Longevity Meme Newsletter, June 07 2010

June 07 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.



- The Carrot of Happiness
- A Regenerative Medicine Roadmap
- A Glance at the Russian Pro-Longevity Community
- Two Films on the Singularity
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


A few thoughts on some of the underlying motivations for engineering a longer, healthier life:


"The twin incentives for engineering greater human longevity: on the one hand, we have the stick of disease, degeneration, and suffering. On the other hand we have the carrot of a life that in all other aspects generally keeps getting better. Being older brings with it wisdom, knowledge, experience, and perhaps most importantly independence - the ability to be your own person and forge your own path. ... Youth is wasted on the young, as they say - so why not work at making youth available to everyone? It's the horror of the human condition that just as we get to the point of being practiced and elegant, the rug is pulled out from under us. But engineered healthy longevity is a very possible, plausible goal for this present age of biotechnology. Like all good things it requires work to realize: the longer we hang around not working on it, the longer it'll take to arrive."


The Science for Life Extension Foundation produces poster-sized visualizations to illustrate their visions for the future of medical science, and the volunteers there are kind enough to translate from the Russian into English for those of us stranded on this side of the language divide:


"This covers the large areas of interest for cell therapies: (a) removing unwanted cells, such as the growing senescent cell population in every older body, (b) adding cells where they have been lost, so as to reverse sarcopenia, for example, or replace the dying motor neurons that cause the symptoms in a number of unpleasant degenerative conditions, (c) reprogramming cells to create unlimited sources of stem cells or specialized cells to order, (d) restoring the ability for cells to regenerate damage in the body, an ability gradually lost with age, and (e) the use of larger scale tissue engineering to create new replacement organs when needed."


An active Russian-language community presently discusses and advocates engineered human longevity. The Science for Life Extension Foundation is a product of that community in the same way that the Methuselah Foundation, SENS Foundation, and related initiatives arose in the English-speaking world. We English speakers don't get to see much of this Russian discourse on healthy life extension, however - even though automated translation is slowly eroding the language barriers that were once impassible mountains. Here, I'll note that Science for Life Extension Foundation volunteer Maria Konovalenko maintains an English-language blog in which she discusses progress towards extended healthy human lives:



The concept of the technological singularity continues its march towards popularization:


"The technological singularity, when considered rigorously, is something of a framework for thinking about the future of human engineering and the capabilities of the tools we build. It is of interest to supporters of healthy life extension for the same reasons as any consideration of the future of biotechnology: we want to gain a better idea of (a) what it will take to create foreseeable medical technologies of rejuvenation, and (b) whether it is possible or plausible for these advances to arrive within our remaining lifetimes. It is self-evident that agelessness is possible in the long run, given what we know about our biology and the laws of physics. [But] will the first effective rejuvenation technologies arrive in time for us to benefit? Therein lies the all-important question."


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!




While we're on the subject of the importance of the brain to engineered longevity, here is news of an infrastructural advance from EurekAlert!: "The Allen Institute for Brain Science announced today that it has launched the Allen Human Brain Atlas, a publicly available online atlas charting genes at work throughout the human brain. The data provided in this initial data release represent the most extensive and detailed body of information about gene activity in the human brain to date, documenting which genes are expressed, or 'turned on' where. In the coming years, the Atlas will be expanded with more data and more sophisticated search, analysis and visualization tools to create a comprehensive resource useful to an increasingly wide range of scientists and research programs worldwide. The Allen Human Brain Atlas, available at www.brain-map.org, is a unique multi-modal atlas of the human brain that integrates anatomic and genomic information to create a searchable, three-dimensional map of gene activity in the brain. Data modalities in this resource include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and histology - providing information about gross neuroanatomy, pathways of neural connections, and microscopic anatomy, respectively - as well as gene expression data derived from multiple approaches."

Here is a presentation given by researcher Anders Sandberg for Google's Tech Talk series: "The idea of creating a faithful, one-to-one computer copy of a human brain has been a popular philosophical thought experiment and science fiction plot for decades. While computational neuroscience and systems biology are currently very far away from this goal, the trends towards large-scale simulation, industrialized neuroinformatics, new forms of microscopy and powerful computing clusters point in this direction and are enabling new forms of simulations of unprecendented scope. In this talk I will discuss current estimates of how close we are to achieving emulated brains, technological requirements, research challenges and some of the possible consequences." A little while back the Future of Humanity Institute published a roadmap to whole brain emulation. This topic is of interest to supporters of engineered longevity as a part of the very long term goal of incrementally replacing the vulnerable biology of the brain with something more robust and damage-resistant. Such as, for example, clusters of diamondoid nanomachines designed to emulate the functions of neurons.

EAT LESS, LIVE LONGER (June 03 2010)
The New Scientist on calorie restriction: "Dreams of eternal youth feature in many cultures throughout history, but it was only in the 20th century that research into longevity really began. Much about ageing is still mysterious - we don't even know the underlying reasons why we journey into old age. There are many lines of enquiry into how to live longer, though, with one of the most intriguing being calorie restriction: in effect, going on a lifelong diet. Calorie restriction dramatically extends not only the lifespan of laboratory animals, but also their 'healthspan' - how long they live free of disease. On the assumption that it has the same effect in people, some individuals have already adopted a restricted diet. The latest evidence suggests that while calorie restriction is indeed beneficial for humans, when it comes to lifespan extension, it may not be the whole story. The good news is that we might be able to delay ageing without cutting our food intake. ... There's a definite possibility that if you balance the diet correctly, a longer lifespan can be achieved without full food restriction. ... It is unclear why eating less should make animals live longer. While a restricted diet triggers numerous changes at the molecular and genetic levels, only some of these are common across all the species tested. However, there does seem to be a general principle that a dearth of nutrients causes organisms to divert resources away from growth and reproduction and towards basic survival functions. From an evolutionary perspective, these adaptations could help an organism survive famine."

From Depressed Metabolism: "Some contemporary atheists and secular humanists do not stop at debunking the idea of God but seem to think that making a persuasive case against religion requires them to refute all of its associated ideas as well; including the desire for immortality. Paula Kirby is not the first secular person praising our limited lifespan and glorifying death: 'For atheists it is the very transience of life that helps to give it its meaning: for it prompts us to live it to the full' ... Kirby does not just repeat the hollow non-empirical cliche that life can only have meaning in the face of death but she also pretends to speak on behalf of all atheists. As can be expected, she cannot imagine an extremely long lifespan to be anything else than unspeakable boredom. When she writes that 'Susan Ertz got it spot on with her witty remark that millions yearn for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon' one cannot help thinking that she is conveying more information about herself and Susan Ertz than about humans in general. ... It is remarkable to what extent the notion of death as not only biological but ontological necessity has permeated Western philosophy - remarkable because the overcoming and mastery of mere natural necessity has otherwise been regarded as the distinction of human existence and endeavor."

Depressed Metabolism notes that Russian cryonics provider KrioRus is forging ahead with its work: "On May 16, 2010 the only non-US cryonics provider KrioRus announced the cryopreservation of its 12th patient. The patient was pronounced legally dead on May 5 in Kiev and cryoprotectant perfusion was completed on May 7 after initial cooldown and ground transport to Moscow. A more extensive report is available here. It is encouraging to see more cryonics activity outside of the United States. The statistics of Alcor, Cryonics Institute and KrioRus indicate that there are currently more than 200 cryonics patients in the world and that more than 1,300 people have made cryonics arrangements. The 2009-1 issue of Cryonics has a two page feature on KrioRus." Every new group starts small. Cryonics is the only present way to gain a chance of evading the destruction of the self: preserving the fine structure of your brain (and thus your mind) at low temperatures in order to reach a future in which advanced medical technology can restore you. Sadly this is still a niche industry - and tens of millions die every year who might have been saved in a kinder world.

From Geeks of Doom, a review of To Age or Not to Age: "Immortality. We as human beings have desired it for as long as mankind has feared death. Because of the impossibility of everlasting life, we’ve lived vicariously through the fantasy of it in our books and movies and comics and TV shows and anything else that allows us to dream of possessing this amazing fictional power. But what if this once-impossibility was starting to look not only like a possibility, but more like a probability? Do I have your attention? OK, so maybe we're not looking at 'immortality' here, but To Age or Not To Age offers up the idea that we as human beings could live 20% to 40% longer, and that 120-year-old people could be able to look, feel, and move around like a 60-year-old does today. If true, it could be one of the most amazing scientific discoveries ever made. ... To Age or Not To Age is an incredible documentary to watch, and everyone should really see it themselves, because gods know I surely can't do it justice with a few words here. That, and no matter what you think after seeing the film, many great discussions and debates will come from it. Whether this revolution actually takes place in the next five to ten years or not is yet to be seen, but if you're interested in how we or our future bloodlines may just be living for hundreds of years in the future, this is the very first step."

Researchers continue to dig into the connection between psychological stress and telomere length: "Exercise can buffer the effects of stress-induced cell aging, according to new research ... A growing body of research suggests that short telomeres are linked to a range of health problems, including coronary heart disease and diabetes, as well as early death. ... Telomere length is increasingly considered a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, integrating genetic influences, lifestyle behaviors, and stress. ... Results support [the] discovery six years earlier in premenopausal women that psychological stress has a detrimental effect on immune cell longevity, as it relates to shorter telomeres. The new study showed, however, that when participants were divided into groups - an inactive group, and an active [group] - only the inactive high stress group had shorter telomeres. The active high stress group did not have shorter telomeres. In other words, stress predicted shorter telomeres in the sedentary group, but not in the active group."

A general interest article on the aging of blood vessels from the Wall Street Journal: "Over time, however, the effects of high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and tobacco smoke provide a toxic milieu that injures the endothelium. That causes an inflammatory response intended to heal the artery wall, but that in the face of continuous injury only makes things worse. The progressive result is an accumulation of fatty deposits called plaque that can rupture or have their caps shear off, causing clots that lead to heart attacks. In addition, artery walls can stiffen, transforming compliant arteries into conduits like 'Styrofoam tubes' [that] increase both blood pressure and the workload on the heart. ... Both high body mass, particularly belly fat that accounts for a person's bulging waist line, and diabetes have a pernicious effect on the health of adult blood vessels. ... Even if your weight is under control, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, sedentary living and stress all are culprits that can accelerate vascular age."

The results of this study make for an interesting comparison with research that demonstrates lack of blood vessel dilation in muscles to be a root cause of age-related loss of muscle mass, or sarcopenia: researchers "have determined that moderately and temporarily restricting the flow of blood through muscles - a practice adopted by bodybuilders who noticed that it made light weights feel heavier - can be combined with low-level resistance exercise training to produce muscle-mass increases in older men. ... investigators studied changes in the thigh muscles of seven older men (average age 70) when they performed four minutes of low-resistance leg extension exercises both with and without inflatable cuffs that reduced blood flow out of the muscles. Muscle protein synthesis was measured in each of the men by monitoring changes in a chemical tracer infused into the bloodstream. In addition, a series of biopsies yielded muscle samples that were analyzed to track alterations in biochemical pathways critical to muscle growth. ... We saw that when we put the cuffs on, they responded similarly to young people doing traditional high-intensity resistance exercise."

From Life Extension Magazine: "the name 'regenerative medicine' came from Bill Haseltine, then of Human Genome Sciences, one of the early leaders in genomics and DNA technology. Back in the 1990s, Bill learned that researchers in aging were making important progress on turning back the clock of aging in human cells through cloning, and then creating young cells that could potentially regenerate or repair all the tissues of the aged human body. And so, upon hearing of that realistic prospect, he christened the field 'regenerative medicine' in the belief that it would one day become a major part of medical practice. So, based on its origins, I would define regenerative medicine as that collection of technologies that utilizes embryonic pluripotent stem cells and their derivatives to regenerate tissues in the body ravaged from disease, primarily degenerative disorders associated with aging. ... The problem with human biology is that the immortal reproductive cells that built you and me develop into differentiated cells within our bodies and as a result, lose the capacity to proliferate (divide) forever. So, the cells of the body are mortal, meaning they have a finite life span, and as our tissues age, or deteriorate from disease, our body has a finite capacity to regenerate and repair those tissues. As a result, we suffer progressive declines in function that lead to our death." There is more to aging than this, however.



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