Longevity Meme Newsletter, November 22nd 2010

November 22nd 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.



- Coverage of the Future Tense Conference
- Suggestions for Year-End Charitable Donations
- How Would You Spend Millions on Longevity Science?
- Beliefs Matter
- Latest Headlines from Fight Aging!


The recent Future Tense event saw researchers discussing engineered longevity and radical life extension, and was aimed at folk unfamiliar with the science and the goals of the aging research community:


"Will 250 be the new 100 in the foreseeable future? Human life expectancy has made steady gains over the last two centuries, and anti-aging scientists seeking to spare human cells and DNA from the corrosion once deemed inevitable are eager to trigger a radical extension in our life spans. How likely is such a spike? And how desirable is it to live to be a quarter of a millennium? Will life-extending scientific breakthroughs translate into an interminable twilight for many, or will they also postpone aging?"


As the year comes to a close, many people make their donations to charitable causes. Here are some suggestions for advancing the cause of longevity science:


1) SENS Foundation

The SENS Foundation funds research into rejuvenation biotechnology, and aims to encourage greater adoption of the repair-based engineering viewpoint espoused by biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey. Repair the known forms of biochemical damage that cause aging, in other words, and thereby reverse and prevent the diseases and frailty of aging. This is sadly a minority position in the aging research community, and few researches have the defeat of aging as their goal. By donating to the Foundation, you help to fund present work into repair biotechnologies, and encourage more researchers to take up the fight against aging.

2) Methuselah Foundation

The Methuselah Foundation encourages science that will extend healthy human lives through research prizes and targeted investment in key companies. Most of you will hopefully be familiar with the Mprize for longevity science by now, and the Foundation recently launched the NewOrgan Prize aimed at speeding the new science of tissue engineering. Amongst the Foundation's investments are the noted organ printing startup company Organovo. Research prizes have a demonstrated multiple effect on donations - for each $1 in the pot, historical prizes have spurred between $15 and $50 in funds raised by competing teams. Long-term donors to the Foundation can join the 300, and will see their names inscribed on a monument designed to last for thousands of years.

3) Immortality Institute Research Project 2010b - Microglia Stem Cells

You might recall that the Immortality Institute regularly raises funds for small research projects in aging and longevity science, the last of which was a mitochondrial uncoupling experiment to take place in Singapore. The second project for 2010 is presently open, and the Institute is seeking a few thousand dollars in funding to get it started: Cognitive functions of the brain decline with age. One of the protective cell types in the brain are called microglia cells. However, these microglia cells also loose function with age. Our aim is to replace non-functional microglia with new and young microglia cells derived from adult stem cells. We will inject these young microglia cells into 'Alzheimer mice' - a model for Alzheimers disease. After giving the cells some time to work, we will sacrifice the mice and measure microglia activity, neurogenesis, proliferation of neuroprogenitors and plaque density in the brain. A reduction in plaque density of Alzheimer mice would be a first proof that the transplanted microglia are performing their expected function.


Everyone has an opinion on how to spend a large amount of money on their favorite cause. What's yours?


"How would you invest in research? This question is something of a litmus test: you can't answer it without sharing your opinions on what is important and what is not in present day aging science, related biotechnologies, and strategies for application or commercialization.

"Now for my part I think what is most needed today is a demonstrated success in the application of SENS research. Something that works to extend life in mice by repairing one of the forms of biochemical damage catalogued by Aubrey de Grey, and that we can all point to as an example of how longevity science should be done - a magnet for future fundraising, and validation for repair-based approaches to human longevity in the eyes of people yet to be convinced.

"So, given that, I wouldn't spread my non-existent large sum of money around between many different classes of project. I put it all into one of the SENS research themes most likely to achieve a good result soon. For $30 million, I'd probably go for biomedical remediation of the unwanted biochemicals that build up and degrade our metabolism. A great deal of this work is discovery: sifting soil for microbes that can digest the gunk that our bodies cannot break down, and then performing many, many low-cost chemical tests in parallel to find useful bacterial enzymes. $30 million will buy you coverage of a large swath of the possible search space, followed by tests in aged mice to demonstrate improvement in measurable biomarkers of health following treatment with the most promising candidates.

"A working method of biomedical remediation that improved measures of mouse health by eliminating the build-up of otherwise persistent metabolic byproducts would be exactly a form of limited rejuvenation. That would be big news."


People believe a great many things, and those beliefs shape their actions - or lack of action, as the case may be:


"traditions regarding what can be done and should be done with the bodies of the dead are powerful things, and cryonics - like so much of medicine has done at one time or another - breaks those traditions. So we see a certain level of hostility, something that is true of longevity science in general, and for the same broad reasons. There is an ongoing collision between hidebound cultural traditions and the moving boundary of what is possible in medical science.

"Over the decades ahead, the research community may, with sufficient directed funding, slow and reverse the course of aging, ultimately eliminate aging entirely (as well as the frailty and age-related disease it brings), and even provide a way to prevent other forms of death from being permanent under optimal circumstances. A substantial proportion of the population does not see these as desirable goals, however. That is a problem, our problem, and a challenge we have to surmount."


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!



Friday, November 19, 2010
From the Technology Review: "Growing living tissue and organs in the lab would be a life-saving trick. But replicating the complexity of an organ, by growing different types of cells in precisely the right arrangement - muscle held together with connective tissue and threaded with blood vessels, for example - is currently impossible. Researchers at MIT have taken a step toward this goal by coming up with a way to make 'building blocks' containing different kinds of tissue that can be put together. ... The MIT group [put] embryonic stem cells into 'building blocks' containing gel that encouraged the cells to turn into certain types of cell. These building blocks can then be put together [to] make more complex structures. The gel degrades and disappears as the tissue grows. Eventually, the group hopes to make cardiac tissue by stacking blocks containing cells that have turned into muscle next to blocks containing blood vessels, and so forth. ... The researchers expose clusters of stem cells called embryoid bodies to a physical environment that mimics some of the cues the cells experience during embryonic development. ... The result is a hydrogel block, half gelatin, half polyethylene glycol, with a sphere of embryonic stem cells inside. ... within an individual embryoid body, cells on the squishier, gelatin side took a different path from cells on the polyethylene glycol side. The gelatin is easier for the cells to push into, and this affects how they grow, directing them to become blood vessels." This sort of technology is a potential path to replicating the complexity of the extracellular matrix from the bottom up, necessary to the goal of producing highly structured tissue from scratch while ensuring it is laced with the required tiny blood vessels to support the cells.

Friday, November 19, 2010
From MIT News: researchers "have had some striking successes treating melanoma with T-cell therapy, but so far it has been much less effective against other cancers. ... [An] obstacle is keeping the T cells alive once they are returned to the patient. Most T cells have a short lifespan, so after weeks of manipulation in the lab, they may die soon after they enter the patient. Furthermore, the tumor itself creates an environment very hostile to T cells. ... Giving patients large doses of growth factors called cytokines [helps], but those can have severe side effects, including heart and lung failure, when given in large doses. ... [researchers] recently developed a new approach that could avoid those side effects. They engineered T cells with tiny pouches that can carry cytokines, which are gradually released from the pouches, enhancing the longevity of the T cells that carry them. ... [they] used their modified T cells to treat mice with lung and bone marrow tumors. Within 16 days, all of the tumors in the mice treated with T cells carrying the drugs disappeared. Those mice survived until the end of the 100-day experiment, while mice that received no treatment died within 25 days, and mice that received either T cells alone or T cells with injections of cytokines died within 75 days. They are now working on ways to more easily synthesize the pouches at a large scale, so they can be tested in humans, using materials that would be more likely to get FDA approval."

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Exercise is more powerful for the healthy than any presently available medical technology when it comes to maintaining health and establishing a good life expectancy: "Regular exercise can reduce around two dozen physical and mental health conditions and slow down how quickly the body ages, according to a research review summarising the key findings of 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010. .... Health conditions covered by the review include: cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and high blood pressure. ... The literature reviewed shows that how long people live and how healthy they are depends on a complex mix of factors, including their lifestyle, where they live and even luck. Individuals have an element of control over some of these factors, including obesity, diet, smoking and physical activity. ... Ideally, to gain maximum health benefits people should exercise, not smoke, eat a healthy diet and have a body mass index of less than 25. The more of these healthy traits an individual has, the less likely they are to develop a range of chronic disorders. Even if people can't give up smoking and maintain a healthy weight, they can still gain health benefits from increasing the amount of regular exercise they take. Physical inactivity results in widespread pathophysiological changes to our bodies. It appears that our bodies have evolved to function optimally on a certain level of physically activity that many of us simply do not achieve in our modern, sedentary lifestyles. ... What is clear from the research is that men and women of all ages should be encouraged to be more physically active for the sake of their long-term health."

Thursday, November 18, 2010
From ScienceDaily: "A new vaccine protects against memory problems associated with Alzheimer's disease, but without potentially dangerous side effects, a new animal study reports. ... Vaccines against amyloid-beta accumulation in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, have long been considered a promising approach to developing a treatment. But finding a vaccine that is both safe and effective has been challenging. Previous research in mice showed that a vaccine that targets the human version of amyloid-beta reduces learning and memory loss associated with the disease. However, the vaccine caused dangerous autoimmune inflammation of the brain during human clinical trials. ... In the current study, researchers [tested] a vaccine developed against a non-human protein that had the same shape as amyloid-beta, but a different sequence of amino acid building blocks. The Alzheimer's mice that received the vaccine showed improved performance on memory and other cognitive tests. The vaccine also reduced the clumps of amyloid-beta and tau protein that may be toxic to brain cells. ... This finding is important because it shows that you don't need a human protein to get an immune response that will neutralize the toxic amyloid oligomers associated with Alzheimer's disease ... Because the protein was not human, [researchers] believe it is unlikely to cause the dangerous autoimmune response."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
From the BBC: "Doctors in Glasgow have injected stem cells into the brain of a stroke patient in an effort to find a new treatment for the condition. The elderly man is the first person in the world to receive this treatment - the start of a regulated trial at Southern General Hospital. He was given very low doses over the weekend and has since been discharged - and his doctors say he is doing well. Critics object as brain cells from foetuses were used to create the cells. The patient received a very low dose of stem cells in an initial trial to assess the safety of the procedure. Over the next year, up to 12 more patients will be given progressively higher doses - again primarily to assess safety - but doctors will be looking closely to see if the stem cells have begun to repair their brains and if their condition has improved. ... The first group of patients to receive the treatment will be men over 60 who have shown little or no improvement in their condition over a number of years. It is an ideal group to assess the safety of the procedure - doctors will be keen to know first of all that the treatment makes them no worse. But having such a precisely defined group will enable doctors and scientists to compare like with like if they notice any improvement - even in these early stages. If these trials show promise, doctors plan larger trials on a more varied group of patients. The earliest this could begin is in two years' time."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
SFGate looks at ongoing work in replicating the function of a kidney: "The artificial kidney is still at least five years away from being tested in a human patient. Researchers have built a large model of the kidney - so big that it filled a hospital room - and used it on human patients to show that the theories behind it will work. And parts of the small kidney have been successfully tested in animals. If [the] team is successful, the kidney will be about the size of a large cup of coffee, and it would last for years, maybe decades, and require no pumps or batteries. Patients wouldn't need anti-rejection drugs either, because there would be no exposed natural tissues for the immune system to attack. ... The artificial kidney will be made of two parts - a filter side and a cellular side. On the filter side, silicone membranes with microscopic pores will separate toxins from the blood, much as dialysis machines do. The body's own blood pressure will force blood through the filter, so no pumps will be needed. The key to the filtration side is the silicone membrane, which can be made fairly inexpensively and precisely, much as computer chips are. ... On the cellular side, the filtered blood will be pumped over a bed of cells taken from either the patient's own failing kidneys or from a donor. The cells will sense the chemical makeup of the filtered blood and trigger the body to maintain appropriate levels of salt, sugar and water. ... It mimics more of a kidney function than just dialysis. When we think of kidneys, we think of waste removal. And dialysis just does that. Dialysis doesn't make you healthy - it just keeps you alive."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Another Slate article, this time S. Jay Olshansky on the Longevity Dividend: "Aging bodies with chronic diseases are not the same as young bodies with independently acquired infectious diseases. Yet medicine continues to act as if the diseases of aging are separate from the consequences of aging itself. ... While we can extend life in aging bodies through behavioral improvements and medical treatments, the time has arrived to acknowledge that our current model of reactive medicine, of trying to treat each separate disease of old age as it occurs, is reaching a point of diminishing returns. ... Many scientists and geriatric physicians now suggest that the primary goal of medical technology should not exclusively be life extension but, rather, lengthening the period of youthful vigor. Although efforts to combat disease should continue, one way to protect against the unwanted prolongation of old age while simultaneously extending the period of healthy life is to pursue the means to modify the key risk factor that underlies almost everything that goes wrong with us as we grow older - aging itself. Those of us working toward this goal have referred to this shift in approach to public health as the 'Pursuit of the Longevity Dividend.' ... Medical institutes and public health professionals across the globe are dedicated to combating the causes and consequences of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and a myriad of other fatal and disabling conditions that plague humanity, and many people are alive today because of their heroic efforts. These battles need to continue. But so too should we fight on a new front: aging itself."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
From the Huffington Post, an example of ill-thought opposition to working to defeat the suffering and death caused by aging: "Rapid turnover is nature's way of making sure that a species can keep up with changing circumstances and survive the long haul. But since humans have gone beyond basic biology, why not re-engineer ourselves for a lifetime without an end point? Or at least for one where we outlast the Roman Empire? Well, it turns out there are problems... even beyond the tedium of boorish men. Let me first state that if we can pull this off - cure death - it's self-evident that we'll also obliterate the debilities of aging. You'll be healthy to the end. Nonetheless, there are countless gotchas for any descendants that have made themselves as indestructible as zombies. First off, they'll need to engineer a major societal revamp. You can't have kids every two years forever: we don't have the real estate. And of course, marriages would have an expiration date. A myriad of other social structures would also have to be rejiggered: Imagine the frustration of waiting for a tenure slot at the local college which, even after millennia, is still stuffed with its original faculty. Other difficulties are neither obvious nor tractable. For example, today more than 30,000 Americans die annually on the roads. That means you have a 50 percent chance of being taken out in an auto accident if you live for 3,600 years. So if we extend our lifetimes to thirty or forty centuries, using a car becomes an existential threat. You won't do it."

Monday, November 15, 2010
Infrastructure is important in stem cell research and development. When sourcing stem cells for experiments or therapies is hard and expensive, progress will be slow. Building the tools to enable reliable, uniform, and low-cost culturing of stem cells is a necessary step, and here is one example: "Growing human embryonic stem cells in the lab is no small feat. Culturing the finicky, shape-shifting cells is labor intensive and, in some ways, more art than exact science. Now, however, a team of researchers [reports] the development of a fully defined culture system that promises a more uniform and, for cells destined for therapy, safer product. ... It's a technology that anyone can use. It's very simple. ... At present, human embryonic stem cells are cultured mostly for use in research settings. And while culture systems have improved over time, scientists still use surfaces that contain mouse cells or mouse proteins to grow batches of human cells ... The new culture system utilizes a synthetic, chemically made substrate of protein fragments, peptides, which have an affinity for binding with stem cells. ... The system, according to the new report, also works for induced pluripotent stem cells, the adult cells genetically reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. ... The disadvantages of the culture systems commonly used now are that they are undefined - you don't really know what your cells are in contact with - and there is no uniformity, which means there is batch-to-batch variability. The system we've developed is fully defined and inexpensive."

Monday, November 15, 2010
From Slate, an example of Aubrey de Grey expanding the definition of regenerative medicine to include SENS: "Aging is bad for you. Whether you call it a disease, not a disease, a set of disease precursors, or some other variation on the theme, it is a medical condition, and thus a legitimate target - in principle - for medical intervention. But is it a practical target? Medicine generally targets individual problems - a particular strain of virus, for example, or damage to a particular area of flesh. Aging seems like a huge number of progressive, chronic diseases all interacting with one another. Might such complexity be beyond the power of medicine - even medicine decades hence - to address? Once these progressive, chronic diseases have become debilitating, piecemeal targeting of them is far less effective than medicine generally is against other, aging-independent diseases. The complexity is bad enough, but what's worse is that the diseases are progressive - they get harder to treat as time goes on, because they are simply the later stages of intrinsic, lifelong processes of accumulation of molecular and cellular damage. Is there a way out? ... in the past decade a new approach to medical intervention in aging has been explored: regenerative medicine. The attraction of this approach is that it acknowledges the irreducible complexity of aging but attacks the problem more pre-emptively than contemporary geriatric medicine does. Regenerative medicine can be defined as the restoration of structure to any damaged tissue or organ. As such, it encompasses molecular, cellular, and organ-level repair. As applied to aging, it amounts to preventative maintenance: periodic partial elimination of the accumulating damage of aging before that damage reaches a pathogenic level, thus postponing, maybe indefinitely, the age at which the ill-health of old age emerges."



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