LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
February 16 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.
- The Age of Artificial Brains
- Thinking For the Long Haul
- A Little Political and Regulatory Consideration
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
THE AGE OF ARTIFICIAL BRAINS
File this under "things that presently middle-aged people will live to see even if no further progress in human longevity is ever made."
"'The plan is to engineer the mind by reverse-engineering the brain,' says Dharmendra Modha, manager of the cognitive computing project at IBM Almaden Research Center. ... the major stumbling block to extreme longevity - after the necessary medical technology has been developed - is that the standard issue human brain and body are fragile. Accidents happen, and we're not well equipped to survive them. The technologies that will be developed in the decades following the culmination of the biotechnology revolution will help overcome that limitation. ... Neurons made from exotic nanomaterials could one day enable humans to survive even the most horrendous accident, and as a bonus, provide amazing new capabilities."
THINKING FOR THE LONG HAUL
Thoughts on what has to be done in order to ensure good, practical research and development in longevity medicine starts soon and is still taking ongoing a decade or two decades from now:
"Fundraising and advocacy is important in the here and now - if you don't get started, you don't get started - but you have to think for the long haul. In the broader research community, thinking for the long haul means setting out to build a community of interested, networked researchers. It also means culturing the students who will be researchers of note five or ten years from now. This is one of the goals of the Methuselah Foundation's Undergraduate Research Initiative: it's not just that talented students can help accomplish early SENS research, but it's also a means of teaching the researchers of tomorrow to look at aging as an engineering problem. Some of those students will be a part of the research community working to repair aging in 2015 or 2020. Some will start biotech companies in the years ahead, or contribute their own novel research to the fundamental challenges of reversing the biochemical changes of aging."
A LITTLE POLITICAL AND REGULATORY CONSIDERATION
Sadly, politicians and the vast fleet of unelected government employees wield a great negative influence over the trajectory of your health and the development of future medical technologies. Some thoughts from Fight Aging!:
"If we lived in a world in which the market for research and development of medicine was completely free and unregulated, [debate over which aspects of aging are diseases and which are not] would be an amusing side-show to the process of developing methods of prevention and cure. Unfortunately, all medical research in the US operates in the shadow of the FDA, and treatments for aspects of aging that are not clearly defined and recognized by the slowly-turning wheels of bureaucracy will not be approved for use. Those potential treatments therefore won't be funded for development, and basic research in that area will be lacking - few people are willing to embark upon work that will not attain recognition or profit, and fewer fund it. In this way the FDA and similar regulatory bodies suppress innovation before it has even started."
"Take this for example, in reference to the 'stimulus' bill presently being enacted: Tragically, no one from either party is objecting to the health provisions slipped in without discussion. These provisions reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle, until recently the nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department.
"The goal, Daschle's book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept 'hopeless diagnoses' and 'forgo experimental treatments,' and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system. ... Daschle says health-care reform 'will not be pain free.' Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt."
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/
Heart Cells From iPS Cells (February 13 2009)
Another proof of principle in the bag for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells: "A little more than a year after [scientists] showed they could turn skin cells back into stem cells, they have pulsating proof that these 'induced' stem cells can indeed form the specialized cells that make up heart muscle. ... [the] research team showed that they were able to grow working heart-muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) from induced pluripotent stem cells, known as iPS cells. The heart cells were originally reprogrammed from human skin cells ... It's an encouraging result because it shows that those cells will be useful for research and may someday be useful in therapy. If you have a heart failure patient who is in dire straits - and there are never enough donor hearts for transplantation - we may be able to make heart cells from the patient's skin cells, and use them to repair heart muscle. That's pretty exciting ... It's also a few more discoveries away. The researchers used a virus to insert four transcription factors into the genes of the skin cell, reprogramming it back to an embryo-like state. Because the virus is taken up by the new cell, there is a possibility it eventually could cause cancer, so therapies from reprogrammed skin cells will likely have to wait until new methods are perfected. Still, the iPS cardiomyocytes should prove immediately useful for research."
Advances in Targeting and Manipulation (February 13 2009)
Interesting research: the cutting edge is becoming quite sophisticated. "Current treatments for diseases like cancer typically destroy nasty malignant cells, while also hammering the healthy ones. Using new advances in synthetic biology, researchers are designing molecules intelligent enough to recognize diseased cells, leaving the healthy cells alone. ... We basically design molecules that actually go into the cell and do an analysis of the cellular state before delivering the therapeutic punch ... When you look at a diseased cell (e.g. a cancer cell) and compare it to a normal cell, you can identify biomarkers - changes in the abundance of proteins or other biomolecule levels - in the diseased cell ... [the] research team has designed molecules that trigger cell death only in the presence of such markers. ... A lot of the trick with developing effective therapeutics is the ability to target and localize the therapeutic effect, while minimizing nonspecific side effects."
Legalities Make Organizing Cryopreservation Hard (February 12 2009)
Thanks to bureaucrats who don't think people should be allowed to make their own decisions, a great deal of risk attends the organization of cryopreservation. Take this case for example: "Alcor member A-1407 suffered cardiac arrest while snorkeling in Barbados and was subsequently pronounced legally dead. He was traveling with a companion who knew to contact Alcor immediately. Because of the circumstances and the local legal requirements, an autopsy was unavoidable. After some negotiation, the coroner limited the investigation to the minimum necessary to determine the cause of death (heart attack), and he did not touch the brain. Alcor received good cooperation from a funeral director, who had once attended a seminar on cryonics. ... The paperwork required to transport the patient was extensive, and necessitated the police conclude their investigation. Alcor involved the local US embassy to expedite the process, and the Deputy Consul in particular was quite helpful." Cryonics has a lot in common with the right to choose the time and method of one's own death - a right denied to most people in the western world. In a truly free country, a person would be free to arrange their own cryopreservation at any time they chose, and so maximize the chances of success. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the US.
Transhumanism and Cryonics (February 12 2009)
Depressed Metabolism would like to see some distance put between transhumanism and cryonics, which seems to be a common variation on making a field more approachable by jettisoning the visionaries who created it in the first place: "The association of cryonics with 'transhumanism' seems inevitable but is problematic. It seems inevitable because cryonics should be most attractive to people with a very positive perspective on the future capabilities of technology. Barring rapid advances in mitigating aging, cryonics offers the only credible option for transhumanists to become a part of that future. It is unfortunate because it can have adverse effects on the objective of making cryonics a part of conventional medicine, and further alienates people who are open to the idea of human cryopreservation but fear the future." I can't say I agree with this overall strategy. You don't grow by competing for existing, blinkered viewpoints; rather, you grow by creating new viewpoints. Expanding the bounds of the debate and creating acceptance for new possibilities are the best ways forward. Work to push the boundaries out as far as possible, or else you'll settle into the rut of little progress and general mediocrity.
Another Good Reason to Avoid Metabolic Syndrome (February 11 2009)
Metabolic syndrome and then type 2 diabetes appear to be the most avoidable of age-related conditions: don't get fat and exercise regularly. It's not rocket science. Here's another good reason to keep up with good health practices: "cognitive functioning abilities drop as average blood sugar levels rise in people with type 2 diabetes. ... The tests used in the study measured several aspects of memory function. For example, we tested one's ability to switch back and forth between memory tasks or to 'multitask,' an important skill for people needing to manage their diabetes. ... The results showed that a 1 percent increase in [average blood glucose levels] corresponded to slightly lower scores on tests of psychomotor speed, global cognitive function, memory and multiple task management. ... One of the little known complications of type 2 diabetes is memory decline leading to dementia, particularly Alzheimer's dementia. This study adds to the growing evidence that poorer blood glucose control is strongly associated with poorer memory function and that these associations can be detected well before a person develops severe memory loss."
Another Significant Mouse Longevity Mutation (February 11 2009)
Via EurekAlert! which also provides a link to the open access PDF of the paper: "mice lacking the protein AT1A live substantially longer than normal mice. As drugs that antagonize AT1A are currently used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure, the authors suggest that future studies should investigate whether such drugs prolong life in humans. Further analysis revealed that the increased lifespan in mice lacking AT1A was likely a result of decreased oxidative damage to cells, a key factor in ageing, and increased levels of genes involved in cell survival (such as Sirt3). ... At 29 months, when all wild-type animals died, 17 AT1A-deficient mice (85%) were still alive. These remaining mice lived for an additional 7 months. ... The life span of the AT1A-deficient mice was approximately 26% longer than controls." It's nice to see that the researchers carefully controlled for calorie intake - this isn't an accidental form of calorie restriction.
Registration Open For 4th SENS Conference (February 10 2009)
The 4th Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) conference is open for registration and abstract submission. SENS4 is "to be held at Queens' College, Cambridge, England on September 3rd-7th 2009. The early registration and abstract submission deadlines are both June 15th. All details, including forms for abstract submission and online registration, are at the conference website ... The preliminary program already has 35 confirmed speakers, all of them world leaders in their field. As for previous SENS conferences, the emphasis of this meeting is on "applied gerontology" - the design and implementation of biomedical interventions that may, jointly, constitute a comprehensive panel of rejuvenation therapies, sufficient to restore middle-aged or older laboratory animals (and, in due course, humans) to a youthful degree of physiological robustness. ... In addition, there will be at least a dozen short talks selected from submitted abstracts, as well as poster sessions each evening. Authors of short talks and posters will, like the invited speakers, be invited to submit a paper summarising their presentation for the proceedings volume, which will be published in the high-impact journal Rejuvenation Research early in 2010."
The End of ALT-711 / Alagebrium (February 10 2009)
Alagebrium is an AGE-breaker, a compound that dissolves some forms of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), compounds implicated in the damage of aging. Unfortunately, the specific types of AGEs affected by alagebrium, also known as ALT-711, are more important in rats than humans. The promising results in animals were never replicated in human studies. It now seems that the company running human trials to find some beneficial use for alagebrium is giving up the ghost: "Synvista Therapeutics, Inc. today announced that, following a review of its clinical development portfolio and its current financial status, the Board of Directors and management have determined that it is in the best
interest of the Company to focus its resources on maximizing the value of
its diagnostic assets and to terminate all ongoing clinical trials of its
product candidates alagebrium ... In light of the Company's cash
position and current negative economic and capital markets conditions, if
the Company is unable to enter into such transactions in a timely manner,
the Company's ability to continue operations beyond the second quarter of
2009 is in doubt."
Ouroboros on Intermittent Fasting (February 09 2009)
Intermittent fasting (IF) as an alterative approach to obtaining the health benefits of calorie restriction (CR) seems to be attracting more research interest these days, though given the comparatively sparse studies and variation in results, I think it's early to be guessing whether IF is better or worse than straight calorie restriction as a practice in humans. The most interesting result to date is that CR and IF work in quite different ways, in worms at least - not what I would have expected. From Ouroboros: researchers "established a fasting diet regimen in C. elegans to study molecular pathways involved in fasting induced longevity. They found that alternate day fasting (ADF) had a 40.4% increase in lifespan, and intermittent fasting (IF: every two days) had a 56.6% increase in lifespan over ad libitum fed worms. In contrast, chronic CR only increased lifespan by an average of 13.2%. CR and IF may have similar effects on lifespan, but results reported in this paper indicate that signals in each of these processes are distinct. skn-1 and pha-4 have been shown to be essential genes in the CR longevity phenotype, but are dispensable in IF longevity."
Transhumanism at the Global Spiral (February 09 2009)
The February 2009 issue of the Global Spiral is a collective reply by transhumanist writers to earlier disparagement from conservative religious thinkers. A piece by biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is amongst the articles: "What is realistic is to work toward anti-aging medicine as an engineer would take on an engineering problem: repairing and reversing aging and making the damage already caused by metabolism harmless. ... Two thirds of all deaths worldwide, and about 90% of all deaths in the developed world, are from causes that only rarely kill young adults. These causes include Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and most cancers. They are age-related because they are expressions of the later stages of aging, occurring when the molecular and cellular damage that has accumulated in the body throughout life exceeds the level that metabolism can tolerate. Moreover, before it kills them, aging imposes on most elderly people a long period of debilitation and disease. For these reasons, aging is inarguably the most prevalent medically-relevant phenomenon in the modern world and the primary ultimate target of biomedical research. ... Unfortunately, the regenerative medicine approach to combating aging is not yet being adequately pursued by major funding bodies: only a small number of laboratories worldwide are funded (either publicly or privately) to develop therapies that could rejuvenate aged but otherwise undamaged tissues."