LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
March 15 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.
- Thymus Transplant Extends Life in Old Mice
- Advances in Stem Cell Research and Application
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
THYMUS TRANSPLANT EXTENDS LIFE IN OLD MICE
One of the aspects of aging that must be addressed to attain rejuvenation through medical science is the failing immune system. There are several possible ways to address this issue, but the effects of thymus transplants on mouse longevity are one way to validate this end goal:
"You might recall that the degeneration of the thymus over time - a process known as involution - is one of the limits placed upon your immune system. The thymus is the source of T cells, the workers of the active immune system. Considered within the framework of a normal life span, the thymus spins up early, churns out your population of T cells while you are a child, and then largely shuts down once you reach adulthood. You are left with what is essentially a fixed population of immune cells to see you through the rest of your life. Which is a simplification of a more complex set of processes, but close enough for our purposes here. The degenerating effectiveness of an aging immune system results in large part from the limited T cell population: it runs out of T cells that are not already assigned to specific tasks."
One approach to address this issue is to boost the number of immune cells circulating in the body. This could be achieved through generating the cells from a patient's own stem cells and delivering them directly, or through rejuvenating the thymus via transplant or tissue engineering - essentially gearing it up to generate more T cells than would normally be the case. Transplantation of young thymus tissue, which researchers have now demonstrated to extend life in old mice, is one way of validating this approach. The immune system is so critical to resisting various forms of progressive cellular and other biochemical damage in the body that it is not unreasonable to expect at least some enhanced longevity to result from its restoration.
ADVANCES IN STEM CELL RESEARCH AND APPLICATION
The field of stem cell medicine is progressing very rapidly these days, but the real explosion in progress is still to come. Much of the eye-opening advances are presently occurring in infrastructural technologies: it is as the cost of experimentation falls that a field blossoms into its full capacity for growth.
"In a leap toward making stem cell therapy widely available, researchers at the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College have discovered that endothelial cells, the most basic building blocks of the vascular system, produce growth factors that can grow copious amounts of adult stem cells and their progeny over the course of weeks. Until now, adult stem cell cultures would die within four or five days despite best efforts to grow them.
"Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered a new method for predicting - with up to 99 percent accuracy - the fate of stem cells. ... In order to achieve successful stem cell-based therapies, researchers require access to large amounts of specific cells. This has proven difficult, as there are currently no methods for controlling or manipulating the division of bulk quantities of cells.
"Both of these lines of research feed into the search for low-cost and reliable sources of specific cell populations, and ways to quickly generate those sources from a patient's own cells. Much of the progress in this field has yet to happen, as the real free-for-all of experimentation and implementation only gets underway once costs in time and money become low enough. Everything that has happened in the fields of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering over the past decade was just a warm up in comparison to what's ahead."
Meanwhile, much of the most energetic groundwork for the application of stem cell science is taking place in Asia rather than the more heavily regulated Western nations:
"The medical industry in countries like India, Malaysia, Vietnam, and so forth is in many ways more energetic than in the West. It is certainly less burdened by regulation, and that makes all the difference in the long run. For so long as it costs less to achieve the same goals, the level of growth will be greater, and that difference will compound year after year. Heavy regulation and socialist command and control systems such as those that shackle medicine in the US will always ensure that a region becomes backwards and poor in the fullness of time. It will be overtaken by competing regions, and the bulk of new investment will go elsewhere.
"We can see aspects of this process happening now in the field of stem cell research. The real action in terms of foundational growth and application of new science is taking place outside America and Western Europe. Absent large changes in the tenor and breadth of medical regulation in the US, the future of your health will be found in Asia, because that will be where the safe, reliable, low cost therapies exist."
The highlights and headlines from the past week follow below.
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LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
THE SOURCE OF SKIN STEM CELLS (March 12 2010)
From Reuters: "researchers conducted a study in mice and found that the stem cell that produces all the different cells of the skin actually lives in hair follicles. The findings, which they say will translate for human use, mean it may be possible to harness these stem cells to help with wound repair or skin transplants for burns victims ... The same stem cells exist in humans, we can see them, and the promise is that these cells are probably going to be much better than anything we have had to date at making new skin. ... The skin has three different populations of cells - hair follicles, moisturizing sebaceous glands, and the tissue in between, known as the interfollicular epidermis. Stem cells are original cells, or drivers, from which all human cells develop. Scientists had previously thought that stem cells in each of these three skin populations were capable of producing their own cell type, but until now, a 'mother' stem cell which produces all three types had not been found. ... Scientists are already able to grow new skin in laboratories using tissue from existing skin cells from patients who have been badly burned, but the new skin is often brittle, dry and does not have hair - making it look unusual. ... the advantage offered by the 'mother' stem cell finding would be that they could grow skin from its original basis - allowing it to be 'real new skin' with moisture from sebaceous glands and the ability to grow hair."
METHUSELAH FOUNDATION DONOR'S KEY CLUB (March 12 2010)
If you're a Methuselah Foundation donor, then you have access to a new area of the Foundation website: "The Donor's Key Club previews the results of new longevity research funded by Methuselah Foundation, and made possible through the generous support of our many donors. News from the laboratories, advance notice of new research results, webinars, and interviews with researchers in fields important to human longevity: all these and more will be forthcoming. Watch this space! ... Only donors to Methuselah Foundation can access the Donor's Key Club ... The first materials added to the Club include an essay by Dave Gobel and the results of research into the biochemistry of supercentarians encouraged by Methuselah Foundation. From this modest start, the Donor's Key Club will grow to be a way for supporters to learn more about healthy longevity and aging science, and clearly see how their donations are used to advance the state of the art."
EXERCISE AND LIFE EXPECTANCY (March 11 2010)
The Wall Street Journal on the potency of exercise: "So what do boomers need to do not just to survive to 85, but to live healthy lives into old age? ... The most important strategy, according to the latest research to look at the question, is to be physically active in middle age. 'If you are fit in mid-life, you double your chance of surviving to 85.' ... Put another way: If you're not fit in your 50s, your projected life span 'is eight years shorter than if you are fit.' ... [These findings] are based on an analysis of 1,765 men and women who had physical examinations performed during the 1970s and 1980s at the Cooper Institute, the Dallas-based birthplace of the aerobics movement. They are a reminder that despite an array of effective drugs and other medical advances, the front line for most of us in the battle to prevent heart disease and survive into old age lies in adopting healthy living habits. ... The report also underscores the importance of physical activity in maintaining overall health: Fitness even trumped smoking cessation in the magnitude of benefit among participants in the study - though not by much. The combination of being physically fit, not smoking and having low blood pressure was a powerful predictor of longevity."
REASONED OPTIMISM ON LONGEVITY (March 11 2010)
From Singularity Hub: "The fastest growing age group in the industrialized world is the centenarian club. Pushing past 100 used to be a rare feat, but most demographic studies agree that by 2030 there will be about a million of us enjoying the three digit lifestyle. Those studies don't even count on the revolutionary longevity treatments we could develop in the next 20 years. We could hit that million mark much sooner, and we may start getting people past the 150 or even 200 mark. Either way, baby-boomers are going to become elder-boomers and before that happens we all need to take a crash course on what it means to live to be really really old. Turns out, it's not that bad. Judging by the centenarians scientists have studied all over the world, living beyond 100 isn't about slipping into decrepitude. A good portion of these elders live independent, happy lives without long suffering illnesses. ... Hopefully, the lessons that centenarians can teach will allow all of us to live longer and healthier lives. I fully expect the human lifespan to keep increasing, maybe indefinitely. In a few years, I may be rewriting this article as 'Get ready to live past 1000.' The longer you live, the more chance you have to access technologies to extend your life. It's a good reason to take care of yourself. See you in the next century."
STEM CELL THERAPIES IN COLORADO (March 10 2010)
A good article from Singularity Hub examines an entrepreneurial medical practice in Colorado that offers stem cell therapies in defiance of the FDA. More of this sort of proactive civil disobedience is needed, but it has a way of ending badly for those involved, sadly. FDA bureaucrats have have not hesitated in the past to destroy legitimate and responsible businesses for failing to toe the line. From the article: "RSI provides its patients with the Regenexx procedure, an adult stem cell transplant that uses your own cells (autologous) to treat joint injuries and bone damage. There’s no surgery needed. A needle extracts bone marrow, RSI isolates the stem cells and cultures them in your own blood, and then these cells are injected into the area where they are needed. They've treated 348+ patients with 800+ injections and show no signs of slowing down. According to RSI's own surveys, 89% of their knee patients showed marked improvement, as did 75% of their hip patients! Within months some patients can walk or run in ways they haven't been able to in years. We've seen these kinds of results from stem cell treatments before, but only in horses and dogs. That's because human stem cell therapies like this one aren't approved by the FDA. How can [RSI] flaunt the lack of federal approval? They claim that Regenexx is solely used as a part of their medical practice, only within the state of Colorado, and as such is no more regulated by the FDA than it would be by the FAA or the Department of Motor Vehicles."
A BIOLOGICAL BYPASS (March 10 2010)
Via ScienceDaily: "Coronary arteries can become blocked with plaque, leading to a decrease in the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Over time this blockage can lead to debilitating chest pain or heart attack. Severe blockages in multiple major vessels may require coronary artery bypass graft surgery, a major invasive surgery. ... Successfully growing new arteries could provide a biological option for patients facing bypass surgery ... In the past, researchers used growth factors -- proteins that stimulate the growth of cells -- to grow new arteries, but this method was unsuccessful. [Researchers] studied mice and zebrafish to see if they could simulate arterial formation by switching on and off two signaling pathways -- ERK1/2 and P13K. ... We found that there is a cross-talk between the two signaling pathways. One half of the signaling pathway inhibits the other. When we inhibit this mechanism, we are able to grow arteries. Instead of using growth factors, we stopped the inhibitor mechanism by using a drug that targets a particular enzyme called P13-kinase inhibitor. Because we've located this inhibitory pathway, it opens the possibility of developing a new class of medication to grow new arteries. The next step is to test this finding in a human clinical trial."
AN INTERESTING THEORY ON OBESITY (March 09 2010)
Almost nothing in biology is entirely immune to a good argument for altering what is presently thought of as cause and effect. Here, for example, a researcher argues that the metabolic syndrome we presently ascribe to excess fat, caused by eating too much, is in fact a direct consequence of that high calorie intake, not the fat. It is an intriguing view, but one that needs more evidence before being taken seriously, I think. From the release: "obesity is the body's way of storing lipids where they belong, in fat tissue, in an effort to protect our other organs from lipids' toxic effects. It's when the surplus of calories coming in gets to be too much for our fat tissue to handle that those lipids wind up in other places they shouldn't be, and the cascade of symptoms known as metabolic syndrome sets in. ... There is some disagreement in the field about whether insulin resistance is a primary cause of metabolic syndrome or just one of its features ... Insulin resistance is not the cause of metabolic syndrome, [according to this theory], it is a 'passive byproduct' of fat deposition in the liver and muscle once storage in fat cells begins to fail. ... Based on the genes they carry, some people will be better able to sustain lipid storage in fat and can get away with being overweight, even obese, without the other symptoms. Eventually, though, the need to cut calories is something all of us will face. ... Once you reach a certain age, almost everybody is leptin resistant. Nature stops protecting you once you pass the reproductive years."
LITTLE GOLDEN ASSASSINS (OF CANCER) (March 09 2010)
A great deal of work is presently taking place to develop targeted nanoparticles to kill very specific types of cell with no side-effects or collateral damage. This is good, as the applications of this technology range far beyond cancer: the aging immune system, for example, or cases of autoimmune disease could benefit from killing off malfunctioning immune cells. Many other potential uses exist. Here is another example of work in progress: "researchers synthesized nanoparticles - shaped something like a dumbbell - made of gold sandwiched between two pieces of iron oxide. They then attached antibodies, which target a molecule found only in colorectal cancer cells, to the particles. Once bound, the nanoparticles are engulfed by the cancer cells. To kill the cells, the researchers use a near-infrared laser, which is a wavelength that doesn't harm normal tissue at the levels used, but the radiation is absorbed by the gold in the nanoparticles. This causes the cancer cells to heat up and die. ... This is a so-called 'smart' therapy. To be a smart therapy, it should be targeted, and it should have some ability to be activated only when it's there and then kills just the cancer cells."
WHY SUPERCENTENARIANS DIE (March 08 2010)
The Daily Bruin looks at the work of the Gerontology Research Group and Supercentenarian Research Foundation: "UCLA's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine recently autopsied 115-year-old Gertrude Baines, formerly the oldest person in the world. Baines was one of the current 77 validated living supercentenarians in the world, a group including any person aged 110 years or older. She died Sept. 11, 2009 from Senile Systemic Amyloidosis ... Supercentenarians appear to escape from the common diseases that kill ordinary people, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, but there's another form of the grim reaper waiting in the wings ... Senile Systemic Amyloidosis is a common cause of death among supercentenarians. The mechanism involves a slow process in which a native protein called Transthyretin, which transports thyroid hormones to the body, becomes increasingly unstable. As humans age, the carrier protein begins to unravel and misfold, sticking to the inside of blood vessels and restricting blood flow. As a result, the heart undergoes hypertrophy, growing and working harder in an attempt to compensate ... The consequence of this process includes the symptoms of congestive heart failure, but without an autopsy, the attending physician would never know the underlying cause. ... Now that we've started this research, we can draw attention to Senile Systemic Amyloidosis and we can try to find a cure for this disease. Maybe supercentenarians could live healthy even longer."
CAMPAIGN FOR AGING RESEARCH BLOG (March 08 2010)
I see that the Campaign for Aging Research has started a blog, populating it with fairly middle of the road posts on aging research. For example, this one on fat and diabetes risk: "It is thought that the increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes as a person ages is related to increasing insulin resistance. In an interesting study comparing insulin sensitivity between different groups of individuals, no difference was identified in insulin sensitivity between old and young athletes, between older and younger normal weight individuals, or between older and younger obese subjects. The athletes demonstrated the highest insulin sensitivity, followed by the normal weight individuals, with obese subjects having the lowest sensitivity to insulin. The authors concluded that aging alone cannot account for insulin resistance, but that the decreased physical activity and obesity that can occur with aging can be responsible for age-related insulin insensitivity. An increasing amount of research has been devoted to studying the relationship between physical activity, obesity and diabetes. It is now generally accepted that the presence of abdominal fat increases the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease."