Longevity Meme Newsletter, October 12 2009

October 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.



- Attention Paid to Autophagy
- Alcor, Cryonics, and Not Feeding the Trolls
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Autophagy is a set of processes by which damaged molecules and components in your cells are broken down for recycling. Enhanced autophagy is convincing linked to enhanced healthy lifespan in laboratory animals, and this makes sense: fewer damaged components in the machinery at any one time should mean better long-term operation. As for the study of calorie restriction, more funds are flowing into the study of autophagy these days, and it seems likely that the research community will generate autophagy-enhancing therapies on a similar timescale to effective calorie restriction mimetic drugs:


"Unfortunately, as we get older, our cells lose their cannibalistic prowess. The decline of autophagy may be an important factor in the rise of cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders that become common in old age. Unable to clear away the cellular garbage, our bodies start to fail. If this hypothesis turns out to be right, then it may be possible to slow the aging process by raising autophagy. It has long been known, for example, that animals that are put on a strict low-calorie diet can live much longer than animals that eat all they can. Recent research has shown that caloric restriction raises autophagy in animals and keeps it high. The animals seem to be responding to their low-calorie diet by feeding on their own cells, as they do during famines. In the process, their cells may also be clearing away more defective molecules, so that the animals age more slowly."


"Here, we report that administration of spermidine, a natural polyamine whose intracellular concentration declines during human ageing, markedly extended the lifespan of yeast, flies and worms, and human immune cells. It seems that spermidine exerts its influence at the level of the cell's mechanism for dealing with damaged internal components. Throughout a cell's life, proteins and other molecules become damaged by exposure to environmental factors such as UV light or oxidants. This debris is swept up and deposited into a biochemical recycling bin. However, as cells age this clean-up process, called autophagy, becomes less efficient and ultimately the accumulation of this waste causes the cell to trigger its own suicide. Autophagy is ultimately controlled by genes being switched on and off. It appears that spermidine inhibits a protein in the cell's nucleus that is involved with controlling the genes for autophagy."


Cryonics provider Alcor is under assault in the press again, thanks to a disgruntled former employee who is making outrageous and implausible accusations while attempting to profit through the attention he gains by doing so. But the mass media likes that sort of thing, and so acts as an enabler and echo chamber:


"This should be looked on as a lesson in just how easy it is to make a terribly wrong hire, and just how much damage such a hire can do should they turn out to be irrational. This is why small companies and ventures must always be very cautious - though I fail to see what Alcor could have done differently to avoid this particular hire. Ultimately, the responsible party is the one who sets out to do bad things, not everyone else.

"From my distant vantage point, I'll say this: this whole affair has the look of what becomes of those grade-school creators of drama when they grow up and become capable of causing real harm. It is very unfortunate that Alcor became the target of this particular individual. Alcor's volunteers and employees work hard at what they believe in: using technology to give people a chance at a longer life in the future, and ensuring that each new cryopreservation is as good as it can be under the always difficult end of life circumstances. They have been doing this for decades, to little applause, but it seems there's always some idiot ready and waiting to trample the hard-won gains of others for no better reason than he can."

Learn more about cryonics here:



The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.

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From ScienceDaily: "Premature aging of the immune system appears to play a role in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ... CD4+ T cells, which grow and mature in the thymus before entering the bloodstream, are reduced in number in patients who have ALS as the thymus shrinks and malfunctions. ... The thymus gland, where immune cells called T lymphocytes mature before entering the bloodstream, normally reaches its peak in size and production in childhood. It then slowly shrinks, becoming virtually nonexistent in the elderly, but the lifespan of newly produced T cells ranges from three to 30 years. This study found that the thymus glands of mice and patients with the disease undergo accelerated degeneration. ... The findings are consistent with evidence collected over a decade [suggesting] that a well-functioning immune system plays a pivotal role in maintaining, protecting and repairing cells of the central nervous system. Studies conducted in animals have shown that boosting immune T-cell levels may reduce symptoms and slow progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases. ... If T-cell malfunction is confirmed to be a contributing factor to ALS, as we propose, therapeutic strategies may be aimed at overcoming this deficiency through rebuilding, restoring or transplanting the thymus."

A cancer therapy trial based on the work of Zheng Cui is presently underway in Florida: "About 75% of US population living today will not die of cancer. It is not uncommon that some people remain cancer-free into their 80s and 90s, even if they are regularly exposed to environmental carcinogens such as air pollutants, cigarette smoking, etc. A frequently asked but unanswered question is why these individuals do not get cancer. There has been a recent report of a colony of cancer-resistant mice developed from a single male mouse that unexpectedly survived challenges of lethal cancer cell injections. In these so-called spontaneous regression/complete resistant (SR/CR) mice, cancer cells are killed by rapid infiltration of leukocytes, mainly of innate immunity. This highly effective natural cancer immunity is inherited and mediated entirely by white blood cells. Moreover, this cancer resistance can be transferred to wild type mice through the transfer of various immune cell types including granulocytes. This observation raises the possibility that infusion of white blood cells, particularly cells of innate immunity, is a viable anticancer therapy in humans as well. This proposed trial will test whether white blood cell infusions from healthy unrelated donors can be used to treat cancer. The trial is designed to determine whether responses can be seen in cancer patients after infusion of HLA-mismatched white cells from healthy donors."

A look at present human studies of the health benefits of calorie restriction at the New York Times: "As Americans become fatter and fatter - a study published in July revealed that obesity rates increased in 23 states last year and declined in none - a select group of men and women under the watchful care of medical professionals have spent the past few years becoming thinner and thinner. There are 132 of them, located in and around Boston, St. Louis and Baton Rouge, La. All are enrolled in a large clinical trial that is financed by the National Institutes of Health and known as Calerie, which stands for Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy. ... the Calerie project [is] that it is not meant to study weight loss or if one type of diet is better than another. Instead, Calerie is investigating how (and if) a spartan diet affects the aging process and its associated diseases. To the Calerie researchers, these are quite distinct. The aging process, which researchers sometimes call 'primary' or 'intrinsic' aging, refers to the damage that ordinarily accumulates in our cells as we grow older, a natural condition that seems to have limited the maximal lifespan of humans to 120 years. Diseases that accompany the aging process - often called 'secondary aging' - are those afflictions increasingly prevalent in the elderly, like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

A look at the state of the art in cancer therapies under development from h+ Magazine: "Nanomedicine, an offshoot of nanotechnology, refers to highly specific medical intervention at the molecular scale for curing disease or repairing damaged tissues, such as bone, muscle, nerve, or brain cells. Nanoparticles - anywhere from 100 to 2500 nanometers in size - are at the same scale as the biological molecules and structures inside living cells. ... Titanium dioxide is not the only nanoparticle that shows promise in cancer therapy. Gold nanospheres - nearly perfectly spherical nanoparticles that range in size from 30 to 50 nanometers - are being used to search out and 'cook' cancer cells. The cancer-destroying nanospheres show promise as a minimally invasive future treatment for malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. ... The hollow gold nanospheres are equipped with a special peptide that draws the nanospheres directly to melanoma cells, while avoiding healthy skin cells. After collecting inside the cancer, the nanospheres heat up when exposed to near-infrared light, which penetrates deeply through the surface of the skin."

From Depressed Metabolism: "The biggest obstacle to the acceptance of cryonics is medical myopia; the idea that someone who has been pronounced dead by contemporary medical criteria will still be considered dead by future criteria. Advocates of human cryopreservation strongly argue against this. There are few things more discomforting than the idea that medical professionals of the future will look back in horror and wonder why we gave up on people who still possessed the neuroanatomical basis of their identities and memories. But there is another kind of myopia in the public discussion of cryonics that warrants consideration. It is taken for granted by some critics of contemporary cryonics that cryonics has always been framed as a form of medicine. Nothing could be further from the truth. The history of cryonics is replete with debates between advocates of the medical model and those who believe that timely transport of the patient to a cryonics facility for low temperature storage should be adequate for future resuscitation by advanced nanotechnology. It is only because cryonics advocates with medical and research backgrounds such as Mike Darwin and Jerry Leaf vigorously argued for adopting conventional medical techniques and protocols that today's cryonics organizations can even be criticized for falling short of these criteria."

The Singularity Hub here looks at the Mprize for longevity research: "If living forever isn't enough motivation to get scientists to study longevity, maybe $3.8 million will work instead. That's the current size of the Mprize, a special fund put forth by the Methuselah Foundation that seeks to encourage research into extending healthy human life. The prize is awarded to those scientists who can increase the lifespan of lab mice in the hopes that work performed on that species can be readily applied to humans. Can we live longer? Do we even want to? When will the average human life expectancy start to increase by more than a year each year? The Methuselah Foundation's answers are yes, yes, and much sooner than you might think. ... offering a cash prize to help motivate research has a long and successful history. Mariners were finally able to determine their longitude at sea thanks to the aptly named Longitude Prize offered by the British government. Lindbergh's transatlantic flight was in direct response to the Orteig prize. The modern day Xprize is inspiring new achievements in genomics, space flight, lunar exploration, and transportation efficiency. With the Mprize, the Methuselah Foundation may very well bring about a surge in the interest in increasing human lifespans within the next generation."

As pointed out at Depressed Metabolism, people don't like to contemplate most medical procedures in any detail: "In sensationalized accounts of cryonics, explicit descriptions of cryonics procedures, and that of neuropreservation in particular, are used to invoke a negative response in the reader. ... In some [other and undesirable aspects of human activity], such as senseless violence, this is not necessarily an unreasonable approach because it may reflect a preserved instinct against behavior that is harmful to the individual or group. ... Where such an appeal to gut feelings is less fruitful, however, is in the context of medicine and forensics. The daily activities of many medical professionals and morticians consist of activities that would produce a strong negative gut response in most people who would observe them in all their detail. ... The 'yuck factor' that is produced in many people when they read about the details of cryonics procedures is not evidence of pseudo-science or mistreatment. As a matter of fact, the procedures that are routinely performed in cryonics labs are designed to preserve life, not to destroy it. In this sense, the practice of cryonics can claim the moral high ground over prevailing methods of dealing with 'human remains,' where [people presently considered dead and gone in the mainstream view] are buried or burned because contemporary medicine has not yet found a way to treat [or restore] them. If anything, it is this kind of medical myopia that should trigger the yuck factor."

The latest Methuselah Foundation newsletter is out: "This month we are introducing the last of the four newest Mprize competitors. Significant cash Prizes are awarded for Longevity, breaking the world record for the oldest-ever mouse, and Rejuvenation, the most successful late-onset rejuvenation of a mouse. The amount won is in proportion to the size of the fund and to the margin by which the previous record is broken. ... Bruce Teter is optimistic about the possibility that curcumin, which is the element of the spice turmeric that gives it its color, will extend the life of mice. ... In addition to the mice at Steve Spindler's lab, three other labs are conducting tests. Those three labs are funded through ITP, the Interventions Testing Program of the National Institute on Aging ... The ITP labs started with 3 month old mice to determine if curcumin intervention mimics the effects of Calorie Restriction in extending life. Steve's lab started with 12 month old mice and will measure the effects of a unique preparation of curcumin to extend maximal lifespan with late-life treatment."

A somewhat meandering article from the Boston Globe looks at the state of regenerative medicine: "Cut an arm off a starfish, and an exact duplicate emerges. The salamander, upon losing a tail, sprouts another. The conventional thinking has been that we, along with all other mammals, lost the ability to regrow entire organs and limbs. Yet there are exceptions. Deer show off new antlers every year. Even children retain vestiges of regenerative capacity: Up to an age of between 7 and 11, if a child loses the top third of a finger, that tip will reemerge. How can we, [like] starfish and salamanders, harness the power of regeneration? ... Each and every cell has an electric flow across its membrane ... researchers have known for some time that the site of a wound produces an electrical field. But only recently have research instruments allowed this flow to be investigated at the molecular level. ... electrical signals tell cells what to repair and how to re-create what was lost. Levin deciphered one of those cues, a protein in a tadpole that creates a flow of protons, which produces an electric field at the site of a lost tail, starting a voltage flow. ... If you block that flow, the tail won't grow back. ... Levin took a tadpole that matured past the ability to regenerate a lost tail. He removed the tail, then manipulated proteins to turn on the switch. [This] triggers tail regeneration and stops the tail growth when it's complete. The tadpoles end up with perfectly sized tails like their siblings. Levin is now working with tissue engineer David Kaplan to develop [a] bioreactor, which could encourage the same regeneration in mammals, starting with rats."

A SPECIAL MPRIZE AWARD (October 05 2009)
Via the Methuselah Foundation Blog: "Methuselah Foundation will award Z. David Sharp, Ph.D. the Special Mprize Lifespan Achievement Award for the first pharmaceutical intervention to successfully extend the life of laboratory mice. The study, published this summer in the journal Nature, showed that when aging mice were given the drug rapamycin, they lived longer than other mice. Methuselah Foundation will present this special MPrize for Rejuvenation to Sharp at a ceremony on Thursday, October 8th in New York City. Presenters will include Dave Gobel, CEO Methuselah Foundation, Roger Holzberg, CEO My Bridge 4 Life, Huber Warner, University of Minnesota and Keith Murphy, CEO Organovo. Dr. Max Gomez, broadcast Journalist, will serve as emcee for the event." I should note that the Mprize website has recently been redesigned and a lot of new video content added, especially around the competitors list. If you'd like to learn more about the more than a dozen teams and different longevity-inducing methodologies competing in the Mprize, that would be a good place to start.



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