Longevity Meme Newsletter, August 16 2010

August 16 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 Balancing Act of Longevity Advocacy
- Escaping the Hand You Were Dealt
- AI and Engineered Longevity
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


Advocacy for medical research and development, persuasion on a grand scale, isn't a completely straightforward endeavor:


"Advocacy for longevity research is a balancing act informed by ongoing developments in raising funds, actual progress in the fields of interest, and the growth of the community of supporters. In an ideal world, these three factors will all advance steadily: an upward curve of success. In practice things are never that easy. A supportive community of a given size will only contribute so much in the way of resources: are those resources assigned to research, which tends to produce newsworthy results at irregular intervals in addition to actual progress, or to outreach and education? What will best grow the community so as to grow the resource pool of donations, and in turn help to achieve research goals more rapidly?"


We live in a world in which nearly everyone has been taught from an early age to believe that the process of aging to death is written in stone and will never change. This is one of the many challenges facing efforts to create a large and active community of supporters for longevity research:


"We all grow up indoctrinated; bathed in the common views and short-cut truths of the society in which we were raised. The early rebellious years don't tend to change this state of indoctrination all that much. For every obvious thing to rebel against, there are a hundred viewpoints layered deep - opinions and teachings left unexamined for so long that they become axioms. Those are the chains and walls that matter: the things that nearly everyone takes for granted, that place bounds upon how you view the world. But people tend to rebel against the color of the wallpaper - whilst taking it as read, just like their parents and peers, that the wall must exist and must be made of bricks.

"Unless you are particularly willful, it can take a lifetime to escape the formative shaping of your mind. It is the slow labor of decades to examine the axioms you've been dealt by the random chance of your birth culture and conclude for yourself, by your own reasoning, that they are right or wrong. Or irrelevant, or subtly misleading, or any number of other dangerous attributes."


In this Fight Aging! post you'll find pointers to a full outline of a utilitarian argument common amongst strong artificial intelligence advocates and researchers:


"There's a fair overlap between transhumanist groups, advocates for engineered longevity, advocates for the development of strong artificial intelligence, and the people who are in fact working on making progress rather than talking about the need for progress. Many of these AI advocates and researchers are strongly in favor of radical life extension efforts - so much so in some cases that it begs the question as to why they're primarily working on AI. The reasoning provided by Ben Goertzel is essentially utilitarian: he believes that the ultimate goal of repairing and reversing aging will be achieved more rapidly if preceded by the advent of strong artificial intelligence. ... For my part, while I agree with some of the assumptions - in particular that strong AI will lead to a revolution in technology and productivity that will make everything we've achieved as a species to date look small - I don't think the utilitarian math quite adds up here."


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!




Low-level chronic inflammation is produced by the aging immune system and causes many further problems: "Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common cause of chronic disability in older adults. Although classically considered a 'wear and tear' degenerative condition of articular joints, recent studies have demonstrated an inflammatory component to OA that includes increased activity of several cytokines and chemokines in joint tissues that drive production of matrix-degrading enzymes. Rather than directly causing OA, aging changes in the musculoskeletal system contribute to the development of OA by making the joint more susceptible to the effects of other OA risk factors that include abnormal biomechanics, joint injury, genetics, and obesity. Age-related sarcopenia and increased bone turnover may also contribute to the development of OA. Understanding the basic mechanisms by which aging affects joint tissues should provide new targets for slowing or preventing the development of OA."

The differences in a nutshell: "Calorie restriction (CR) is the only paradigm that has consistently increased lifespan in a wide variety of model organisms. Many hypotheses have been proposed as the underlying mechanism, including a reduction in body size and adiposity, which is commonly observed in calorie-restricted animals. This has led to investigations as to whether similar changes in body composition produced by increasing energy expenditure via exercise can replace or enhance the benefits of reducing energy intake. ... In rodents, the data clearly show that exercise, regardless of body weight changes, can improve health and survival, but unlike CR, fails to extend lifespan. In humans, short-term weight loss studies show that exercise and CR produce similar improvements in disease risk factors and biomarkers of aging, while some parameters clearly benefit more with exercise. Epidemiologic evidence in humans supports exercise as a strategy to reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality, but not to extend lifespan. It is unknown whether CR can extend human lifespan, but the metabolic profile of humans engaged in long-term CR shares many similarities with calorie restricted rodents and nonhuman primates. In conclusion, like CR, exercise can limit weight gain and adiposity, but only CR can extend lifespan. Therefore, in rodents, the ability of CR to slow aging is apparently more dependent on decreasing nutrient flux, rather than changes in energy balance and body composition."

While the FDA tries to block commercial application of stem cell therapies in the US, veterinary practices continue to demonstrate that the technology is ready and potentially useful: "A Golden Retriever, plagued with arthritis, recently underwent a stem cell extraction and implant to help with mobility. ... From the sounds of things, you would never suspect McIntyre was a frail and feeble dog. And these days, he's moving around pretty well, thanks to anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy and a new experimental surgery involving stem cells. ... like family, she wanted McIntrye to feel better and have a better quality of life. Cells were taken from his belly fat and shipped to California. Stem cells were extracted and then implanted back into his joints by a vet in Alpharetta. ... He'll never be like a puppy as far as agility but it will just give him a quality of life where he doesn't hurt and suffer." Meanwhile, the actions of unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats at the FDA mean that US residents must travel overseas to find the same treatment offered to humans. More importantly, what might already be a wildly successful and growing field is slowed down to a comparative crawl. When you're forbidden to sell a product, few organization will invest in development.

Via ScienceDaily, an example of the sometimes indirect way in which stem cell transplants can cause benefits: "Acute lung injury is brought on by a number of conditions, such as pneumonia and sepsis, also known as blood poisoning. In some cases, acute lung injury develops into a more serious condition, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome, and results in insufficient oxygenation of blood and eventual organ failure. ... inflammation due to injury or infection can make the border of epithelial cells become more porous than it should be. The increased permeability allows an often-deadly mix of substances, such as fluid and cells, to seep into and accumulate in the alveoli. ... The team decided to re-create the unhealthy lung conditions in the lab - by culturing human alveolar cells and then chemically causing inflammation - and to observe how the presence of bone marrow stem cells would change things. ... We then introduced mesenchymal stem cells without direct cell contact, and they churned out a lot of protein, called angiopoietin-1, which prevented the increase in lung epithelial permeability after the inflammatory injury ... [researchers] hope clinical trials will prove the therapy is a viable one for preventing respiratory failure in critically ill patients."

We'd like to see the research community persuaded to work on the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence rather than focusing on merely slowing aging via traditional drug development. So persuasion is important. Equally, the time frame is long, so another viable path is to guide the next generation of researchers in the right direction. This second approach is the purpose of the SENS Foundation's Academic Initiative (SENSFAI) program, which has been running for a few years now. Here's one of the young researchers to benefit from it: "Kamil Pabis is in his second year of university and has been working with the SENSFAI since 2009. He is currently studying biology at the University of Vienna. After completing his degree, Kamil plans to pursue his PhD and eventually a career in Molecular Biology or Biogerontology. ... I research vascular (and in part general) calcification and their relation to aging and age-related tissue decline. The impact of calcification could be major and under-appreciated, but unfortunately we do not have definitive data. This basic research lays the ground work for future projects. A relatively thorough understanding is required to distinguish the most promising therapies for actual reversal of the pathology. Eventually I plan to help facilitate and do research under a 'regression first' paradigm."

Via EurekAlert! a reminder that we can think of most age-related conditions as resulting from one or more forms of damage that everyone suffers to some degree - but has progressed further in those who have the condition: "In many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's, clumps of proteins known as aggregates appear in the patients' brains as the degeneration progresses. Those clumps contain some proteins that are unique to the specific disease (such as Abeta in Alzheimer's), intertwined with many others that are common in healthy individuals. For years, those common proteins were thought to be accidental inclusions in the aggregates ... In fact, they may not be innocent bystanders at all, but instead their presence may influence the course of neurodegenerative disease. ... in the presence of proteins specific to Huntington's disease, these aggregators actually sped up the course of the disease, indicating that they could be fundamental to its progression. These findings indicate that widespread protein insolubility and aggregation is an inherent part of aging and that it may influence both lifespan and neurodegenerative disease. The presence of insoluble protein aggregates has long been a hallmark of protein aggregation diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease. The team [asked] a simple question that had never been asked before: do normal proteins form insoluble clumps when normal, healthy individuals age?" Those "normal, health individuals" are on their way to the same end destination of neurodegeneration, just not as fast.

Don't become fat: "Individuals with a large waist circumference appear to have a greater risk of dying from any cause over a nine-year period ... Having a large waist circumference has previously been associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels and heart disease ... This may be because waist circumference is strongly correlated with fat tissue in the viscera - surrounding the organs in the abdomen - which is thought to be more dangerous than fat tissue under the skin. ... [researchers] examined the association between waist circumference and risk of death among 48,500 men and 56,343 women age 50 and older (median or midpoint age, 69 years in men and 67 years in women). All had participated in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, for which they completed a mailed questionnaire about demographic, medical and behavioral factors in 1992 or 1993 and provided information about weight and waist circumference in 1997. Deaths and their causes were tracked through the National Death Index until Dec. 31, 2006; a total of 9,315 men and 5,332 women died during this timeframe. ... After adjusting for body mass index (BMI) and other risk factors, very large waists (120 centimeters or 47 inches or larger in men, and 110 centimeters or 42 inches or larger in women) were associated with approximately twice the risk of death during the study period. A larger waist was associated with higher risk of death across all categories of BMI, including normal weight, overweight and obese."

A conference on general health tactics that are likely to maximize your remaining life expectancy will be held in October in San Francisco: "Advances are being made daily on what each of us can do NOW to slow the aging process to a minimum, and to delay or prevent the diseases of aging. Life extension news comes out faster than any one of us can evaluate it on our own. Let's get together and determine how to take personal action." Many of the folk involved in the longevity advocacy or research communities are also tinkerers who go beyond simply practicing calorie restriction and exercise, and taking a sensibly modest set of vitamins. My suspicion has always been that this is a dangerous path: there is nothing presently available to the public that is proven to do more for long-term health than calorie restriction and exercise. When you spend time tinkering and optimizing in the absence of solid data, you're not spending time helping to bring forward the advent new medical technologies. The recent history of the pro-longevity community is rife with people who have become distracted from the future and who end up behaving no differently than the pill-sellers and potion-hawkers of the "anti-aging" marketplace. Beware this fate.

The FDA is the only reason that we don't see dozens of different serious commercial efforts to treat people using early-stage stem cell therapies within the US. One of the few groups to try is presently under pressure, as this press release notes: "Regenerative Sciences, Inc., a Colorado medical practice that specializes in the use of a person's own stem cells to help patients avoid more invasive orthopedic surgery, announced today that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking to enjoin the clinic physicians from practicing medicine using patients' own stem cells. The lawsuit will allow Regenerative Sciences to question the FDA's policy that adult stem cells can be classified as drugs when used as part of a medical practice. ... The FDA will finally answer our questions, in court, about their claims and jurisdiction as opposed to doing everything in their power to avoid the issue that we are not a drug manufacturer, but simply a medical practice." The FDA has a long history of abuse and overreach, and this is simply more of the same - exactly what we should expect of bureaucrats left largely unaccountable for their actions. Progress and discovery becomes entirely secondary to the urge to power. When everything that is not explicitly permitted is forbidden, there is no innovation, no progress. This age of biotechnology could be far further advanced if not for the short-sighted fools who write and enact medical regulations.

Via EurekAlert!: "Researchers for the first time have induced robust regeneration of nerve connections that control voluntary movement after spinal cord injury, showing the potential for new therapeutic approaches to paralysis and other motor function impairments. ... They did this by deleting an enzyme called PTEN (a phosphatase and tensin homolog), which controls a molecular pathway called mTOR that is a key regulator of cell growth. PTEN activity is low early during development, allowing cell proliferation. PTEN then turns on when growth is completed, inhibiting mTOR and precluding any ability to regenerate. ... Until now, such robust nerve regeneration has been impossible in the spinal cord. ... An injury the size of a grape can lead to complete loss of function below the level of injury. For example, an injury to the neck can cause paralysis of arms and legs ... These devastating consequences occur even though the spinal cord below the level of injury is intact. All these lost functions could be restored if we could find a way to regenerate the connections that were damaged. ... are now studying whether the PTEN-deletion treatment leads to actual restoration of motor function in mice with spinal cord injury."



Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.