LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 22 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 Charity Auction for a Portrait of Aubrey de Grey
- Failing Memory and the Failing Immune System
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
A CHARITY AUCTION FOR A PORTRAIT OF AUBREY DE GREY
One of the Immortality Institute folk has painted a fine portrait of biomedical gerontologist and longevity advocate Aubrey de Grey, and is presently auctioning it at Ebay. The proceeds are presently planned to go towards the Institute matching fund for an investigation of pulsed laser light as a tool to safely destroy lipofuscin in our cells.
"Lipofuscin, a mix of metabolic byproducts and other compounds that our cells cannot easily break down, builds up in our cells with age. It causes recycling mechanisms to falter and cells to fail, and is one contribution to age-related degeneration. If researchers could get safely break down the dominant forms of lipofuscin, however, we could remove it every couple of decades and thus eliminate this one portion of aging. With this goal in mind, on the one hand you have the LysoSENS approach of searching for bacterial enzymes that will do the job, and on the other hand you have approaches such as the use of pulsed laser light to very selectively break down specific types of molecule without harming anything else nearby. One virtue of the laser approach is that it will be comparatively cheap to establish whether it is in fact useful in this case; perhaps a few tens of thousands of dollars."
You can read more about these two approaches by following the links below:
FAILING MEMORY AND THE FAILING IMMUNE SYSTEM
Here, speculatively, is something else to blame on the ongoing degradation of the immune system with age:
"Inborn immune deficiency, in addition to sudden imposition of immune malfunction in young animals, results in cognitive impairment. As a corollary, immune restoration at adulthood or in the elderly results in a reversal of memory loss. These results, together with the known deterioration of adaptive immunity in the elderly, suggest that memory loss does not solely reflect chronological age; rather, it is an outcome of the gap between an increasing demand for maintenance (age-related risk-factor accumulation) and the reduced ability of the immune system to meet these needs."
Fixing the immune system is a proposition already on the table, and not just for those researchers interested in engineering greater human longevity. With the advance of immunotherapy for the treatment of many age-related conditions, the science of manipulating the immune system to perform specific tasks, researchers in that field will become motivated to repair age-damaged immune systems in order to make their therapies work more effectively.
As it happens, there are a number of potential approaches to repairing or augmenting the aged immune system. If you look back in the Fight Aging! archives, you'll find discussion of a few of them:
The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.
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LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
Ouroboros on Longevity Mutants and Germ Cells (June 19 2009)
Ouroboros likes the recent work on gene expression similarities between somatic cells and germ cells in longevity mutants: "both the germ line and soma are made of cells. How is it that the soma is mortal while the germ line is, for practical purposes, immortal? ... the germ line and soma are maintained in different ways, either in quality or extent. The germ line is doing something differently than the soma, the upshot of which is that the germ line is immortal. ... A strict interpreter of the theory would presume that this 'something' is resource-intensive, so that it wouldn’t be possible to apply the strategy to the soma. It's also possible, however, that it's simply inconsistent with optimal somatic functions ... [but researchers] have shown that in long-lived mutants of the worm C. elegans, somatic tissues start acting like germ line cells. ... Does the soma-to-germ line transition occur in other long-lived mutants, or in calorie restricted animals?" That would be an interesting discovery if it is the case.
Tissue Scaffolds and Rapid Prototyping (June 19 2009)
The two most plausible competing technologies for the tissue engineered growth of functional, complex organs from a patient's own cells are (a) decellularization of an existing organ to obtain its extracellular matrix scaffold, and (b) rapid prototyping of a new scaffold. From ScienceDaily: "Scaffold structures for tissue engineering that allow researchers to grow cells, whether skin, muscle, or even kidney, in a three-dimensional could allow medical science to create natural artificial organs. Such scaffolds are increasingly important for the future direction of regenerative medicine. However, conventional techniques have several limitations. In particular, current scaffold construction lacks full control of the often microscopic pores and their architecture. Tissue engineering usually involves cellular implantation. Cells might be derived from the patient or a donor. They are combined in the laboratory with a degradable scaffold that can then be implanted to replace damaged tissues. The presence of the structure scaffold also triggers the body to rebuild damaged tissue. ... researchers suggest that rapid prototyping overcomes many of the limitations of conventional scaffold techniques, such as stereolithography, which etches a block of material into shape. Rapid prototyping might one day allow kidney, liver and muscle tissues to be constructed in the laboratory from a patient's own cells with close-to-natural detail ready for transplantation."
The Humble Axolotl (June 18 2009)
From MSNBC: "Scientists are genetically modifying a bizarre looking Mexican salamander [in] the hope its ability to regenerate body parts will one day help human amputees. ... It is a darling of researchers since it can regrow injured limbs, jaws, skin, organs and parts of its brain and spinal chord. ... Humans do repair tissue but they don't repair it perfectly whereas the axolotl under certain injury conditions can go into kind of a mode where they repeat the process of the embryo ... After amputation in salamanders, unlike in humans, blood vessels contract quickly and limit bleeding, skin cells work fast to cover the wound site and form what is called a 'blastema,' a collection of stemlike cells that will eventually become the new body part. ... "Now, as we watch a salamander grow back an arm, we are no longer quite as mystified by how it happens. Soon humans might be able to harness this truly awesome ability ourselves ... [Researchers] speculated it may be only be a decade or two until human parts can be regenerated, salamander-like."
The Spread of Ideas on Engineered Longevity (June 18 2009)
It is pleasant to see the ideas of engineered longevity springing up in diverse places, from folk far removed from the core of the present advocacy community. There's a little garbling of concepts in this piece, but overall the fact that it was written and published at all is a promising sign: "Aging is still a fatal disease. Can we prevent it, or even cure it? The aging process is a highly complex biogenetic phenomenon. Some pieces of this process we already know today: with increasing age we accumulate metabolic byproducts, which progressively damage the cell, especially the cell nucleus where all our genetic material resides in the chromosomes' DNA. But aging is no longer considered an immutable fundamental process for which 'nothing can be done.' Any process that hastens age-related decline in health and performance is a component of the aging process that deserves our attention and possible intervention ... Today, the primary aim of a life extension strategy is the application of currently available anti-aging methods in the hope that one lives long enough to benefit from advances in biogenetic sciences when the prevention and cure of aging becomes possible. Research bio-gerontologists project this to happen in about 20-25 years. We are only at the very beginning of performing cellular hygiene, which might potentially lead to the cure of aging."
Update on ACT and Retinal Regeneration (June 17 2009)
Advanced Cell Technology continue to push on towards a commercial therapy; it's certainly been a long road. "An experimental therapy using human embryonic stem cells to treat degenerative eye diseases has proved safe and effective in animal studies, and may begin early human trials in the next few months if it receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration. [The therapy] uses human embryonic stem cells to re-create a type of cell in the retina that supports the photoreceptors needed for vision. These cells, called retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), are often the first to die off in age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases, which in turn leads to loss of vision ... . Although the transplants did restore visual function in the eye, the benefit was not always sustained over time in animals. ... these experimental therapies rely on the assumption that cells generated from embryonic stem cells will function like their normal counterparts. ... the cells may not represent an exact replacement ... Scientists won't know for sure until they see how the cells perform in clinical trials."
The End of The Biotech Priesthood (June 17 2009)
Just as happened for the business of writing software, falling costs will turn biotechnology from a select priesthood into an endeavour undertaken by at all levels by all sorts of people. If we want rapid progress, then the broadest possible research community is what we'd like to see. Here's an h+ Magazine interview with one of the early adopters: "while one might envision dozens of isolated home biologists homebrewing genes in their basements and garages, there is a social aspect to this movement that goes beyond the online. Some people who lack the space to store large amounts of equipment have formed co-op labs where they work together. Meetings, arranged over the net, generally happen at people's homes and have a party vibe. ... Why has this field suddenly exploded? The answer goes far beyond falling costs and the rise of the garage tinkerer, although these are factors. One big factor seems to be a desire to solve some of today's major problems. Discussions seem to frequently drift towards two particular topics: creating fuel-generating microbes and finding remedies for disease. Indeed, the DIYbio community owes much of its increase in size to do-gooders, concerned citizens who see DIYbio as a method of confronting problems in a novel way. And while this is heartening, many members simply want to pursue science for the love of it. They're DIY simply because they wish to conduct research into relatively unprofitable fields."
Soon, the (Welcome) End of Chemotherapy (June 16 2009)
Even were there no further advances in cell-killing methods, the use of targeting nanoparticles to deliver existing cell-killing drugs would result in a great improvement in cancer therapies. Here, researchers "used a drug called Taxol for their cell culture studies [because] it is one of the most widely used chemotherapeutic drugs. Taxol normally causes many negative side effects because it travels throughout the body and damages healthy tissue as well as cancer cells. ... Taxol-carrying nanoparticles [are] modified so they carry the drug only to the cancer cells, allowing targeted cancer treatment without harming healthy cells. This is achieved by attaching a vitamin (folic acid) derivative that cancer cells like to consume in high amounts. Because the nanoparticles also carry a fluorescent dye and an iron oxide magnetic core, their locations within the cells and the body can be seen by optical imaging and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). That allows a physician to see how the tumor is responding to the treatment. The nanoparticles also can be engineered without the drug and used as imaging (contrast) agents for cancer. If there is no cancer, the biodegradable nanoparticles will not bind to the tissue and will be eliminated by the liver. The iron oxide core will be utilized as regular iron in the body."
p16INK4a as a Biomarker of Aging (June 16 2009)
How do you determine if a supposed longevity therapy is working in humans short of waiting for decades? This is why we need reliable biomarkers for biological rather than chronological age: measures of how much your body's systems have changed and degenerated from youth. From EurekAlert!: researchers have "found that as cells and tissues age, the expression of a key protein, called p16INK4a, dramatically increases in most mammalian organs. ... Because p16INK4a is a tumor suppressor protein, cancer researchers are interested in its role in cellular aging and cancer prevention. Now the team has proven that the same biomarker is present in human blood and is strongly correlated both with chronological age and with certain behaviors such as tobacco use and physical inactivity, which are known to accelerate the aging process. ... We found a very weak correlation between the biomarker and obesity - as measured by body mass index (BMI) - despite other data suggesting that caloric restriction slows aging. The data suggest the possibility that reduced exercise may actually be worse with regard to molecular age than a higher BMI." Bear in mind that there will be no one biomarker that gives an unbiased view of aging: a mammal is a very complex collection of interacting and very different system.
Better Organizing Your Cryopreservation (June 15 2009)
Following up on a recent Alcor story, Aschwin de Wolf at Depressed Metabolism has some pointers: "There are various ways [risk of failure to obtain cryopreservation] can be minimized and we should start thinking about them. Most of all, cryonics members should execute living wills that rule out scenarios where greedy relatives will benefit from the patient not being cryopreserved. Furthermore, cryonics members should execute a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care to ensure that the person who is authorized to make medical decisions on the cryonics member's behalf has a strong commitment to honoring this person's wish to be cryopreserved. This often will require giving this authority not to the person who is closest to you but to the person who is most knowledgeable and respectful of your cryonics arrangements (such as a long time friend with cryonics arrangements). Last, but not least, cryonics organizations should further expand their methods of determining high risk cases and improve communication with existing members. Although it is not possible, nor reasonable, to expect from cryonics organizations that they can avoid [a bad outcome] in every single case, there is an urgent need to beef up membership tracking and response capabilities."
June Newsletter From the Methuselah Foundation (June 15 2009)
From the Methuselah Foundation Blog: "In the future we'll be able to harness nature's ability to form organs and build our own. ... Dr. Gabor Forgacs made that prediction. Now, he is making it a reality. Gabor is a University of Missouri researcher doing groundbreaking work in regenerative medicine. He is also the Scientific Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Organovo, the latest company to receive support from you, the donors of the Methuselah Foundation. As we work to identify breakthrough technology that will help us reach our shared goal of extending healthy human life, Organovo stands out. Thanks to your contributions we are able to assist them as they apply their proprietary technology to 'print' new organs. ... Organ printing allows new tissue to replace diseased tissue. Since new tissue can be developed from cell sources from your own body, rejection of transplanted tissue is not an issue. The cells can be taken from youthful progenitor cells in your bone marrow to replace the older diseased cells. The cells ability to self-assemble means they will organize themselves into a functional tissue after being positioned."