"Progressive thymic involution is responsible for the fact that elderly individuals have very poor thymic function. They produce very little T-Lymphocytes and because of that they are more susceptible to infections, cancer, and autoimmune disease.
"We also found that one major characteristic of the thymus found nowhere else in [the] lymphoid organs is the expression of a protein called Wnt4. We hypothesised that Wnt4 had a role in T-Lymphocyte development and that by providing high levels of Wnt4 to hematopoietic progenitor cells we would enhance [production of immune cells]. That is how it began.
"We did two series of experiments. In the first set, we induced over-expression of Wnt4 in hematopoietic stem cells and found that compared to mice that received standard cells those that received cells producing high levels of Wnt4 had a bigger thymus and produced 3-4 times more T-Lymphocytes."
One way of dealing with a limited resource problem - which is the aged immune system in a nutshell - is to expand the resource. That is starting to look quite plausible.
AUBREY DE GREY IN BELGIUM, OCTOBER 1ST
Here's something for the European readers: biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey will be speaking at the University of Ghent and in Brussels on October 1st and 2nd. The first day is a round of more formal conference presentations, and the second day is a set of meetings with press, local volunteers, and engineered longevity advocates. This French-language site has the details:
Wednesday, October 1st 11:30AM-1:00PM in the Department for Molecular Biomedical Research of the University of Ghent
Conference: Prospects for defeating aging altogether
Jozef Schell seminar room
Fiers-Schell-Van Montagu building
UGent - VIB
BE-9052 Ghent (Zwijnaarde)
Info: Dr. C. Chen (+32 9 33 13 702)
Free entrance. Everybody is welcome.
Wednesday, October 1st 8:00PM-10:30PM in a conference room in the Natural Sciences Museum in Brussels
Conference and dinner: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence: when will we have the last International day of the Elderly?
Museum of Natural Sciences
Rue Vautier 29
Phone (museum): 02 627 42 38
Info: Didier Coeurnelle (+ 32 2 410 59 56) and Sven Bulterijs (+ 32 495 31 49 99)
Free entrance. Everybody is welcome. If you want to join the dinner, a participation fee will be required.
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/
Insight Into the Deathist Viewpoint (August 29 2008)
Plenty of people never get over their acceptance of death. A FutureBlogger post here offers some insight into the better half of the deathist position: someone who is happy to step aside and let progress continue, but doesn't quite understand why anyone would want to greatly extend the healthy human life span. "Since being exposed to the idea of extreme life extension, which admittedly was only several months ago, I've found myself reacting in a more skeptical and reactionary manner than I often do when confronted with other radical new futuristic ideas and technologies. When I read about possibilities of faster than light travel, I get excited. Predictions of nano-assemblers make me hopeful. I find designs for colonies on the Moon and Mars fascinating. But when I read about trends in regenerative medicine and nanotechnology that some experts believe will conquer death, I am not enthusiastic. Instead I become very skeptical, nervous and even angry. On one level, I am surprised that I could be anything other than overjoyed that ending death could be a possibility, I very much enjoy life and, as a living organism, I have a strong instinct to stay alive. Yet I find it extremely difficult to wrap my head around the idea of life without death."
Thinking About Replacing the Brain (August 29 2008)
Some thoughts on the decades following the biotechnology revolution from FutureBlogger: once nanotechnology is as far advanced as biotechnology is today, what sorts of capabilites start to look plausible? "By the mid-2030s, we could be replacing brain cells with damage-resistant nanomaterials that process thoughts much faster than today's biological brains. ... The new brain would include our same consciousness, memories and personality that existed before the conversion, but it would run much faster and would increase our memory a thousand-fold. ... a daily pill would supply nanomaterials and instructions for nanobots to format new neurons and position them next to existing biological brain cells to be replaced. These changes would be unnoticeable to us, but within six months, we would be enjoying our new brain. ... Should a person with the new damage-resistant brain die in an accident, their body could be a total loss, but the brain would survive. Biological brains die within minutes after the heart stops; our new brain will simply turn itself off and wait for a new power supply. All memories and consciousness would remain intact after a fatal accident. Rescue workers would remove the brain from the deceased body and reinstall it into a newly-cloned body." A lot of work remains to be accomplished before the golden future becomes a reality - first things first.
Vote For Amex Funding For Longevity Science (August 28 2008)
The Methuselah Foundation volunteers are looking for more signatures in the next five days to help put the "Undergrads Fighting Age Related Disease" project high in the top 25 Amex Members Projects - and thus eligible for some of the $2.5 million in funding offered by American Express. There are five days left to put your name to this project in support: 1200 signatures have been gathered in the past two weeks, putting longevity science solidly in the running. At least that many more votes are needed before voting closes - which is where you and your friends come in. Visit the Methuselah Foundation blog or the project Facebook group to find out how to sign up - or just click through to this project and follow the directions. You don't have to be an American Express member, but you do have to be a US resident. One last thing: it's important to note that of all the projects submitted to date, Undergrads Fighting Age Related Disease has by far the most comments. This counts heavily in the final selection, so jump into the project comments section and tell the world why you support longevity science and the defeat of age-related disease.
Another Advance In Reprogramming Cells (August 28 2008)
As ScienceDaily notes, researchers "report having achieved what has long been a dream and ultimate goal of developmental biologists - directly turning one type of fully formed adult cell into another type of adult cell. ... the team is able to turn mouse exocrine cells, which make up about 95 percent of the pancreas, into precious and rare insulin-producing beta cells. ... Unlike the process involved in creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) [this] direct reprogramming technique does not require turning adult cells into stem cells and then figuring out how to induce them to differentiate into a desired cell type. ... We're intrigued by the possibility that this approach, which has worked for pancreatic insulin-producing cells, could be more widely applied to many kind of cells, especially those that are lost in disease or following injury. And at the same time, we are exploring the possibility of using this general approach in a clinical context to make new beta cells for patients."
Ouroboros In Search Of Scientist Bloggers (August 27 2008)
Chris Patil is in search of co-authors for the science of aging blog Ouroboros: "I originally conceived of Ouroboros as a community weblog for biogerontologists - which meant, primarily, that it would serve the community, but it was also my hope that others within the community would want to pitch in. So far so good on the primary mission, but I've been remiss in recruiting other biologists to contribute to the content on the web site. Furthermore, as I get busier and busier with science, it gets harder and harder to stay on top of the literature, and the primary mission sometimes suffers as well. So: Do you want to write for Ouroboros? The three main criteria are as follows: (a) Be a working scientist in a field relevant to the biology of aging. (b) Have strong English writing skills, and a perfectionist streak about your prose. (c) Be willing and able to commit to writing a ~500-word post based on a recent journal article about the biology of aging, around once a week. ... If you’re not interested in writing but are still interested in pitching in, there's another job to be filled: 'beach-comber.' I follow the literature through a system of PubMed RSS feeds, but I don’t scour the journals' tables of contents as thoroughly or rapidly as I'd like. So there's definitely room for a few folks to comb through the ToCs of journals as they're released."
An Interview With Doug Melton (August 27 2008)
The Technology Review interviews researcher Doug Melton: "If a patient has Parkinson's disease, their dopamine-producing cells are gone. We don't understand anything about what makes those cells go away - the field is kind of stuck because you can't watch the progression of the disease. Stem cells can make neurons in a dish. Imagine you have iPS cells from a healthy person and from a Parkinson's patient. If you make dopamine neurons from both sets of cells in separate dishes, you can look at what went wrong with the diseased stem cell. The same approach will work with different degenerative diseases, such as diabetes or ALS. ... I think it will change the way degenerative diseases are studied - we'll reduce the whole process of disease to a petri dish. Within a few years, researchers the world over should have access to disease-specific cells that can be turned into cell types defective in a particular disease. ... Science clearly works best when you have a lot of bright, motivated people working on these problems. The institute has sent thousands of human embryonic stem-cell lines to hundreds of labs all over the world. We like to think that has been helpful in encouraging basic research on embryonic stem cells."
Microglia Versus Alzheimer's (August 26 2008)
Researchers are attempting to convince the body's defences to attack the amyloid plaques of Alzheimer's disease (AD): "by stimulating a brain cell called a microglia the cells will partially engulf the senile plaques ... [this is] the first time that this phenomenon, believed to take place in living brain, has been duplicated in the laboratory. ... the plaques themselves are not sufficient microglial activators. But when the microglia were treated with inflammatory stimulants, they attacked the plaques. ... In AD patients, microglia are not coping with the plaque build-up. Therefore plaques accumulate faster than the microglia can digest them. If we can enhance microglial digestion of these plaques, we will have a fighting chance to eliminate AD ... The next step is to find a therapeutic drug that will stimulate the microglia to devour the plaques." Time will tell whether new methods of removing amyloid prove to be as futile as the one method demonstrated to date.
Further Explorations in Calorie Restriction (August 26 2008)
Via Science News, something for those of us interested in the biochemistry of calorie restriction: "Less food doesn't always mean less energy. Restricting the diet of yeast cells makes them live about 30 percent longer than normal, scientists have known. But new research shows that these calorie-restricted cells make just as much ATP - the energy currency of cells - as do yeast cells fed a normal diet. The cells have just as much energy available, so [it's] not a starvation; it's just a specific sort of remodeling of the cells' metabolism in a way that also causes the organism to live longer ... the cells cut back on making lipids and instead rerouted energy to making ATP ... Normally, lipid molecules such as free fatty acids accumulate in yeast cells. This impairs the cells and can even cause them to self-destruct. So diverting energy away from making these lipids could help explain why calorie restriction prolongs the cells' lifespan. ... that some of the changes in the cells stimulate mitochondria, the 'power plants' of cells. As a consequence, these mitochondria churn out free radicals such as hydrogen peroxide at doses too low to do much damage to the cells but high enough to activate the cells' stress-response proteins. These groups of proteins go around fixing damage in the cells, a kind of house cleaning that can also help the cells live longer."
Defining Pluripotency (August 25 2008)
You have to keep an eye on what's going on in infrastructural science. It's the improvements in cost, accuracy, and efficiency - that tend not to get as much press - that create an environment in which real breakthroughs can happen. Take this for example, via GEN News: "An international team of investigators determined that pluripotent stem cell lines display significant chemical similarity. The cell samples used in the study all had a particular protein-protein network in common. ... the profiles uniquely characteristic of the pluripotent populations, whether they came from embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent cells. The researchers also found these profiles were shared by mouse embryonic stem cells, induced mouse pluripotent stem cells, and human oocytes. Detailed analysis showed that the interacting protein elements can be used to predict whether genetically induced stem cells will be pluripotent." Standardization is another thing to watch for - it will certainly speed things up.
The Bad Trends (August 25 2008)
There are plenty of good trends in medicine research and development. The trend in bioinformatics and computational power, for example. Unfortunately, some of the bad trends are blocking movement of research into the clinic. Via FuturePundit: "Why do terminally ill patients have to wait so long to get access to the only treatments that hold any promise of saving their lives? And why is it not their right to decide? ... The FDA approved just 16 new drugs last year, and is on pace to approve only 18 this year. That's down from a high of 53 in 1996 and 39 in 1997. ... This trend does not bode well for the development of rejuvenation therapies. The FDA will hold off approval of an anti-cancer drug for people who have a fatal disease. Never mind that people who have a fatal disease are going to die anyway. The FDA won't let people take a risk when they have little to lose. That makes no sense to me. Rejuvenation therapies are going to treat that fatal disease called aging. Absent those therapies we are all going to die from complications of aging. ... Faced with rising risks of death combined with increasing pain and disablement people should be given wider latitude to try new and unproven therapies." The FDA should torn down completely; it is a roadblock to progress, and the cause of great and ongoing suffering.