LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
June 21 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.
- Humanity+ Summit Coverage
- Aubrey de Grey at the MIT Enterprise Forum
- Russian Language Longevity Advocacy
- Naked Mole Rats Do Not Suffer From Cancer
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines
HUMANITY+ SUMMIT COVERAGE
You'll find plenty of coverage of last week's Humanity+ Summit online, including video. The Fight Aging! post below provides links and pointers:
AUBREY DE GREY AT THE MIT ENTERPRISE FORUM
I'd somehow failed to notice a March event at which biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey presented to a business-focused group in the UK. The online presentation is a combined video and powerpoint slideshow affair, and is linked below:
RUSSIAN LANGUAGE LONGEVITY ADVOCACY
We live in an age of wonders, one of which is the ability to instantly and automatically translate almost all foreign language content you might find online. The linguistic barriers between widely separated communities who share an interest in engineered longevity are falling rapidly:
"Unlike even just a few years ago, it's now possible to dive right into a foreign language community online and follow the conversation using tools such as Google Translate. The one area where this is a still a challenge is scientific literature, science being one of the last fields of human endeavor in which it is still legitimate to (a) make up entirely new words and new meanings for existing words, and (b) refuse to explain yourself in anything other than a highly formalized, esoteric dialect of your language. But the language barrier for reading the results of scientific research will fall, just as the barriers for common subjects are now almost gone.
"On this topic, I should point out that an energetic Russian language healthy life extension community exists online these days. We monolingual English speakers could only see a fraction of their writings until fairly recently, and that fraction thanks to the efforts of folk such as Maria Konolavenko, Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova, and a brace of other volunteer translators over the years. But now with Google Translate, it's quite possible to browse the Russian language blogs and other websites where people debate and advocate for engineered human longevity. 'Translator' will soon be, like 'computer,' one of those words that used to mean a profession, and now means a machine."
I offer a few starting points in the post for those interested in reading the output and debates of the Russian pro-longevity community.
NAKED MOLE RATS DO NOT SUFFER FROM CANCER
So far, no researcher has observed cancer to occur in naked mole rats, a mammal that lives up to nine times longer than similar rodent species. Is there something useful that can be found here and applied to human biochemistry? The answer to that question remains unknown, but scientists are investigating:
"One of a number of further lines of investigation into naked mole rats and cancer caught my eye today. It's the essence of genetic research on the frontier of the unknown: change some genes and see what happens next. In this case the researchers demonstrate that naked mole rat cells essentially fall to pieces and become non-viable when cancer-causing genes are introduced."
In comparison, the same changes applied to mouse or rat cells produce a thriving cancer. In the short term, this type of discovery should help to convince more people that the boundaries of the possible are still long way away from where we stand now. A rat-sized mammal doesn't have to have a short life span. Mammals do not necessarily have to live with the risk of cancer. From this starting point, more people will look to the future of biotechnology to envisage humans - ideally those of us reading this now - who are not bound by the present limitations and weaknesses of human biology.
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!
LATEST HEALTHY LIFE EXTENSION HEADLINES
COLD WATER CAST ON LONGEVITY MUTATIONS (June 18 2010)
An opinion paper by researchers who feel that too much emphasis is placed on the discovery of longevity mutations: "The biological reasons for ageing are now well known, so it is no longer an unsolved problem in biology. Furthermore, there is only one science of ageing, which is continually advancing. The significance and importance of the mutations that lengthen the lifespan of invertebrates can be assessed only in relationship to previous well-established studies of ageing. The mutant strains of model organisms that increase longevity have altered nutrient signalling pathways similar to the effects of dietary restriction, and so it is likely that there is a shift in the trade-off between reproduction and maintenance ... To believe that the isolation and characterisation of a few invertebrate mutations (as well as those in yeast) will 'galvanise' the field and provide new insights into human ageing is an extreme point of view which does not recognize the huge progress in ageing research that has been made in the last 50 years or so." I believe that the focus on longevity mutations is not the most effective use of resources, but for different reasons: it's a part of the metabolic manipulation school of slowing aging, which is a slow path to a poor end result in comparison to repair strategies.
AUTOLOGOUS STEM CELL REPAIR FOR DAMAGED CORNEAS (June 18 2010)
From BusinessWeek: "Patients blinded in one or both eyes by chemical burns regained their vision after healthy stem cells were extracted from their eyes and reimplanted ... The tissue was drawn from the limbus, an area at the junction of the cornea and white part of the eye. It was grown on a fibrous tissue, then layered onto the damaged eyes. The cells grew into healthy corneal tissue, transforming disfigured, opaque eyes into functioning ones with normal appearance and color ... The stem-cell treatment restored sight to more than three-quarters of the 112 patients treated. ... The key to success is to be certain that when the stem cells extracted from the limbus are grown in culture they have the right mix of stem cells and the differentiated cells that form the corneal tissue ... If there are too few stem cells in the transplant, the improvement won't last because there will be no reservoir to form the new corneal cells needed with the normal recycling of cells over time. ... Depending on the depth of the injury, some patients regained sight in as little as two months. ... Others with deeper injuries needed a second procedure and waited a year before sight was restored."
INVESTING IN CRYONICS FOR THE LONG, LONG TERM (June 17 2010)
An open access anthropology paper on cryonics, illustrating in a number of subtle and less subtle ways the eternal divide between students of soft sciences and students of hard sciences: "Cryonics is a particularly American social practice, created and taken up by a particular type of American: primarily a small faction of white, male, atheist, Libertarian, middle- and upper-middle-income, computer/engineering 'geeks' who believe passionately in the free market and its ability to support technological progress. In this article, I investigate the relations between the discourses and practices of cryonics and its underpinnings in the values associated with neoliberal capitalism. I take seriously the premise that cryonics is an investment in the possibility of an extended future and a potential insurance policy against death. I show how cryonics is conceived of as an attempt to gain sovereignty over the limits of biological time, achieved through both monetary investment and the banking of biological objects understood to be actual selves. Cryonics demonstrates a unique way in which time, capital, and biotechnoscience can come together in the name of future life. An examination of the extreme example of cryonics reveals how speculative economic reasoning is applied to lives and bodies in the United States. I argue that cryonics is one response to American anxieties about time, the impending decline of the human body, and its culmination in death that draws on logics of biomedicine, technological progress, and investment forms. I describe some of the many unique aspects of cryonics and some of its similarities to venture capitalism, mainstream biomedical practice, and other sites where investment in the self and biotechnoscience come together, chiefly in other forms of tissue banking."
EVOLUTION AND GENDER LONGEVITY DIFFERENCES (June 17 2010)
This particular researcher is somewhat fixated on TOR (when all you have is a hammer...) but this open access paper provides an interesting set of ideas on why men and women have differing life expectancies: "Women have lived longer than men in different countries and in every era ... Yet, it is believed that men do not age faster than women but simply are weaker at every age. In contrast, I discuss that men [do] age faster. From [an] evolutionary perspective, high accidental death rate in young males is compatible with fast aging. Mechanistically, hyper-activated mTOR (Target of Rapamycin) may render young males robust at the cost of accelerated aging. But if women age slower, why then is it women who have menopause? Some believe that menopause is programmed and purposeful (grandmother theory). In contrast, I discuss how menopause is not programmed but rather is an aimless continuation of the same program that initially starts reproduction at puberty. This quasi-program causes over-activation of female reproductive system, which is very vulnerable to over-activation."
BONE SCAFFOLDS TO ORDER (June 16 2010)
Researchers continue to make progress in scaffolding materials that enable the body to regrow missing bone: "In contrast to long-term solutions based on titanium, degradable implants are intended to replace the missing pieces of bone only until the fissure closes itself up. That may last months or even years, depending on the size of the defect, the age and health status of the patient. A new implant improves the conditions for the healing process. It emerged from the "Resobone" project of the federal ministry for education and research, and is sized-to-fit for each patient. Unlike the conventional bony substitutes to date, it is not made up as a solid mass, but is porous instead. Precise little channels permeate the implant at intervals of just a few hundred micrometers. ... The porous canals create a lattice structure which the adjacent bones can grow into. ... the Resobone implants will primarily replace missing facial, maxillary and cranial bones. Currently, they are able to close fissures of up to 25 square centimeters in size. ... The patient's computer tomography serves as the template for the precision-fit production of the implants. The work processes - from CT imaging, to construction of the implant, through to its completion - are coordinated in such precise sequences that the replacement for a defective zygomatic bone can be produced in just a few hours, while a five-centimeter large section of cranium can be done overnight."
MORE TISSUE ENGINEERED SKIN (June 16 2010)
From the Sydney Morning Herald: "A full thickness artificial skin which should dramatically reduce the pain and scarring associated with skin grafts is being developed by Sydney researchers. Burns experts from the University of Sydney and Concord Hospital have started animal trials of a living skin that is grown outside the body and is completely functional when grafted on to the body. Unlike traditional skin grafts, which involve only the thin outer layer of the skin known as the epidermis, the new skin will be able to replace the crucial second layer of skin called the dermis. ... It takes the body weeks to grow into a skin graft and in that time a lot of excess elastic fibres and collagen will be produced that will then turn into a scar. The scar contracts and it can get so tight that patients lose the movement of their mouth and can't talk, or they can't bend their fingers. ... Initial testing of the artificial dermis in mice has found it does not scar and contract when it is transplanted. ... The research has been so successful that a new foundation has been created to centralise the burns research being done at three Sydney hospitals. ... They hope to create scaffolds that can individualise the skin, allowing it to be different colours."
A FIVE YEAR TIMELINE FOR TISSUE ENGINEERED LIVERS (June 15 2010)
From the Telegraph: a new methodology "could be used to recycle thousands of donated organs which are at present considered too old or damaged for transplantation. ... Many livers have to be discarded because they are too old or too damaged to be of any use.
The new technique works by effectively chemically stripping the old liver down too its basic 'scaffold' or exoskeleton in a process of called 'decellularisation'. Onto this frame of connective tissue and blood vessels, they then regrow the new liver using stem cells from the patient. Stem cells from embryos could also be used. The effectively brand new liver is then transplanted back into the patient. At the moment the technique will require donor organs but it is hoped that eventually pig's livers or artificial scaffolds can be used instead - effectively avoiding donors altogether. ... This scaffold retains for the most part the detailed microarchitecture of the liver, including essential structures such as the blood vessels. We take advantage of this remaining structure to repopulate the scaffold with liver cells to recreate a functional liver. As we have shown this re-engineered liver performs the most essential liver functions in the lab and can be transplanted into rats and stays intact, with the cells able to survive."
THOUGHTS ON CALORIE RESTRICTION (June 15 2010)
A recent review paper: "Calorie Restriction (CR) research has expanded rapidly over the past few decades and CR remains the most highly reproducible, environmental intervention to improve health and extend lifespan in animal studies. Although many model organisms have consistently demonstrated positive responses to CR, it remains to be shown whether CR will extend lifespan in humans. Additionally, the current environment of excess caloric consumption and high incidence of overweight/obesity illustrate the improbable nature of the long-term adoption of a CR lifestyle by a significant proportion of the human population. Thus, the search for substances that can reproduce the beneficial physiologic responses of CR without a requisite calorie intake reduction, termed CR mimetics (CRMs), has gained momentum. ... The first results from a long-term, randomized, controlled CR study in nonhuman primates showing statistically significant benefits on longevity have now been reported. Additionally, positive results from short-term, randomized, controlled CR studies in humans are suggestive of potential health and longevity gains, while test of proposed [CR mimetics] have shown both positive and mixed results in rodents. ... Whether current positive results will translate into longevity gains for humans remains an open question. However, the apparent health benefits that have been observed with CR suggest that regardless of longevity gains, the promotion of healthy ageing and disease prevention may be attainable."
CALORIE RESTRICTION SLOWS ASPECTS OF BRAIN AGING (June 14 2010)
More data from primate studies: "Caloric restriction (CR) reduces the pathological effects of aging and extends the lifespan in many species, including nonhuman primates, although the effect on the brain is less well characterized. We used two common indicators of aging, motor performance speed and brain iron deposition measured in vivo using MRI, to determine the potential effect of CR on elderly rhesus macaques eating restricted and standard diets. Both the CR and control monkeys showed age-related increases in iron concentrations in globus pallidus (GP) and substantia nigra (SN), although the CR group had significantly less iron deposition in the GP, SN, red nucleus, and temporal cortex. A diet x age interaction revealed that CR modified age-related brain changes, evidenced as attenuation in the rate of iron accumulation in basal ganglia and parietal, temporal, and perirhinal cortex. Additionally, control monkeys had significantly slower fine motor performance on the Movement Assessment Panel, which was negatively correlated with iron accumulation in left SN and parietal lobe, although CR animals did not show this relationship. Our observations suggest that the CR-induced benefit of reduced iron deposition and preserved motor function may indicate neural protection similar to effects described previously in aging rodent and primate species." You might recall that iron buildup is associated with lipofuscin accumulation in our cells, which damages the process of autophagy, which in turn leads to degeneration.
STEM CELL TOURISM (June 14 2010)
PopSci examines medical tourism for stem cell therapies, an entirely rational response to the unnecessary costs and delays imposed on medical development by the FDA: "The FDA thinks all stem-cell procedures should undergo clinical trials for safety and efficacy before companies begin selling them as therapies. Its formal review process, the agency maintains, is the only way to protect patients from treatments that are ineffective or downright dangerous. But with multistage clinical trials lasting up to five years and costing as much as $100 million, a growing number of doctors and patients have started pursuing other options. ... In a controversial move in 2005, the FDA reclassified autologous stem cells that are manipulated by growth factors or other compounds as drugs. This criterion holds whether the cells are derived from a patient's own body or from someone else's. Many believe that the policy change gives the agency more authority than Congress ever intended it to have. Grekos's theory is that pharmaceutical companies are pressuring the FDA to treat autologous stem cells as a drug in order to secure their own future profits." Clinical trials are taking place overseas, as the article notes. The quality of therapies offered varies widely, as is true whether or not a market is regulated: this means you have to do some legwork to find out who is well regarded. But at least the option is available - there has to be freedom to experiment and to choose if there is to be rapid progress.