Longevity Meme Newsletter, February 22 2010

February 22 2010

The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly email containing news, opinions, and happenings for people interested in aging science and engineered longevity: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology, and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives. This newsletter is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. In short, this means that you are encouraged to republish and rewrite it in any way you see fit, the only requirements being that you provide attribution and a link to the Longevity Meme.



- Longevity Research at the Science Network
- Gathering Eyeballs, Not Truth
- Bionics and Tissue Engineering
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


I should point out that the Science Network website includes a fair number of video interviews with biogerontologists and other folk involved in aging and longevity research:


"One of the more interesting interviews is with Paul Glenn, the philanthropist behind both the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and the ongoing establishment of laboratories for longevity science in a number of different research centers. In comparison to researchers, most high net worth folk who fund aging research tend not to speak to the public all that often - which I think is a pity, and also one of the aspects of the funding environment that has to change as we move further into the biotechnology revolution. You'll also find interviews with Aubrey de Grey, who you should all know well by now, Andrzej Bartke, current holder of the Longevity Mprize for growth hormone receptor knockout mice, and Cynthia Kenyon, who has produced very long-lived nematode worms in the course of her research. There are a range of other interviewees besides; you should take the time to wander through and see what you learn."


The state of scientific reporting in mainstream journalism is an appalling train wreck - but exactly what we should expect, given the goals and incentives of those involved:


"Recent work in Newcastle, UK and at the University of Ulm, Germany has been touted as discovering the 'secrets to aging' but is really just another small step in understanding why our bodies wear down. The research was published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology, picked up by the Telegraph and then redistributed by the usual lot of copy and paste news feeds. Using human cells, mouse cells and computer simulations, the British-German team explored the mechanism that produces cell senescence - the state in which a cell stops dividing and eventually dies. They found a certain protein pathway was responsible for cells with damaged DNA becoming senescent. That's a cool bit of science, but it's not the 'secret to aging' and its light years from a cure for aging. Unfortunately, journalists can't sell 'scientists take another steady step in large complex problem that may not be solved for decades', so we're left with an over-hyped, misunderstood development. Which is a shame, because the Newcastle-Ulm group actually made some interesting discoveries."

Extracting the useful shards from the popular press account of any new scientific advance and then doing your own legwork to find out what it actually means is a skill. Like any other skill, it requires practice. But never take the popular press at face value on matters of science.


"Bionics" is a term that covers many more types of research than you might think it does:


"For those of us of a certain age, the word 'bionic' will always be associated with enhanced mechanical limbs. If other organs are bionic, then they had better be devices of chrome and ceramic, electrically powered, and the sort of thing turned out by a high-tech workshop. But the usage of 'bionic' or 'bionics' in medical technology is much broader than this, and often altered. Consider, for example, that a living, beating, recellularized heart is just as much an artificial, engineered construct as the latest type of electromechanical heart replacements being tested today. Under the dictionary definition of bionic, both of these items are bionic technologies.

"'Bionics in medicine of the future' - this is the title of a public lecture by Spanish transplantologist Paolo Macchiarini ... In 2008, Professor Macchiarini led an international team of scientists who performed the transplantation of patient trachea grown out of her own stem cells on donor scaffold in bioreactor. ... Professor Macchiarini is convinced that the regeneration of organs, the formation of an entire organ or a part of it inside the human body can solve almost all problems that modern medicine still cannot resolve. In his opinion, this will become possible very soon - within five years."


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!




ALCOR IS RECRUITING (February 19 2010)
Via the Alcor News blog, I see that this cryonics provider has openings for a technical coordinator and readiness coordinator: "The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit scientific and research organization, currently has an immediate opening for a Technical Coordinator at our Scottsdale, Arizona, facility. The Technical Coordinator is responsible for maintaining and operating equipment necessary to perform cryopreservation of humans in the field of cryonics. Cryonics is the experimental practice of using ultra-cold temperatures to preserve human life in a state that may be recoverable by future medicine. For four decades Alcor has developed and implemented innovative techniques in the field of cryonics. These techniques involve a combination of experimental interventions and conventional medical skills. ... The Readiness Coordinator will work with Alcor's Transport Coordinator in arranging and performing standbys, postmortem stabilization, and transport of Alcor patients to Alcor's cryopreservation facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Readiness Coordinator will also be responsible for purchasing, inventorying, and otherwise maintaining supplies and equipment necessary for cryonics procedures at remote locations and at Alcor's Scottsdale facility. Additionally the Readiness Coordinator will participate in training and outfitting of regional groups in the United States and other countries who assist with stabilization and transport of Alcor patients."

From Depressed Metabolism: "There are various competing strategies how to achieve meaningful life extension or rejuvenation, including, but not limited to, genetic manipulation, periodical elimination of damage, caloric restriction, molecular nanotechnology and mind uploading. A useful review of these strategies has been published in the book The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Lifespans (2004) by the Immortality Institute. Most people will recognize that these strategies are not mutually exclusive. Some of them can be practiced right now (e.g., caloric restriction) and others ( e.g., periodical elimination of damage) could serve as a bridge to more comprehensive interventions such as a comprehensive genetic overhaul of human biology. As has often been recognized on this website, cryonics holds a special place among life extension strategies because it enables one to benefit from progress in the biomedical sciences that may not occur during one's lifetime. We would like to think we can escape death by jumping from one successful biomedical innovation to another and that, of course, all the good things will happen in our lifetime, but reality often interferes with such optimism."

Via the Methuselah Foundation Blog, the latest Foundation newsletter has arrived: "Welcome Doug and Jennifer Bailey, Benjamin Ross Hoffman, Alexey Mitko, Daniel Belov, J.F. Groff, Sigefredo de Carvalho Melo, Alexander Benjamin McLin, Jeremy Keller, Manoj Padki and Manisha Kher, and Capt Herbert Humphreys Jr, to The 300. This exclusive group of donors has responded to the Methuselah Foundation challenge to contribute $85 a month for 25 years. They have made the progress you read about in this newsletter possible. ... Your support continues to make progress in the fight against aging possible. The $3.8 million Mprize Fund is a proof of that. Your donations have made several other advances possible. Dave Gobel, CEO and Founder, is continually on the lookout for other organizations to support as they seek to learn, create and produce products that lead to understanding and increasing longevity. After the jump, read the Methuselah success stories on the Undergraduate Research Initiative, the Supercentenarian Research Foundation, and Halcyon Molecular. ... Methuselah Foundation takes its role as a catalyst very seriously. We will continue to seek out promising work and support worthwhile efforts with your help."

Wired notes the challenges inherent in any present study of a potential life-extending therapy in humans: "Longevity is one of the hottest areas of science, but there's a curious hole in the research: Scientifically speaking, nobody knows how to measure aging, much less predict reliably how people will respond to time's ravages. ... Unlike models of drug development for the diseases of aging, which have consensus endpoints to evaluate, we have not reached a consensus in aging. We don't know how to predict how someone will function later in life, and we need to. ... That such a basic gap exists seems counterintuitive. After all, longevity-enhancing research has never been so prominent. ... We need to have a set of thousands of people, representing all groups, that are closely followed on health measures. They'd be tested three or four times a year, for five or 10 years. Then you'd have a good sense of the trajectory of aging ... people enrolled in the proposed study could, after several years, opt to take rapamycin. That would let researchers see whether it works in people as it does in mice. If so, they'd also have a detailed account of resulting gene and protein changes, and insight into whether rapamycin works better in some people than others. ... But take rapamycin out of the equation, and a long-term study of aging biomarkers would be suitable for institutional funding. Of course, it would still be expensive. But even a long-term study of aging in rodents would be useful, and it would also be more affordable. ... If we had a set of biomarkers that at 12 months of age predicted which mice would die younger or older, then we could shorten mouse studies to 12 months."

HAD WE TIME ENOUGH (February 17 2010)
One of the most common instinctive (and wrong) objections to engineering far longer healthy lives is the belief that we would become bored of life. But even a few moments of thought, as in this post at the IEET blog, will show how ridiculous an idea that is: "What would you do with all of that time? Wouldn't you get bored? What would you do? I asked myself those questions and realized that right now I feel impossibly rushed. There is so much life to experience, in so many ways that I feel compelled to try and do everything at once. Some people spend their teens and twenties partying and living paycheck to paycheck in a visceral, hedonistic, perpetual Bacchanalia of youth. Others cloister themselves away in libraries and academia to emerge in their late twenties/early thirties as The Next Big Thing in their field, granting them a position of influence for decades to come. Others travel, seeing the world, discovering who they want to be and meeting their fellow human beings. Still others start their careers, steadily moving up the ranks and in the process have the financial stability to settle down and have a family. Yet for everyone of these potential ways of living comes at a cost of all the others. The very process of aging forces a choice. But what if I didn’t have to choose because I wasn't aging? What if raising a family didn't take half of my adult life, but barely a tenth of it?"

The bio page for Aubrey de Grey at the Manhattan Beach Project website includes a ten minute video presentation on the contribution of mitochondrial damage to aging, and how to reverse it. You should take a look: "Aubrey's indepth presentation to a roomful of scientists gathered at the Manhattan Beach Project, [which] includes an update on his mitochondrial free-radical theory of aging and a description of how regenerative medicine may be able to thwart the aging process altogether." You might also want to read up on the MitoSENS research program at the SENS Foundation website: "Mitochondria are very complex; they contain about a thousand different kinds of protein, each encoded by a different gene. But nearly all of those genes are not in the mitochondrial DNA at all - they are in the nucleus! ... Only 13 of the mitochondrion's component proteins are still encoded by its own DNA, and it's therefore only these 13 genes that remain vulnerable to the constant assault from free radicals produced during respiration (the life-giving reaction of oxygen and food by the mitochondria). This gives us a wonderful opportunity: rather than fixing mitochondrial mutations, we can make them harmless to us. By putting 'backup copies' of these few remaining genes into the nucleus, we can prevent the harm caused by any mutations that may occur of the original versions."

An article on a human study of alternate day fasting is doing the rounds. Studies of intermittent fasting in animals are divided: on the one hand, the beneficial effects on health and longevity look a lot like those produced by straight calorie restriction; on the other hand, there are differences in gene expression and other line items that might be significant. From the article: "Fasting every other day may be a way to live longer as well as lose weight. It may also lower the risk of conditions such as heart disease and cancer, as well as ease symptoms of chronic ailments. Research suggests that calorie restriction, especially alternate-day fasting, has effects beyond those of simple weight loss, and a trial at the University of California has been investigating the long-term effects of fasting. ... After eight weeks of alternate-day fasting we saw that bad cholesterol was down, along with reductions in triglycerides [fat found in blood], blood pressure and heart rates. And since these are all key risk indicators of heart disease, it may not only help people lose weight but also help them decrease their risk of coronary events. ... One mechanism that has been investigated is that fasting triggers a gene whose job is to promote survival by protecting cells during times when food is scarce. Researchers say it helps repair the damage done by free radicals and prevents cells from dying prematurely, as well as lowering inflammation. The gene can also slow the ageing process by reducing the risk of age-related diseases and health threats."

If we miss out on the forthcoming technologies of rejuvenation, then it will be by only a handful of years - and that will be our fault for focusing on other matters and not getting the job done more rapidly. From Psychology Today, an opposing point of view: a skeptic who is doubtful that he will see rapid advances in his lifetime because advances in the past have been slow. "A look at cancer advances over the last 60 years - my current lifespan - is not encouraging. Research on cancer occupies much of the same intellectual terrain as longevity and anti-aging research. Put simply, cancer research primarily looks at why new cell production goes bad, which is also at the center of many of the theories of aging. If we can ensure the continued new production of healthy cells, the reasoning goes, we are on the road to defeating aging. But a recent article in the New York Times, 'As Other Death Rates Fall, Cancer's Scarcely Moves' (April 24, 2009), underlines how little progress there has been against cancer in my lifetime. Although death rates have plummeted for heart disease, stroke, influenza, and pneumonia, for cancer they have barely moved." This might be thought of as the anti-singularity viewpoint - denying that progress is accelerating, and expecting linear change in the future based on a sample of the past. It is almost certainly wrong, but sadly prevalent.

Via CryoNet, the announcement of a conference to be held in Florida in April: "Cryonics technology is more advanced than even most signed up cryonicists realize. But most people in the scientific community do not realize the progress that has been made. Indeed, most cryonicists do not realize the protocols and technologies that have been developed in the service of making cryonics a true 'evidence based technology.' ... Details of cryonics process from start to finish. Confirmed presenters include Aaron Drake, Alcor Transport Director, Ben Best, Cryonics Institute President, and Catherine Baldwin, General Manager of Suspended Animation, Inc. ... Suspended Animation, Inc. protocols and technology, now available for members of both CI and Alcor. ... A Refresher course for medical professionals and first responders, including the existing Brevard County Medical Team who will be attending. ... Details of Alcor and CI protocols, procedures, and logistics. ... Who is invited: Cryonicists and potential cryonicists of all types, especially skeptics who have been on the sidelines waiting for the technology to mature, and medical specialists."

Numerous research groups around the world are working to build organs from a patient's own cells. Here is one that is illustrative of many: "Researchers at one of the country's leading tissue engineering laboratories are crafting tomorrow's medicine so doctors can replace worn-out body parts with lab-grown organs. Dr. Francois Auger and his team are growing human skin - it's their specialty. They have several other body parts under construction including blood vessels, corneas, ligaments, lungs and bladders. 'This is the medicine of the 21st century,' Auger said in an interview at his brand new laboratory next to the Enfant-Jesus hospital in Quebec City. ... Although this sounds like science fiction, Auger asserts in a few decades, it will be a reality to repair organs or to reconstruct new ones on demand. 'In 50 to 100 years from now, it won't be science fiction. We'll be able to regrow a hand. It's going to be very demanding, very expensive and maybe take a few weeks. But wow, think about it.' In the nearer future, in 20 to 30 years, he believes tissue engineers will be able to regrow a breast for women suffering from breast cancer." Techniques such as recellularization may lead to much more rapid progress than this projected timeline.



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