LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
January 12 2009
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.
- Robert Freitas in Life Extension Magazine
- A Fundraising Reminder
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
ROBERT FREITAS IN LIFE EXTENSION MAGAZINE
I wasn't aware that the Life Extension Foundation funded early work into advanced nanotechnology, such as the designs put forward by researcher and longevity advocate Robert Freitas. You learn something new every day:
"Right now, medical nanorobots are just theory. To actually build them, we need to create a new technology called molecular manufacturing. Molecular manufacturing is the production of complex atomically precise structures using positionally controlled fabrication and assembly of nanoparts inside a nanofactory.
"But now it's time to put our theories to the test. After working closely for three years with Philip Moriarty, one of the leading scanning probe microscopists in the UK, our international colleague is now undertaking direct experiments to build and validate several of our proposed mechanosynthesis tooltips in his laboratory. We are also preparing a research program proposal of our own to solicit additional funding from various US public or private sources to support further mechanosynthesis-related experimental and theory work on a greatly accelerated schedule. We expect these efforts will ultimately lead to the design and manufacture of medical nanorobots for life extension, possibly during the 2020s."
You can find out much more about the designs and theory of medical nanorobots capable of repairing our cells and improving the function of our tissues back in the Fight Aging! archives and at Robert Freitas' website:
A FUNDRAISING REMINDER
It really doesn't seem like more than two years since entrepreneur turned hedge fund manager Peter Thiel made a $3 million matching pledge to the Methuselah Foundation in support of longevity research. The remainder of that pledge expires at the end of this year:
"Thanks to solid fundraising over the years of its existence, the Methuselah Foundation has made a real impact on the course of longevity research. First by influencing the debate within the aging community, engaging the public, and helping to change a stagnant research culture in which no-one could talk about engineering additional longevity without risking their funding. Secondly, through funding SENS research aimed at repairing the known biochemical damage that causes aging and age-related disease. Thirdly, and this is a project for the long term, building a community of younger researchers, the gerontologists of tomorrow, who are very interested in the fastest possible path to reversing aging.
"If you want something done, it's not enough to agitate for it, and it's not enough to have the money. You also need a community of workers. Over a time span of, say, twenty years, I think we'll see many growing bootstrap efforts like the Methuselah Foundation that merge advocacy, fundraising, and cultivation of a research community. This is how a field of research moves from the ideas of a few people to become a self-sustaining culture that gets the job done.
"These are still early days in the grand scheme of things, but that's no reason to let things go at their own pace. Here is a great opportunity to help move things along: push a few dollars in the direction of SENS research and help polish off Peter Thiel's matching fund this year."
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/
Another Compression of Morbidity Podcast (January 09 2009)
The third in the series of podcasts on compression of morbidity is up at SAGE Crossroads: the "obvious benefits for society it will have are that it will decrease the number of dollars we will need in order to keep people in good care, medical care. If people are going to live longer and in good health, they will prolong their contribution to society. They are not going to use medical services which can be costly. Not only costly in terms of the number of years but because increasingly, medical services are high technology and therefore costly. We are going to decrease the number of years of ill health, but we are going to prolong the number of years that people can potentially contribute to society. The gain for society is double both in terms of less expenses incurred but also prolonging contribution of people to their societies, and I can't think of any negative effects. This what people individually want. They want to live as long as possible but in good health. Old age and longevity in ill health is an empty price. Societies want people in good health so that they will contribute and not incur expenses." Which is essentially the argument for any form of healthy life extension.
The Age of the Cyborg (January 09 2009)
The cyborg age is sneaking up on us by way of the tools of tissue engineering and improvements in nanoscale manufacture. Sooner or later most of us will have artificial structures in our bodies - though perhaps not the ones we imagined having when we were young: "With age, the human body wears out. And engineered materials - metals, polymers and ceramics - increasingly help repair or replace injured or destroyed body parts. ... As we become more sophisticated in our ability to design materials, particularly at the nanoscale, we open all kinds of opportunities for repairing damaged body parts. The potential is really unlimited ... Considering the great strides materials engineers are making in developing materials that are readily accepted by the body and that accelerate the process of recovery and healing, the age of the Cyborg seems not so much science fiction as it does science fact - a good thing given the increasing life expectancy and enduring desire to lead active lives."
Most Likely Not Programmed Aging (January 08 2009)
From EurekAlert!: "Two previously identified pathways associated with aging in mice are connected ... The finding reinforces what researchers have recently begun to suspect: that the age-related degeneration of tissues [is] an active, deliberate process rather than a gradual failure of tired cells. Derailing or slowing this molecular betrayal, although still far in the future, may enable us to one day tack years onto our lives ... There is a genetic process that has to be on, and enforced, in order for aging to happen. It's possible that those rare individuals who live beyond 100 years have a less-efficient version of this master pathway." I suspect that one reason that theories of programmed aging remain somewhat popular is that the reactions of our cells to a slow stochastic accumulation of biochemical wear and tear do look something like the unfolding of a program. Gene expression steadily changes as the damage mounts. So you see research like this, said to support programmed aging but which could just as well support aging as an accumulation of damage. Researchers are linking changes in gene expression previously noted to be important to aging and longevity, but without evidence of the root cause of these changes, it's premature to declare aging programmed.
Provoking Regeneration (January 08 2009)
From EurekAlert!: "When a person has a disease or an injury, the bone marrow mobilises different types of stem cells to help repair and regenerate tissue. ... new research [shows] that it may be possible to boost the body's ability to repair itself and speed up repair, by using different new drug combinations to put the bone marrow into a state of 'red alert' and send specific kinds of stem cells into action. In the new study, researchers tricked the bone marrow of healthy mice into releasing two types of adult stem cells - mesenchymal stem cells, which can turn into bone and cartilage and that can also suppress the immune system, and endothelial progenitor cells, which can make blood vessels and therefore have the potential to repair damage in the heart. ... The researchers were able to choose which groups of stem cells the bone marrow released, by using two different therapies. Ultimately, the researchers hope that their new technique could be used to repair and regenerate tissue, for example when a person has heart disease or a sports injury, by mobilising the necessary stem cells. The researchers also hope that they could tackle autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, where the body is attacked by its own immune system, by kicking the mesenchymal stem cells into action."
More on Tissue Engineering of Bone Marrow (January 07 2009)
From the Economist: "tissue engineers have mastered the arts of artificial skin and bladders, and recently they have managed to rig up a windpipe for a patient whose existing one was blocked. But more complicated organs elude them. And simpler ones, too. No one, for instance, has managed to grow bone marrow successfully. At first sight, that is surprising. The soft and squishy marrow inside bones does not look like a highly structured tissue, but apparently it is. That does not matter for transplants. If marrow cells are moved from one bone to another they quickly make themselves at home. But it matters for research. Bone marrow plays an important role in the immune system, and also in bodily rejuvenation. Stem cells that originate within the marrow generate various sorts of infection-fighting blood cells and also help to repair damaged organs. However, many anti-cancer and anti-viral drugs are toxic to marrow. That leaves patients taking them susceptible to disease and premature ageing. Experiments intended to investigate this toxicity using mice have proved unsatisfactory. Nicholas Kotov of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his colleagues have therefore been trying to grow human marrow artificially."
Continued Improvement in iPS Cells (January 07 2009)
Researchers continue to rapidly improve the technology of production for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells: a "research team has discovered a more efficient way to create [iPS] cells, derived from mouse fibroblasts, by using a single virus vector instead of multiple viruses in the reprogramming process. The result is a powerful laboratory tool and a significant step toward the application of embryonic stem cell-like cells for clinical purposes such as the regeneration of organs damaged by inherited or degenerative diseases ... Prior research studies have required multiple retroviral vectors for reprogramming - steps that depended on four different viruses to transfer genes into the cells' DNA - essentially a separate virus for each reprogramming gene ... Upon activation these genes convert the cells from their adult, differentiated status to what amounts to an embryonic-like state. However, the high number of genomic integrations - 15 to 20 - that typically occurs when multiple viruses are used for reprogramming, poses a safety risk in humans, as some of these genes [can] cause cancer. ... The major milestone [was] combining the four vectors into a single 'stem cell cassette' containing all four genes. The cassette (named STEMCCA) [was] able to generate iPS cells more efficiently - 10 times higher than previously reported studies."
More on Skulachev's Research and SkQ1 (January 06 2009)
One of the items I'd like to see reasonably settled soon is whether longevity can be reliably engineered by targeting antioxidant compounds to the mitochondria and thereby slowing the accumulation of damaged mitochondria and their contribution to aging. We have good demonstrations that it can, and good demonstrations that it can't. Something interesting is clearly going on (as indicated by mice living significantly longer than they ordinarily would), but the details are still fuzzy. One of the lines of this research I've been following for a while is the work of Skulachev and colleagues in Russia, who seem to have developed an ingested compound called SkQ1 that can perform the mitochondrial targeting trick without the need for gene engineering of the sort employed by Rabinovitch. Here's the latest paper from that group: "Very low (nano- and subnanomolar) concentrations of 10-(6'-plastoquinonyl) decyltriphenylphosphonium (SkQ1) were found to prolong lifespan of [an] insect (Drosophila melanogaster) and a mammal (mouse). ... The lifespan increase is accompanied by rectangularization of the survival curves (an increase in survival is much larger at early than at late ages) and disappearance of typical traits of senescence or retardation of their development. Data summarized here and in the preceding papers of this series suggest that mitochondria-targeted antioxidant SkQ1 is competent in slowing down execution of an aging program responsible for development of age-related senescence."
Enthusiasm For Regenerating Teeth (January 06 2009)
From the Seattle Times: "the real news about the future of dentures is that there isn't much of one. ... It turns out wisdom teeth are prolific sources of adult stem cells needed to grow new teeth for you. From scratch. In your adult life, as you need them. In the near future. ... Regenerating a whole tooth is no less complicated than rebuilding a whole heart ... Not only do you have to create smart tissue (nerves), strong tissue (ligaments) and soft tissue (pulp), you've got to build enamel - by far the hardest structural element in the body. And you have to have openings for blood vessels and nerves. And you have to make the whole thing stick together. And you have to anchor it in bone. And then you have to make the entire arrangement last a lifetime in the juicy stew of bacteria that is your mouth. It's a nuisance, but researchers are closing in on it. They think the tooth probably will be the first complex organ to be completely regenerated from stem cells. In part, this is because teeth are easily accessible. ... Nobody is predicting when the first whole tooth will be grown in a human, although five to 10 years is a common guess."
A Look Back at a Year of Stem Cell Research (January 05 2009)
A retrospective narrative via PhysOrg.com provides a good look at the recent pace and excitement of stem cell research: "Early in 2008 the 32-year-old postdoctoral student from France joined a biomedical revolution by reprogramming human skin cells back to their embryonic origin, just as James Thomson in Madison and Shinya Yamanaka in Japan did when they made headlines in November 2007. Now Si-Tayeb and his supervisor, Stephen A. Duncan, a Medical College professor, were engaged in the next great race. In 2008, scientists began trying to turn the new reprogrammed cells into all of the building blocks doctors might use to treat a multitude of diseases. Cardiac cells to repair a damaged heart. Insulin-producing cells to help diabetics. Photo receptor cells to restore lost vision. The work would be crucial if stem cells were to fulfill their promise and begin a new wave of medicine."
An Interview With Jason Silva (January 05 2009)
An interesting interview: "I believe humans have always overcome their biological limitations. It is what has brought us out of the caves and onto the moon. We have cured ourselves of diseases, we fly remarkable machines through the air at 500 miles per hour. We communicate instantly and wirelessly across the world. Why is it such a stretch to imagine us re-programming our biochemistry (much like computer software) so that we may alleviate suffering, decay, and death? ... Death is a profound tragedy. Human consciousness is basically a profound (and valuable) pattern of information residing in a complex biological machine. This machine can repair itself for a certain period, but over time it wears out and decays at a faster rate than it can fix itself. This is why we die. Today, however, we are at the verge of correcting this. Death is the loss of everything that matters - It is our memories, our loves, the images and dreams that define us - the songs that moved us and the films that shaped us. Death takes this all away. I argue that in the same way we feel compelled to preserve the works of Shakespeare and other great works of art, why shouldn't we extend this into our physicality?"