LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
March 09 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.
- A Change to the News Links
- Replacing a Damaged Stem Cell Population
- The Instinct to Equality
- Ouroboros Seeks (More) Scientist Bloggers
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
A CHANGE TO THE NEWS LINKS
The spammers of the world - and the tools designed to deal with their garbage - make it increasingly challenging to send legitimate emails that contain links to many different websites. Keeping up the delivery rate of this newsletter is a continual process of discovery, and easily the most work generated in the process of maintaining the Longevity Meme and Fight Aging!.
In the interests of making sure that more of you actually receive the Longevity Meme Newsletter, and to reduce my workload, I've made a long overdue change to the headline links - they now point back to the Longevity Meme site. From there you can click through to the actual article, and on the way gain the benefit of the supporting links that define terms or reference relevant past news.
REPLACING A DAMAGED STEM CELL POPULATION
Researchers have in recent years managed to "reboot" damaged human immune systems to an undamaged state by destroying and then replacing the immune stem cell population. It seems that this strategy has more general application, as illustrated by recent work on muscle stem cells:
"Adult stem cells are given a gene that makes them resistant to chemotherapy, which is used to clean out damaged cells and allow the new stem cells to take hold. ... The world-first procedure has been successfully used to regrow muscles in a mouse model, but it could be applied to all tissue-based illnesses in humans such as in the liver, pancreas or brain, the researchers say."
"Destroy the old and replace with the new: this approach to regeneration is in its infancy, but it holds a great deal of promise for dealing with the damage of aging in stem cell populations. All development is focused on specific diseases at the moment - a situation forced upon us by regulatory bodies who deny approval for therapies for aging - but the technology platforms produced can then be applied to age-related damage in a more enlightened time or place."
"The chemotherapy is the ugly part of the equation for the moment, a deeply unpleasant procedure that no right-minded person would ever undertake without good cause. Fortunately, the development of methods for killing specific cell populations with few or no side effects is also advancing rapidly. One can envisage a future not so many decades away in which our stem cell populations are routinely destroyed and replaced every thirty years or so to eliminate accumulated damage that reduces their effectiveness."
THE INSTINCT TO EQUALITY
A look at what the instinct to equality does to support for longevity science:
"It is not uncommon to see people suggest that efforts to extend healthy life should not take place while there is great suffering and poverty in the world. These is something deeply hardwired into the way our brains work that leads to an instinctive rejection of disparity in wealth - or at least a rejection of that guy over there having more wealth.
"But the instinct that leads to rejecting longevity engineering is a patchy one that leads us falsely. You don't see many of these people giving up their comfortable lifestyle because it is better than poverty. You also don't see many of them decrying the progress of the past century that has led to better medicine - all accomplished while there was much poverty and disease in the world. They accept the beneficial progress that has taken place while at the same time recoiling from more beneficial progress accomplished under the same circumstances. This is an issue rather than a depressing curiosity because widespread support is needed if engineered longevity is to make progress at a rapid pace."
OUROBOROS SEEKS (MORE) SCIENTIST BLOGGERS
The eminently respectable group blog Ouroboros, focused on the biology of aging, is searching for more scientist bloggers.
"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 every two weeks. Writers tend to converge on subjects that interest them, so it would be nice if you had a sense of what sort of pieces you'd like to cover. Our current contributors are working on calorie restriction, transcriptomics and systems biology, telomeres, and mitochondria - but that leaves a lot of ground un-covered."
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
Faking Calorie Restriction (March 06 2009)
Via the Times of India, which somewhat misses the point by focusing on sugar rather than food in general: "over-consumption of sugar is directly linked to ageing. The researchers, however, say that it's not sugar itself that is important in this process, but rather the ability of cells to sense its presence, that affects the lifespan of a person. ... the study found that if they removed the gene for a glucose sensor from yeast cells, they lived just as long as those living on a glucose-restricted diet. This implies that the fate of these cells doesn't depend on what they eat, but on what they think they're eating, according to the researchers. ... It was found that the lifespan of yeast cells increased when glucose was decreased from their diet. ... They then asked whether the increase in lifespan was due to cells decreasing their ability to produce energy or to the decrease in signal to the cells by the glucose sensor. The scientists found that cells unable to consume glucose as energy source are still sensitive to the pro-aging effects of glucose. On the other hand, obliterating the sensor that measures the levels of glucose significantly increased lifespan." It will be interesting to see whether this is also true - and/or useful - in mammalian cells, and perhaps the basis of a different approach for calorie restriction mimetics.
Aspiring to Longevity (March 06 2009)
A somewhat rambling and superficial look at aspirations to longevity, scientific and poetic, from the Vancouver Sun: "Now, say some longevity experts, [greatly extended healthy life] may be within reach of scientists working in air-conditioned labs to unravel the genetic code, map the hidden processes of the immune system, explore nanotechnologies that could make possible repairs to body structures too tiny to see and to develop ways to grow or construct and then safely install new or synthetic body parts. We don't blink at new hip joints, transplanted heart valves or minuscule plastic lenses that unfold inside the eye like flowers following cataract surgery, longevity advocates argue, so what's surprising about the looming possibility of even more extensive and complex replacements? ... We are now beginning to talk about curing old age. It really does look as though there is no fixed, non-changeable upper limit to life span. ... replacing damaged organs to greatly extend the human lifespan by substituting young and healthy for old and failing is no longer science fiction. ... if trends in increasing life expectancy are sustained or accelerated by medical breakthroughs, then it certainly seems plausible to speculate that somebody alive today might indeed still be living in 2159."
The Path to Synthetic Organs (March 05 2009)
Yet another path towards replacement - or even additional, completely novel - organs is examined at EurekAlert!: researchers "have assembled different types of genetically engineered cells into synthetic microtissues that can perform functions such as secreting and responding to hormones, promising more complex biological capabilities than a single cell alone could produce. ... This is like another level of hierarchical complexity for synthetic biology. People used to think of the cell as the fundamental unit. But the truth is that there are collections of cells that can do things that no individual cell could ever be programmed to do. We are trying to achieve the properties of organs now, though not yet organisms. ... While the synthetic tissues today comprise only a handful of cells, they could eventually be scaled up to make artificial organs that could help scientists understand the interactions among cells in the body and might some day substitute for human organs. ... In principal, we might be able to build a stem cell niche from scratch using our techniques, and then study those very well defined structures in controlled environments."
Dopamine Neurons From iPS Cells (March 05 2009)
Via EurekAlert!: "researchers have developed a novel method to remove potential cancer-causing genes during the reprogramming of skin cells from Parkinson's disease patients into an embryonic-stem-cell-like state. Scientists then used the resulting induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to derive dopamine-producing neurons, the cell type that degenerates in Parkinson's disease patients. This marks the first time researchers have generated human iPS cells that have maintained their embryonic stem-cell-like properties after the removal of reprogramming genes. ... Until this point, it was not completely clear that when you take out the reprogramming genes from human cells, the reprogrammed cells would actually maintain the iPS state and be self-perpetuating ... Because [dopamine neurons] reside in the patients' brains, researchers cannot easily access them to investigate how the disease progresses at the cellular level, what kills the cells, or what might prevent cellular damage. Therefore, the ability to create patient-specific iPS cells, derive the dopamine-producing cells, and study those patient-specific cells in the lab could be a great advantage for Parkinson's disease researchers."
Instructing the Immune System (March 04 2009)
The immune system - even an age-damaged, failing immune system - is a powerful tool. The challenge is that we don't really know how to effectively use it; vaccines, for example, are a very crude method of instruction. All this will change in the next decade or two as the biotechnology revolution rolls on, and here is an example of the sort of thing we can look forward to: "while vaccines prepare antibodies to identify an attacker, they often don't give specific instructions on exactly how to bring it down. Some antibodies may successfully hit a pathogen's weak spot, while others may miss the mark entirely. That's part of the reason why it normally takes several weeks or months for some vaccines to build up an effective immune response. Now [researchers] have developed preprogrammed chemicals that bind to antibodies and tell them how to recognize part of a pathogen, known as its epitope. In experiments, the team found that such chemicals prompted a therapeutic immune response that inhibited the growth of two types of tumors in mice. ... It's appealing as an approach. It's a way to get instant immunization as opposed to waiting for kinetics to develop T cell responses." Clinics of the not-so-distant future may well be places where our immune system is enhanced to accurately protect us from cancer, senescent cells, and a far greater range of pathogens than is presently the case.
The Importance of the Stem Cell Environment (March 04 2009)
Research indicates that a future path for stem cell therapies might involve manipulating the cells' immediate environment in ways that reprogram those cells in specific, controllable ways: "We found that adult human mammary stem and progenitor cells exhibit impressive plasticity in response to hundreds of unique combinatorial microenvironments. Our results further suggest that rational modulation of the microenvironmental milieu can impose specific differentiation phenotypes on normal stem or progenitor cells, and perhaps even [restore cancerous cells to normal behavior]. All of this points to the rational manipulation of adult stem and progenitor cells as a promising pathway for beneficial therapies ... Working with unique microenvironment microarrays (MEArrays) [we] can use combinations of proteins from a select tissue to create multiple microenvironments on a single chip about two square centimeters in area ... These results are exciting because they indicate that we can test a large number of effectors and determine which ones to use to direct the fate of adult stem and progenitor cells. This give hope that one day - sooner rather than later - the information could be used for therapy."
Another Media Article on Intermittent Fasting (March 03 2009)
The health benefits of intermittent fasting - practiced as a form of calorie restriction - seem to be the flavor of the week. Here's an article from the Independent: "a mounting body of evidence is hinting strongly at the therapeutic value of intermittent fasting - of taking the occasionally day - weekly or monthly, perhaps - off food altogether. Much of that evidence comes from [a] 'quite large body of results' from animal studies. Mattson explains that in laboratory tests, rats and mice on fasting diets tend to live longer, develop fewer cancers and show reduced cognitive decline in ageing compared with animals with continuous access to food. A few recent human studies seem to back up the view that intermittent fasting, and calorie restriction more generally, are fertile areas for healthcare research. ... Studies on animals suggest this is a protective response. At a cellular level, the dearth of food prompts a mild stress reaction. ... We've seen this with brain cells and also liver and heart cells. Mild stress prompts an increase in production of stress-resistant proteins ... Thanks to almost universally encouraging results from animal studies, several are already under way or in the pipeline. It's not inconceivable that in the next few years doctors will be recommending intermittent fasting in the same breath as five-a-day and regular exercise."
Sidestepping the Blood Vessel Issue (March 03 2009)
A major challenge in tissue engineering lies in generating the intricate network of blood vessels necessary for any mass of tissue. Researchers are making progress on strategies to deal with that issue, however: "Efforts to use tissue engineering to generate whole organs have largely failed primarily due to the lack of available blood vessels. Now we've essentially hijacked an existing structure to overcome this problem ... The researchers capitalized on a portion of the circulatory system shared by animals and humans called microcirculatory beds ... This is an incredible opportunity to bulk-deliver cells that don't just die. Conceivably, we could use this technique at least to supply the synthetic function of an organ by stimulating the cells to form insulin-producing pancreas cells or albumin-producing liver cells. ... The researchers concede, however, that much remains to be done before the technique could be used to generate whole organs. Indeed, [other] methods might be developed that could be more effective. But for now, they've overcome a major hurdle in tissue engineering. ... Eventually science will find a way to fabricate an organ in all its complexity. But in the short term we need to find more options for patients who are dying while waiting for transplants."
Threads Made of Stem Cells (March 02 2009)
The infrastructure technologies required for the application of rapid prototyping to tissue engineering - "printing out" entire organs to order - continue to advance: "A new trick invented by a team of [scientists] has greatly improved the chances for creating artificial tissue - they can weave threads made of stem cells into almost any shape. Ultimately this could lead to artificial transplants, with the resulting synthetic tissue able to adapt to many different purposes. ... Stem cell research is centered around two things--[controlling cellular differentiation] and determining how to structure networks of the cells to create large-scale artificial tissue. There are a number of techniques for doing this, including ink-jet-like printing, but the new method can create 'printed' line-based structures of embryonic stem cells for the very first time. And interestingly it's a technique borrowed from the paint industry: electrospraying. Instead of directing a fluid through a nozzle simply using the force from compressed gas, electrospraying charges the fluid and accelerates it between the nozzle electrode and a distant 'target' electrode--among other things, this allows for fine control of the spraying process."
The Tartan on Aubrey de Grey (March 02 2009)
An article from the Carnegie Mellon student newspaper on biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "People like to characterize me as an immortalist. What I'm interested in doing is helping people from getting sick. ... Life extension research is a controversial topic - partly because the National Institutes of Health (NIH) does not classify aging as a disease. ... Metabolism is not understood well enough to be improved upon, and so it is not possible to prevent damage from occurring. The disease, resulting from large concentrations of damage, can only be reined in for a while - some time can be bought - before other problems stemming from the still-present damage become apparent. Given that it is difficult either to prevent the damage from occurring or to control the effects of damage, de Grey offers a third strategy: limit the damage. As long as damage is kept below a certain threshold, he claims, we can indefinitely postpone the corresponding disease, a process that de Grey calls 'the engineering approach.' ... These [prospective] treatments are what de Grey collectively refers to as SENS, which he opines may lead to 'robust human rejuvenation,' the total circumvention of the aging process. The Methuselah Foundation, of which he is a co-founder, offers a cash prize to the research team that extends the life of the common laboratory mouse."