Longevity Meme Newsletter, December 14 2009

December 14 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.



- Feedback On Newsletter Length
- Amyloid and Aging
- Transcripts from the Humanity+ Summit
- Are Old Cells Still Good For Therapy?
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


There are those who feel that five hundred words is a fine length for an opening summary, and those who feel that five hundred words is a wall of text fit to scare the dead. Of late, the feedback I've received has tilted towards suggesting that this newsletter is too long. So this issue will be an experiment in being shorter. Should I continue to cut back the text and quotes in the future? Let me know.


As we get older, many different types of errant and unwanted proteins, the chemical byproducts of metabolism, build up and accumulate between our cells. Collectively these are known as forms of amyloid, a term that might be familiar to you in connection with Alzheimer's disease, but there are many other types of amyloid beyond that implicated in the destruction that Alzheimer's brings to the brain.



The Humanity+ Summit held a week ago included presentations on longevity science. Here is a quote from Aubrey de Grey's session: "We need to think properly about what aging is. Not just correctly. In an appropriate way that is conducive to a way about postponing to it."



Scientists are presently able to convert ordinary skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, cells with the characteristics of embryonic stem cells and able to generate all of the body's cell populations. This is important for tissue engineering - if easily obtained cells from a patient can be used as the basis to repair any tissue, then regenerative therapies will be less costly and more effective. But are cells from the old people who most need regenerative therapies still good for this purpose? If the answer is no, that will be a setback:



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!




One of the many ways in which we are far less free than our recent ancestors is that government employees regularly run roughshod over private agreements. For example, local officials essentially act as through they own your body in the case of autopsies, which presents a large issue for people who want to be cryopreserved on clinical death: "The nation's leading [cryonics] organization lost its bid Thursday to prevent an autopsy on a 48-year-old man who wanted his body frozen until he could be brought back to life. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Martha J. Cook told the county medical examiner to resume the autopsy on Michael Ned Miller, which was interrupted shortly after it began by a call from Alcor Life Extension Foundation Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. Cook denied Alcor's request for a stay pending an appeal of her order. 'The court will not interfere with (the medical examiner's) duty,' Cook said. ... the judge took no testimony. She said the law giving medical examiners the right to override private preferences about autopsies is clear. ... Alcor argued in court documents that an autopsy would 'seriously impair the cryonic process' and 'frustrate the purpose' of the body freezing: to keep his body preserved until some point in the distant future when scientists learn how to fix what killed him." Sadly, we live in age in which men serve laws, rather than vice versa.

The early foundations of artificial eyes are advancing, step by step: "Retinal implants are arrays of electrodes, placed at the back of the eye, which partially restore vision to people with diseases that cause their light-sensing photoreceptors to die. Typically, a camera embedded in glasses collects visual information and sends it to a computer that converts the images to electrical signals, which are then transmitted to the implant and interpreted by the brain. ... most people with implants can only make out fuzzy borders between light and dark areas. ... The Stanford implant would allow patients to make out the shape of objects and see meaningful images [and] has approximately 1,000 electrodes, compared to 60 electrodes commonly found in fully implantable systems. ... [it is] a silicon implant with tiny bridges that allow it to fold over the shape of the eye. ... The advantage of having it flexible is that relatively large implants can be placed under the retina without being deformed, and the whole image would stay in focus."

Via EurekAlert!, more signs that nerve regrowth will become an established medical procedure not too many years from now: "Brain and spinal-cord injuries typically leave people with permanent impairment because the injured nerve fibers (axons) cannot regrow. A study [now] shows that axons can regenerate vigorously in a mouse model when a gene that suppresses natural growth factors is deleted. ... [Researchers] used genetic techniques to delete two inhibitors of a growth pathway known as the mTOR pathway in the retinal ganglion cells of mice. (These cells constitute the optic nerve, which carries visual input from the retina to the brain.) Removing this inhibition brought about vigorous growth in injured axons, but not in uninjured axons, suggesting that something about the injury itself helps trigger axon regeneration. In the new study, [researchers] used a second set of genetic techniques in mice to delete a suppressor of inflammatory signaling, known as SOCS3, in retinal ganglion cells - and again saw robust axon growth after injury. The greatest effect was seen after one week, when there were also signs that the mTOR pathway was re-activated."

Multipotent stem cells can be found in the skin, potentially a low-cost source for the development of therapies: "Scientists have discovered a new type of stem cell in the skin that acts surprisingly like certain stem cells found in embryos: both can generate fat, bone, cartilage, and even nerve cells. These newly-described dermal stem cells may one day prove useful for treating neurological disorders and persistent wounds, such as diabetic ulcers ... the cells act like neural crest cells from embryos - stem cells that generate the entire peripheral nervous system and part of the head - in that they could turn into nerves, fat, bone, and cartilage. ... That gave us the idea that these were some kind of embryonic-like precursor cell that migrated into the skin of the embryo. But instead of disappearing as the embryo develops, the cells survive into adulthood. ... Stem cell researchers like to talk about building organs in a dish. You can imagine, if you have all the right players - dermal stem cells and epidermal stem cells - working together, you could do that with skin in a very real way."

For a new field of research to thrive, there must be ways to make money from a partial product. In this way development can be incremental: make an advance and use revenues from it to fund the next step ahead. So it is for the development of artificial and tissue engineered organs, where one possible stepping stone involves improvements in cost and efficiency of testing new therapies: "Our artificial organ systems are aimed at offering an alternative to animal experiments. Particularly as humans and animals have different metabolisms. 30 per cent of all side effects come to light in clinical trials. ... The special feature, in our liver model for example, is a functioning system of blood vessels. This creates a natural environment for cells. We don't build artificial blood vessels for this, but use existing ones - from a piece of pig's intestine. ... All of the pig cells are removed, but the blood vessels are preserved. Human cells are then seeded onto this structure - hepatocytes, which, as in the body, are responsible for transforming and breaking down drugs, and endothelial cells, which act as a barrier between blood and tissue cells. In order to simulate blood and circulation, the researchers put the model into a computer-controlled bioreactor using a flexible tube pump ... This enables the nutrient solution to be fed in and carried away in the same way as in veins and arteries in humans. ... The cells were active for up to three weeks. This time was sufficient to analyse and evaluate the functions. A longer period of activity is possible, however."

From ScienceDaily: "a multi-institutional team of researchers [has] begun creating genomic tools necessary to compare the extraordinary regenerative capacity of the Mexican axolotl salamander with established mouse models of human disease and injury. Researchers want to find ways to tap unused human capacities to treat spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury and other neural conditions ... The axolotl is the champion of vertebrate regeneration, with the ability to replace whole limbs and even parts of its central nervous system. These salamanders use many of the same body systems and genes that we do, but they have superior ability to regenerate after major injuries. We think that studying them will tell us a lot about a patient's natural regenerative capacities after spinal cord injury and nerve cell damage ... Only now have new genetic, molecular and cellular technologies as well as scientific knowledge of the salamander, mouse and human genomes and 'regeneromes' risen to a level where scientists can compare systemwide responses to injury. ... I am extremely hopeful with the discoveries being made in comparative regenerative biology that the questions surrounding cell and tissue regeneration in the human following injury or disease are going to be answered."

As pointed out at Depressed Metabolism a number of objections to cryonics presently doing the rounds are in fact objections to things that have little to do with cryonics: "Bryan Caplan has posted a number of blog entries that perfectly illustrate what happens when cryonics is not presented as a form of experimental long term critical care medicine but linked to other ideas such as transhumanism, mind uploading, and immortalism. One post is titled 'What's Really Wrong With Cryonics' but a close reading of the post and subsequent exchanges between Caplan and cryonics advocate Robin Hanson leave little doubt that this exchange is really about the technical feasibility of mind uploading and the nature of identity. These topics are of great philosophical and practical interest to some but have little relevance to the technical feasibility of cryonics. When a person goes in for surgery it is not common to engage medical personnel in abstract arguments about the nature of identity prior to induction of anesthesia. Similarly, when hypothermia is used to allow complete circulatory arrest in complex surgical brain procedures it is not common to object that this procedure puts the soul at risk. Even people who do not subscribe to the empiricist premise that underpins modern medicine have come to accept the procedures that are associated with it. Cryonics, as conceived and practiced by organizations like Alcor, is just an extension of the idea that metabolism can be reduced or stopped without inevitable irreversible death."

From h+ Magazine: "Just as the Manhattan Project was conceived in 1942 to beat the Germans to the atomic bomb during World War II, the 'Manhattan Beach Project' was founded as an 'all-out assault on the world's biggest killer - aging,' according to project organizer David A. Kekich. ... After nine years of research and collaboration, a group of entrepreneurs and scientists - many known to h+ readers - are disclosing their plan 'to start saving up to 100,000 lives lost to aging every day, by 2029.' A Longevity Summit in November 2009 - organized by Kekich - brought together a number of researchers on human aging and longevity for a discussion on the state-of-the-art research, the implications of their discoveries, and round table, cross-disciplinary discussions that may lead to new and accelerated results. ... The goal of the summit was 'to devise scientific and business strategies with the goal of demonstrating the capability to reverse aging in an older human by 2029.' ... Nanotechnology pioneer Robert Freitas - recipient of the prestigious 2009 Feynman Prize for Theory, in recognition of his pioneering work in molecular mechanosynthesis - gave a talk with Ralph Merkle on how medical non-biological nanotechnology will likely work in the next 20 years. 'The difference between good and bad health is how your atoms are arranged,' said Merkle. The goal of medical nanotechnology is to mobilize nanobots to patrol the body and its cells repairing damage as it occurs."

Larger organizations are increasingly turning to contests and social networking events to determine some fraction of their charitable donations, which means folk like you and I can collaborate and agitate to steer money to our favored causes. Here is the latest: the Chase Community Giving contest at Facebook. Over the next week, votes will be accepted to establish a list of the top 100 charities. Each will receive $25,000, and then a second phase of voting and organizer selection will determine larger grants. I encourage you all to go and plug in your list of favored charities with the SENS Foundation and Methuselah Foundation at the top. But first, you might want to swing by the Immortality Institute, as the volunteers there have worked hard to produce a list of charities related to engineered longevity and links for quick voting: "Closing in on the end of 2009 we are presented with yet another golden opportunity to generate funds for the organizations and research that will pay great dividends towards a future of healthy human life extension. All you have to do is vote for your favorite charity!"

ORGANOVO'S BIOPRINTER (December 07 2009)
Via Singularity Hub, we learn that Organovo, which is recipient of a Methuselah Foundation grant, is close to releasing an early commercial bioprinter: "Need a new kidney? We'll just take some of your blood and in about six weeks grow you a new one. That's the promise of 3D bioprinting and one of the companies on the forefront of the technology just took a step closer to make it a reality. Organovo developed a research prototype of a bioprinter capable of producing very basic tissues like blood vessels. According to the recent press release, Invetech, Organovo's strategic partner, will be providing the company with commercial versions of their device in 2010 to 2011. While it is still limited to simple tissue structures (full organs are a long ways off), Organovo plans to deliver the printers to various research institutions interested in organ and tissue production." Once a concept becomes a software-driven machine, evolution and improvement tends to arrive rapidly. Ten years from now the prototypes will actually be printing complex organs.



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