Longevity Meme Newsletter, December 21 2009

December 21 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 Last Word on Newsletter Length
- A Year End Message From the Methuselah Foundation
- Methuselah's Zoo
- Genescient Raises More Angel Funding
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


When I asked for your thoughts on the length of the Longevity Meme Newsletter last week, the majority of responses indicated that the usual length is just fine. So the usual length it will be going forward. Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment.


Take a moment to read this message from the Methuselah Foundation, concerning their support of Organovo, a bioprinting company working towards tissue engineering of replacement organs:


"When Thomas Klauset Aurdal, a 23 year old student in Norway, heard we were supporting the work of Organovo, he sent a $1000 contribution. According to Thomas, who had a heart transplant when he was only 16 years old: 'I can see a world where dying patients don't have to risk death while waiting for a donor organ from a dead person and where the patient doesn't have to take a heavy immunosuppressant drug. Future generations of transplantation patients will have a better chance of getting the organs and they will have a better quality of life and life expectancy than I have.'"


To a number of gerontologists, the extremely wide range of animal life spans - even considering only mammals - is a natural laboratory that cries out for deeper exploration. Some of the scientists who advocate metabolic manipulation as a path to slowing down the progression of aging see variation in mammal life spans between species as a way to discover longevity-enhancing alterations that could be made in human biochemistry:


"As impressive as the accomplishments of modern molecular biologists have been in finding genetic alterations that lengthen life in short-lived model organisms, they pale in comparison to the remarkable diversity of lifespans produced by evolution. Some animal species are now firmly documented to live for more than four centuries and even some mammals, like the bowhead whale, appear to survive 200 years or more. Another group of species may not be as absolutely long-lived, but they are remarkably long-lived for their body size and metabolic rate. These species include a number of bats, some of which live for at least 40 years in the wild, as well as the naked mole-rat, which is the same size, but lives nearly 10 times as long as the laboratory mouse. Together these exceptionally long-lived organisms have important roles to play in our future understanding of the causal mechanisms and modulation of ageing."


Speaking of metabolic manipulation and attempts to slow aging, I see that Genescient has raised more funding for their work on longevity genes and ways to alter their action in humans:


"Congratulations are due; it isn't easy raising funds in the present market environment, and the Genescient folk did so whilst clearly stating they are working to extend healthy human life span. That last point isn't quite the albatross it used to be, but it's still a challenge in some quarters. So the more people who stand up to openly and seriously talk about extending human life span the better. ... It is, I think, a sign of the times that $500,000 is enough to fund meaningful amounts of work in biotechnology. Go back a decade or two and that sum of money was a rounding error in the business of deciphering and manipulating human biochemistry. But biology and computing continue to be closely twined together, the cost and pace of research benefiting from the powerful and continuing growth in processing power per dollar."


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!




From ScienceDaily: "A new paper from MIT biology professor Leonard Guarente strengthens the link between longevity proteins called sirtuins and the lifespan-extending effects of calorie restriction. ... Sirtuins bring about the effects of calorie restriction on a brain system, known as the somatotropic signaling axis, that controls growth and influences lifespan length. ... The researchers genetically engineered mice whose ability to produce the major mammalian sirtuin SIRT1 in the brain was greatly reduced. Those mice and normal mice were placed on a calorie-restricted diet. The normal mice showed much lower levels of circulating growth hormones, demonstrating that their somatotropic signaling system was impaired, but calorie restriction had no effect on hormone levels of mice that could not produce SIRT1. In future work, Guarente plans to investigate the mechanism by which sirtuins regulate the somatotropic axis. The work could also help researchers and companies in their search for small molecules that modulate sirtuins for maximum benefit." You might recall that lowered growth hormone levels is one of the demonstrated ways to extend life span in mice.

Bryan Caplan demonstrates that there's no end to the pro-death nonsense that can be mined from the works of Leon Kass: "Kass concludes: 'Clearly, to avoid such strains and disasters [imagined to result from enhanced human longevity], great changes in social patterns and institutions would probably be needed, changes unlikely to occur except through strong centralized planning. The coming of such centralized planning will have consequences of its own, not all of them attractive or desirable, to say the least.' Since he's writing in 1983, I have to take the last paragraph as a thinly-veiled warning that, 'Immortality will end in communism.' I've heard of 'Better dead than Red,' but this is ridiculous! What's wrong with Kass' analysis? Well, it might make sense in a rigid caste society where sons follow in their fathers' occupational footsteps, and promotions are based on seniority. It might even be a good description of mediocre academic departments. But it's irrelevant for advanced capitalist economies. In a passably free labor market, talented young people don't have to wait for retirements to get promoted. If their current employer won't pay them their marginal productivity, somebody else will. Furthermore, even if ossified hierarchies ruled existing firms, the end result wouldn't be economy-wide stagnation and 'functional immaturity.' It would be new entry by firms run by young people on meritocratic lines. The creative destruction of the economy does not require the physical demise of any of its participants."

The dentists are making good progress in developing tissue engineering techniques: "Italian scientists claim to be the first to have succeeded in using implants of dental pulp stem/progenitor cells (DPCs) for autologous [facial] bone regeneration in humans. Their technique was used to repair bone defects due to wisdom tooth problems in 17 patients. ... researchers suggest that the approach could also be applied to any other area of reconstructive and orthopedic surgery. ... The human trial [involved] the extraction and expansion of DPCs from the maxillary third molars (wisdom teeth) of 17 patients requiring wisdom tooth extraction. The cells were then seeded onto a collagen sponge scaffold. The resulting biocomplex was used to fill in the injury site left by the removed tooth. X-ray evaluation three months after autologous DPC grafting confirmed that the alveolar bone of treated patients had optimal vertical repair and complete restoration of periodontal tissue back to the second molars. Histological observations also demonstrated the complete regeneration of bone at the injury site. Optimal bone regeneration was evident one year after grafting."

In this age of big government and multinational endeavors, most people respond favorably to the familiar language of global challenges. Here is an attempt to place aging in those terms at In Search of Enlightenment: "Global aging is real, it's man made, and it threatens the health and economic prospects of the global population, especially the developing world. ... Because humans, unlike feral animals, have learned how to escape the causes of death long after reproductive success, we have revealed a process that, teleologically, was never intended for us to experience. One might conclude, therefore, that aging is an artifact of civilization. ... biological aging, and population aging, bring unprecedented challenges. Aging individuals faced increased risks of morbidity and mortality. Chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, etc. are set to ravage the aging populations of the world. This means unprecedented numbers of humans will suffer years of frailty and disease. Chronic diseases have replaced infectious diseases as the greatest threat to global health. ... So what are we going to do about global aging? At the end of this century our children and grandchildren will look back and ask: What were they thinking? Did they not see how dire the consequences of global aging can be? Did they not care about protecting all future generations from the chronic diseases that ravage humans in late life?"

I see that the work of the Gavrilovs on population trends with large increases in human longevity, funded by SENS Foundation, is reaching a wider audience. It is good to envisage a future in which we see less hysteric nonsense propagated about overpopulation: "In computer simulations, Gavrilov concluded that 'population changes are surprisingly slow in their response to a dramatic life extension. For example, we applied the cohort-component method of population projections to 2005 Swedish population for several scenarios of life extension and a fertility schedule observed in 2005. Even for very long 50-year projection horizon, with the most radical life extension scenario (assuming no aging at all after age 50), the total population increases by 35 percent only (from 9.1 to 13.3 million).' ... In other words, a population of immortal reproducing organisms can grow indefinitely in time, but not necessarily indefinitely in size, because asymptotic growth is possible ... The startling conclusion is that fears of overpopulation based on lay common sense and uneducated intuition are, in fact, grossly exaggerated. ... In brief, we found that defeating aging, the joy of parenting, and sustainable population size are not mutually exclusive. This is an important point, because it can change the current public perception that life extension necessarily leads to overpopulation."

From the Methuselah Foundation: "The black market for human organs made headlines in 2009. What didn't make the daily news were the men, women and children who died each day because they did not get an organ or because the transplant they had failed. Failed to give them a long, healthy life. We can't stand by and let people die, or live in poor health, when an alternative is possible. That's why Methuselah Foundation invested in Organovo this year. We believe that [the] team at Organovo are creating a better way to replace aging or diseased organs. When Thomas Klauset Aurdal, a 23 year old student in Norway, heard we were supporting the work of Organovo, he sent a $1000 contribution. According to Thomas, who had a heart transplant when he was only 16 years old: 'I can see a world where dying patients don't have to risk death while waiting for a donor organ from a dead person and where the patient doesn't have to take a heavy immunosuppressant drug. Future generations of transplantation patients will have a better chance of getting the organs and they will have a better quality of life and life expectancy than I have.' ... We share Thomas's dream and know the discoveries and breakthroughs that lead to new organs will be fabulously useful in regenerative medicine all along the way. We call our long term strategy MLife Sciences ... Simply stated, it is where your donations go to be sure there is money available to turn promising research into practical solutions [that] lead to the possibility of you - of Thomas - of your family, living a long, healthy, vibrant and productive life. Thomas liked the idea of investing in proven research and development but knew his donation was too small to invest directly in a regenerative medicine company. $1000 is a very small amount to a venture capitalist but it's a lot of money to a student. But making a donation to Methuselah Foundation allows you to give whatever amount you choose. No donation is too small. If each of us makes a contribution, together we can become major contributors to a new, better, promising way to extend the lives of everyone suffering from organ failure."

A PLoS ONE paper: "The strong familiality of living to extreme ages suggests that human longevity is genetically regulated. The majority of genes found thus far to be associated with longevity primarily function in lipoprotein metabolism and insulin/IGF-1 signaling. There are likely many more genetic modifiers of human longevity that remain to be discovered. ... Here, we first show that 18 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the RNA editing genes ADARB1 and ADARB2 are associated with extreme old age in a U.S. based study of centenarians, the New England Centenarian Study. We describe replications of these findings in three independently conducted centenarian studies with different genetic backgrounds (Italian, Ashkenazi Jewish and Japanese) that collectively support an association of ADARB1 and ADARB2 with longevity. Some SNPs in ADARB2 replicate consistently in the four populations and suggest a strong effect that is independent of the different genetic backgrounds and environments. ... Our results suggest that RNA editors may be an important regulator of aging in humans and that, when evaluated in C. elegans, this pathway may interact with the RNA interference machinery to regulate lifespan." How does this genetic contribution to longevity work? We'll have to wait for further investigation to move beyond correlation to explanation.

From ScienceDaily: "Blood vessel blockage, a common condition in old age or diabetes, leads to low blood flow and results in low oxygen, which can kill cells and tissues. Such blockages can require amputation resulting in loss of limbs. Now, using mice as their model, researchers [have] developed therapies that increase blood flow, improve movement and decrease tissue death and the need for amputation. ... In a young, healthy individual, hypoxia - low oxygen levels - triggers the body to make factors that help coordinate the growth of new blood vessels but this process doesn't work as well as we age. Now, with the help of gene therapy and stem cells we can help reactivate the body's response to hypoxia and save limbs. ... Our results are promising because they show that a combination of gene and cell therapy can improve the outcome in the case of critical limb ischemia associated with aging or diabetes. And that's critical for bringing such treatment to the clinic."

From the Immortality Institute: "During this year-end holiday season I would like to take time to thank those who give. Despite all the trends and discussion pointing toward an open-source shared future and ubiquitous cheap resources derived from nanotechnology, in 2009 we still live in a world where 'money talks'. It is a necessary component of any organization including the Immortality Institute. During 2009, the Institute has spent nearly $30,000 cryopreserving a lifetime member, supporting anti-aging research, and providing student scholarships among other things. A significant part of the Imminst revenue stream is member donations. Even in this time of economic turmoil, hundreds of generous people have donated to support Institute operations and initiatives. With your continued support, the Institute can aim higher and accomplish more in coming years. So I extend heartfelt gratitude to all those who give time and money to help end the suffering of aging and the prevalence of death."

From the tech blogs this time: "Human life expectancy may see a hockey stick growth curve in the coming years as a result of leaps made in fields such as molecular nanotechnology, gene therapy, robotics, and regenerative medicine. Seizing the potential for radical longevity, an effort dubbed the 'Manhattan Beach Project', is a focused and targeted 'all-out assault on the world’s biggest killer - aging,' according to its founder David Kekich, President/CEO of Maximum Life Foundation. ... It consists of a group of researchers and entrepreneurs that have for years been collaborating on a scientific road-map to intervene in the human aging process and are disclosing their plan 'to start saving up to 100,000 lives lost to aging every day, by 2029.' In November '09, Kekich organized a Longevity Summit that brought together a number of leading scientists, visionaries, and experts on human aging and longevity for a discussion on the state-of-the-art research and the implications of their discoveries. Their goal is to develop a scientific and business strategy to make human life extension a real possibility within the next two decades."



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