Longevity Meme Newsletter, January 11 2010

January 11 2010

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.



- Fight Aging! is Creative Commons Licensed
- From the Science for Life Extension Foundation
- Thoughts on Programmed Aging
- The Latest on Methionine Restriction
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Fight Aging! and its archives are now published under an attribution-only Creative Commons license:


"In short, this means that you are encouraged to republish and rewrite Fight Aging! content in any way you see fit, the only requirements being that you (a) link to the original, (b) attribute the author, and (c) attribute Fight Aging!. Have at it."


Allow me to direct your attention to an outreach video from Maria Konovalenko, one of the Program Coordinators at the Science for Life Extension Foundation. This is a Russian initiative whose goals are similar to those of the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Foundation - speeding the research that will lead to longer healthy lives and, ultimately, the elimination of death by aging:


"I'd like to tell you about a major issue. It's your personal concern. It's the concern of your nearest and dearest, of all the people living on the planet. It's inevitable absolutely for everybody! But surprisingly little is known about it. It's not a common practice to talk about this problem and moreover to try to solve it. What do you think about 30 million lives? Just imagine that all the people in Denmark, Austria, Finland, Israel and New Zealand disappeared in one year. Would you consider it a problem? But no one pays attention. "


To what extent is aging a genetic program, the result of evolutionary pressures on a species to attain a particular life span? This is a hotly debated topic, considered important by those researchers who look to slow aging through the manipulation of metabolism. The opposing view is that aging is simply a form of decay - progressive malfunctioning due to accumulated damage - that happens in the absence of evolutionary pressures to extend life span further:


"The debate over programmed aging is yet another example of the way in which Aubrey de Grey's SENS approach shines by cutting straight to the desired goal of extending life. The scholarly divisions over theories of aging will continue for the foreseeable future, as thousands of researchers add their individual contributions to our knowledge of aging human biochemistry. But if instead of working on full understanding, we rather aim to identify and reverse all the specific age-associated biochemical changes that are the root cause of degenerative aging, then for this purpose it doesn't matter whether aging is programmed or not.

"As outlined at the SENS Foundation, we can be reasonably certain that all the biochemical causes of aging that are important across the present human life span have been identified for more than 20 years. No new root causes in our biochemistry have been discovered in that time, despite a blossoming of biotechnology. Further, researchers presently know enough to outline ways to reverse all of these changes, and the required research and development programs are in some cases already underway. Advances in our general knowledge of aging and metabolism should generally be helpful - there's no such thing as useless knowledge in the life sciences - but are not required for progress at this point. If a resolution on programmed versus non-programmed aging occurred tomorrow, it would make no difference to the SENS approach to reversing aging."


Methionine is one of the essential amino acids, proteins required for life, but which must be obtained through our diet. Calorie restriction is the practice of eating fewer calories while maintaining optimal dietary micronutrient levels. This changes the operation of metabolic processes to extend life and provides profound health benefits in almost every species tested to date. The question for today: are the health and longevity benefits of calorie restriction primarily triggered by methionine levels rather than overall calorie levels?


"Through experimentation, researchers are starting to see that restricting the content of methionine in the diet of mammals - while leaving the calorie count unchanged - has many of the same results as restricting overall calories. ... Given the research to date, I'll wager that there is a great deal of money to be made in establishing a competitively priced and reasonable range of very low methionine foods for humans."


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!




Infrastructure matters - as the cost and difficulty of commonly used techniques fall, more progress is accomplished more rapidly. Here is a promising development in stem cell research infrastructure: "Biologists have developed an efficient way to genetically modify human embryonic stem cells. Their approach, which uses bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) to swap in defective copies of genes, will make possible the rapid development of stem cell lines that can both serve as models for human genetic diseases and as testbeds on which to screen potential treatments. ... This will help to open up the whole human embryonic stem cell field. Otherwise, there's really few efficient ways you can study genetics with them. ... BACs are synthesized circles of human DNA, which bacteria will replicate just like their own native chromosomes. Commercially available BACs can be modified within bacterial cells to insert altered copies of specific genes. Once the modified BACs are introduced into human cells, they will sometimes pair up with a matching segment of a human chromosome and swap segments of DNA, a process called homologous recombination. ... Using BACs, the team was able to substitute modified genes in 20 percent of treated cells. Standard methods of genetic modification typically achieve modification in fewer than one percent of cells."

Here is more on the charity seeking to develop the granulocyte therapy pioneered by Zheng Cui: "While researching mouse sarcoma 180 (S180) cells in 1999, Zheng Cui, Mark Willingham, and colleagues at Wake Forest University happened upon something incredible - a mouse innately resistant to cancer. Several generations of offspring of this spontaneous regression/complete resistance (SR/CR) animal have also proven to be cancer-proof, therefore suggesting a genetic link. Further study indicated that immune cells, such as macrophages, could be derived from the resistant mice and then transferred into non-resistant animals to protect them from advanced cancers. Out of an interest in Cui's novel work came the Direct Oncology (DO) Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity that is banking on the potential for human cancer treatments based on innate oncological immunity. The DO Foundation now seeks to raise $100,000 to fund the complete sequencing of 6-10 cancer-resistant mice genomes ... To reach this goal, the foundation has enlisted the help of Livly, a non-profit organization based in Mountain View, CA, whose mission is to advance the development of cures for major diseases. ... There are a small number of [human] families who appear to have a genetic resistance to cancer, in the same way that Cui's mice are resistant to cancer ... The identification of the single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) responsible for the cancer immunity observed in Cui's mice is crucial in order to determine whether orthologous SNPs exist in humans."

THE ROAD TO REGROWTH (January 07 2010)
A high level look at the search for the roots of regeneration in lower animals: "Each year, thousands of Americans lose fingers, hands or entire limbs in terrible accidents. Prosthetics can help amputees regain some function, and successful hand transplants have recently been achieved. But wouldn't it be great if humans could simply regrow missing parts on their own? Within the space of a generation, this seemingly superhuman power might become a reality, scientists say, and people may have a lowly amphibian to thank for it. Among the world's varied creatures, a Mexican salamander called the axolotl appears best at regrowing whole limbs lost to injury. And researchers are hot on the trail of finding out what the axolotl has that humans don't. ... Other animals can regrow complex segments of themselves (many fish regrow lost fins, for example) and the common frog has potent regenerative powers as a tadpole but loses them mysteriously as it matures. ... work with both the axolotl and the frog have turned up interesting clues to regeneration. ... [researchers are] busy comparing regenerative processes in the axolotl to those found in the tadpole but not in the mature frog. ... That will give us a handle, we hope, on why the frog loses the power of regeneration." Which should lead to insight into why humans do not regenerate, and how to induce that regeneration artificially.

From GOOD: "How long do you think you'll be around for? Ninety years? One hundred and twenty? Aubrey de Grey, a biogerontologist and Cambridge-trained Ph.D. who studies aging, thinks we could engineer techniques that reverse the wear on our bodies by replacing lost cells in our bones and hearts and even tweaking the cells themselves to prevent their degeneration. If de Grey is right, these therapies could help us live for hundreds - if not thousands - of years. ... In my view, we probably can't [slow down aging] much at all. All we can do is reverse it. Yes, I know it seems paradoxical that reversal would be easier than slowing, but if you think about it, that's what we do with simple manmade machines such as cars or airplanes: We do periodic repair and maintenance. That's how we'll delay the ill health that aging eventually causes. ... It's impossible to say for sure [as to what social changes will result from radical life extension], but I think the changes would actually be rather slight. We don't make career or life choices today in early adulthood on the basis of only having 50 more years to live."

Even in advance of the full blossoming of regenerative medicine as a field, early progress in the laboratory can still lead to viable, useful therapies. Take this, for example: "Not even the most advanced experimental techniques have been able to restore nerve function to sites far from an injury. Smith thought he might facilitate fast nerve regeneration by using lab-grown nerves as a kind of scaffold that doctors could place where a patient's nerve has died. Though the implanted nerve would not transmit signals itself, the presence of the living tissue could guide the body's regenerating nerve back to the injury site while keeping the detached nerve sheath intact. To get the engineered nerves to grow long enough to span the injured area by the time they were transplanted, he applied slight, gradually increasing physical tension; this process, he found, encouraged nerves to grow almost 100 times as fast as scientists had believed possible. Smith and his team introduced these engineered nerves into rats that had part of their leg nerves cut out. Within four months, as the natural nerves began to regenerate in the rats' bodies, the transplants had helped guide those nerves across the chasms, successfully restoring function to the rats' legs. ... so far, the longest nerve they have grown is approximately 10 centimeters. ... Smith hopes to start testing the human-derived implants in patients with nerve injuries in the next two years."

From Singularity Hub: "Researchers [are] hoping to save limbs and lives with the creation of their new artificial artery. Unlike current artery replacements, this grafting substance was created using nanotechnology and can pulse with the natural movements of the body. That pulsing will allow the polymer tube to be used in very small grafts, giving hope that damaged arteries which would normally lead to amputations or heart attacks can now be treated. ... The new artificial artery material [is] a polymer which has been embedded with different types of special molecules. Some of these molecules aid circulation, others encourage stem cells to coat its walls. That coating is very important and may allow the artificial tissue to bond better with the body and promote long term health. Most importantly though, the design of the artificial vascular tissue is resistant to clotting and can pulse." As researchers become more proficient in engineering nanoscale-featured scaffold material to support tissue regrowth, we will see more varied applications of the technology, like this one.

Exercise is undeniably good for long term health, far better than any medical technology presently available - but why? Here is an overview of some of what is now known: "Physical activity has long been known to bestow such benefits as helping to maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress, not to mention tightening those abs. Now, a growing body of research is showing that regular exercise - as simple as a brisk 30- to 45-minute walk five times a week - can boost the body's immune system, increasing the circulation of natural killer cells that fight off viruses and bacteria. ... No pill or nutritional supplement has the power of near-daily moderate activity in lowering the number of sick days people take ... Regular exercise has been shown to combat the ongoing damage done to cells, tissues and organs that underlies many chronic conditions. Indeed, studies have found exercise can lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol, and cut the incidence of Type 2 diabetes. ... exercise-induced changes in the body's immune system may protect against some forms of cancer. ... Researchers are also investigating whether exercise can influence aging in the body. In particular, they are looking at whether exercise lengthens telomeres, the strands of DNA at the tips of chromosomes."

From the Wall Street Journal: "Scientists looking for ways to repair damaged cartilage - a leading cause of osteoarthritis - are employing horses to test a new method of tissue regeneration that uses concentrated stem cells. ... but there isn't any good way of detecting cartilage breakdown until the cartilage is broken or lost or osteoarthritis develops. And though cartilage-repair surgery has improved over the years, the repaired scar tissue isn't as strong as real cartilage and isn't able to bear the same weight. ... For about two decades, [researchers] have been trying to improve treatment by regenerating cartilage tissue. While many scientists have been successful at creating new tissue in the lab, they haven't been able to grow cartilage in humans. The main challenge is that the structure of cartilage, which is critical to its supporting weight, is hard to mimic ... It's easy to generate a piece of tissue, but it's not so easy to generate a tissue that works ... [researchers] hypothesize that the more stem cells that are used to repair cartilage at the site of the damage, the better the regeneration of the tissue should be. They first create a dime-sized cartilage injury in the horse's stifle joints, which resemble the human knee, and then test two different ways of concentrating the stem cells after taking them from the horse's own bone marrow."

AGING IN AMERICA (January 04 2010)
The Immortality Institute volunteers have put together an interesting article: "Current government projections may significantly underestimate the future life expectancy of Americans, according to new research from the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society published in The Milbank Quarterly. The research finds that by 2050 Americans may live 3.1 to 7.9 years longer than official government projections, resulting in sharply higher costs for government programs that serve older citizens. The findings are based on the premise that the risk of death in the coming decades will be reduced by accelerated advances in biomedical technology that delay the onset and progression of major fatal diseases or that slow the aging process." There is great uncertainty in actuarial projections in recent years, which reflects great uncertainty over the course of future biotechnology. It is clearly the case that vast improvements in life span are possible in a few decades with the right levels of funding and support - the big question is whether that funding and support materializes in time. That is the challenge facing advocates for engineered longevity.

The Detroit News looks at the Cryonics Institute: "Robert Ettinger, a former Wayne State University professor and Clinton Township resident, founded the institute more than 30 years ago. Unable to persuade scientists to preserve bodies at low temperatures after death in hopes of rejuvenation by yet-invented technology, Ettinger did it himself. The Cryonics Institute opened in Detroit in 1976 before moving in 1993 to Clinton Township.
For years, membership was in the single digits, but it has exploded 500 percent since 2000 to 830 worldwide folks who want to preserve themselves, DNA or pets. The facility has preserved 64 animals, mostly dogs and cats, but a few birds and a hamster.
Some credit the Internet for the growth. Others chalk it up to contemporary advances in science, including research into aging and disease, resuscitation after deep cooling and regenerative medicine. Joseph Kowalsky likens cryonics to 'an ambulance to the future' and thinks of it this way: Most people would have considered someone dead in the 1800s if they had dropped to the ground of a heart attack. But defibrillators and other technologies have evolved to normalize the heart and allowed many people to live. ... The whole question of cryonics is, when does somebody die? If you can hold someone in stasis, stop decomposition so that we can find out later with medical technology if the person is really dead. It may be that person needed some form of medication, gene therapy, things we may not have even heard of yet."



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