LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 15 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.
- Telomere Length: Health or Aging?
- The Importance of Strategy
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
As I'm sure you've heard, longevity science didn't get into the running for the American Express Members Project funding - despite a tremendous and impressive effort from the online community:
"We pushed the project into the top 25 by vote count, and created a far larger and more interesting discussion than attended any of the other proposals. Unfortunately, the punch line is that the Amex advisors punted on the longevity science in favor of other projects for the final 25. Not ready to hear the message perhaps, or looking for a different format in the project description, or carefully estimating the PR effects of A versus B - we'll never know.
"Serious, long-haul fundraising reason isn't about opportunistically grabbing fruit from the tree - though no-one is going to turn it down when it does happen to show up. You can't depend upon the timetables of other growers. The hard work of fundraising is in setting the stage to grow and harvest your own trees; to culture and create a backdrop that naturally leads to opportunities for seven-figure investments in progress.
"Patient advocacy for research into engineered longevity and the repair of aging is a fundamental part of this process - and that's true at all levels. Whether you are talking about aging research with friends, writing blogs, debating with the scientific community, writing in the established media, or engaging with funding institutions directly, it all goes into creating a zeitgeist in which funding for engineered longevity research is just as expected and understood as funding for cancer science.
"We're not there yet. But I've been watching this whole process for a good few years now, and we're a lot closer than we were even five years ago. We push and the wheel turns; we talk, and ever more people listen to what we have to say. The money for research is starting to flow. It's working - so we keep at it."
TELOMERE LENGTH: HEALTH OR AGING?
Telomeres are protective caps on your chromosomes that shorten with both aging and ill health. What is cause and what is effect?
"There are hints that shortened telomeres might be caused by damage to mitochondria, which is in turn a known root cause of many aspects of degenerative aging. In a recently published study, researchers found that telomere length in the oldest humans is still strongly correlated with health - suggesting that perhaps aging is not the primary correlation here.
"This makes more sense if you think of aging as less of a process and more of an accumulation of biochemical damage. Telomere length seems to be a marker for your personal level of damage, possibly by virtue of its connections to one or more of the primary modes of damage. Many questions remain, however, as to where exactly it fits in the grand scheme of cause and effect."
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGY
Here is another attempt to explain why the way in which researchers approach engineered human longevity is of vital importance to our future health and wellbeing. This explanation involves honey bees, but you'll have to click through to find out why:
"Metabolic processes are no more than the changing operation of our biochemistry, day to day, and across our lives. It is a hugely complex and dynamic metasystem built of many interacting complex systems. Decades of work remain, even taking into account accelerating progress in biotechnology, to understand metabolism to the point of being able to radically change it. This, as I am given to point out, is why many aging researchers are pessimistic about progress: they believe that the only way to extend healthy life is to re-engineer our metabolism. They think, rightly, that this is a huge undertaking as seen from our present vantage point."
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/
Moscow News on Kriorus (September 12 2008)
The Moscow News looks at cryonics provider Kriorus, a Russian group that aims to become the Alcor of their country: "established in 2005 with the help of the Russian Transhumanist Movement, the devotees of which believe in the process of humans becoming 'posthumans' - beings capable of waiving aging and death, and forever forgetting of such problems as disabilities and disease. Such a goal is at present obviously unattainable, but one will find that not just transhumanists or immortalists are striving to complete the research on cryonics - the issue of death and prolonging of life is close to all, and the work on cryonics has been in progress for decades. ... The technology of freezing the body available today is considered to be sufficiently developed, and more or less safe; most of the problems associated with freezing living matter - such as ice crystals appearing in cells and thus causing damage - have been solved. However, it is currently impossible to successfully thaw the body or brain without causing some degree of irreparable damage - and even if it were possible, all you'd have would be a corpse ... To make the lifeless body come to life, far more advanced know-how is required. Cryonicists hope not only to reanimate the body [using technologies yet to be developed], but to remove the initial cause of death or any other problems present at the time of death."
Small Steps Towards Medical Nanorobots (September 12 2008)
As engineered nanoparticles increase in complexity, they will at some point be sophisticated enough to be considered true medical nanorobots. That's still in the future, but you can see that the process is underway: "Scientists have developed nanometer-sized 'cargo ships' that can sail throughout the body via the bloodstream without immediate detection from the body’s immune radar system and ferry their cargo of anti-cancer drugs and markers into tumors that might otherwise go untreated or undetected. ... The idea involves encapsulating imaging agents and drugs into a protective 'mother ship' that evades the natural processes that normally would remove these payloads if they were unprotected ... These mother ships are only 50 nanometers in diameter, or 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and are equipped with an array of molecules on their surfaces that enable them to find and penetrate tumor cells in the body. ... We are now constructing the next generation of smart tumor-targeting nanodevices. We hope that these devices will improve the diagnostic imaging of cancer and allow pinpoint targeting of treatments into cancerous tumors."
Targeting Cancer Stem Cells (September 11 2008)
Given that researchers are making strong progress in both understanding the biochemistry of stem cells and in targeted cell-killing therapies, I don't expect the cancer stem cell hypothesis to remain a hypothesis for more than another few years. "After years of working toward this goal, scientists [have] found a way to isolate cancer stem cells in tumors so they can target the cells and kill them, keeping cancer from returning. A research team led [discovered] that a particular protein only appears in stem cells. Until now, researchers knew of proteins that appeared in both regular cancer cells and stem cells, but none that just identified a stem cell. The group has already begun work to use the protein as a target for a new compound that once developed would kill the stem cells and kill the cancer. By targeting the stem cells, scientists and physicians also would be able to stop the cancer from returning. ... Researchers expect to have initial testing completed to begin the first phase of clinical trials within 5 years ... The compound, if successful in human trials, is expected to be available to the public within 10 years."
On Cancer Stem Cells (September 11 2008)
The Economist looks at cancer stem cells: "The discovery - or, rather, the hypothesis that is now being tested - is that cancers grow from stem cells in the way that healthy organs do. ... Not all investigators support the cancer-stem-cell hypothesis, but the share who do so is growing rapidly. A mere five years ago, few research papers on the subject were presented at big academic meetings. This year there were hundreds at one such meeting alone. Moreover, data from clinical trials based on the hypothesis suggest that it has real value for patients. As a result, drug companies have taken notice and are trying to develop substances that will kill cancer stem cells. ... At the moment, scientists being scientists, few are willing to be anything other than cautious. They have seen too many past cures for cancer vanish in a puff of smoke. The proof needs to come from patients - preferably with them living longer. But if the stem-cell hypothesis is indeed shown to be correct, it will have the great virtue of unifying and simplifying the understanding of what cancer is. And that alone is reason for hope."
The Hostile Wife Phenomenon in Cryonics (September 10 2008)
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this Depressed Metabolism article: it seems like a refugee from the 1960s in many ways, to put it mildly. Nonetheless, I can see it sparking a healthy discussion on choice, autonomy, and responsibility regardless of what you think of the authors' views. "The authors of this article know of a number of high profile cryonicists who need to hide their cryonics activities from their wives and ex-high profile cryonicists who had to choose between cryonics and their relationship. We also know of men who would like to make cryonics arrangements but have not been able to do so because of resistance from their wives or girlfriends. In such cases, the female partner can be described as nothing less than hostile toward cryonics. ... Hopefully, the forgoing analysis will offer some concrete areas of potential conflict, perceived or real, that can be addressed by both emotional reassurance and reason. Identifying the problems is certainly a necessary first step to resolving them." If there's one lesson coming out of all this, it might be "put more thought into signing contracts of great obligation and responsibility than most people seem to."
Using Signals Instead of Cells (September 10 2008)
Some first generation stem cell therapies seem to work because of the chemical signals emitted by implanted cells. An obvious next step is to only use the signals and skip the cells entirely. EurekAlert! notes a step along that path: "This method, developed in laboratory research with pigs, is the first non-cell based therapeutic application of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). It entails using secretions from stem cells. In their studies with pigs, the researchers found that the administration of secretion from stem cells minimized heart injury by enhancing reperfusion therapy (angioplasty and cardiac bypass surgery) and reducing tissue death by another 60%. Heart function was also markedly improved ... Using secretion instead of cells allows us to circumvent many highly intractable problems such as tumour formation, immune compatibility, cell viability, delivery, costs and timeliness." Researchers are still working to understand the signals that drive regeneration, but I imagine that a few years from now we will see tests of artificially produced signal chemicals to stimulate stem cells already present in the body.
Another Glenn Foundation Laboratory (September 09 2008)
The Glenn Foundation is funding a new laboratory at MIT, building upon the Harvard laboratory funded a couple of years ago. "The mission of the Glenn Foundation, founded in 1965 by Paul F. Glenn, is to extend the healthy productive years of life through research on the mechanisms of biological aging. ... The [Foundation] has pledged $5 million over five years to establish a new laboratory in MIT's Department of Biology to study aging. The new Glenn Laboratory for the Science of Aging will be directed by MIT Professor Leonard Guarente, a pioneer in the biology of aging. ... This generous gift from the Glenn Foundation will enable us to expand and intensify the study of critical regulators of aging, such as sirtuins. This work may lead to interventions to extend the healthy, productive period of our lives and forestall frailty and diseases." Laboratories founded with the explicit mission of addressing aging are an important part of the cultural sea change taking place in the aging research community.
Of Monotremes and Mole-Rats (September 09 2008)
An overview from Existence is Wonderful: "So, what is known so far about longevity in mole-rats and echidnae? Well, perhaps not as much as is known about mice, but certainly a fair amount - and the pool of knowledge is growing all the time. ... One theory regarding exceptional longevity in mammals [is] the "membrane pacemaker" theory of metabolism ... Essentially, what this means is that some findings suggest a relationship between metabolic rate and the health over time of the various fatty-acid membrane structures that comprise animal physiology. Animals are, in a sense, made possible by membranes - life is dependent upon being able to direct functional pathways along specific routes, and to contain chemical materials where they are needed (that is, where they can perform their life-sustaining activities). Longer-lived species, according to the membrane pacemaker theory, are likely to have more peroxidation-resistant membrane lipids than shorter-lived species ... naked mole-rat membrane structure actually remains largely unchanged with age, but that the chemical composition of mole-rat membranes more lipid-peroxidation-resistant than that found in mice."
Sarcopenia Versus Dynapenia (September 08 2008)
Is age-related weakness mostly due to the progressive loss of muscle mass called sarcopenia? Some would argue not: "Maximal voluntary force (strength) production declines with age and contributes to physical dependence and mortality. Consequently, a great deal of research has focused on identifying strategies to maintain muscle mass during the aging process and elucidating key molecular pathways of atrophy, with the rationale that the loss of strength is primarily a direct result of the age-associated declines in mass (sarcopenia). However, recent evidence questions this relationship and in this [article] we argue the role of sarcopenia in mediating the age-associated loss of strength (which we will coin as dynapenia) does not deserve the attention it has attracted in both the scientific literature and popular press. Rather, we propose that alternative mechanisms underlie dynapenia (i.e., alterations in contractile properties or neurologic function), and urge that greater attention be paid to these variables in determining their role in dynapenia."
An Update on Catalase in the Mitochondria (September 08 2008)
You might recall the demonstration of extended healthy longevity in mice by localizing the antioxidant catalase to the mitochondria - a strategy replicated by other researchers to some success. Here is an update on that work: "We describe the effects of mitochondrially targeted catalase (MCAT) expression on end-of-life pathology in mice using detailed semiquantitative histopathological evaluation. We previously reported that the median and maximum life spans of MCAT mice were extended relative to those of wild-type littermates. We now report that MCAT expression is associated with reduced malignant [tumor] burden, reduced cardiac lesions, and a trend toward reduced systemic inflammation ... Combined disease burden and comorbidity are also reduced, and MCAT expression is not associated with any detrimental clinical effects. The results suggest that oxidative damage is involved in aging of [mice] via modulation of a subset of age-associated lesions. Antioxidant interventions targeting mitochondria may therefore be a viable strategy for prevention or postponement of some age-associated diseases."