Sunday, January 29, 2012

While We Wait for Medical Treatments for Aging ...

Barbara: Damien and I sometimes joke about how pissed off we'd be if we were to die of cancer just before a major breakthrough in successful treatment of the diseases (I say "diseaeses", rather than "disease," because the generic term "cancer" seems to refer to a number of distinct diseases).

It's not really a joke, though. One's best hope of staying healthy long enough to benefit from preventative geriatric medical treatments is to live each day now in a way that promotes good health. Apparently, one of the best ways to keep oneself healthy longer is to get 30 minutes to an hour of exercise each day. Another way of looking at this is to say, "OK, I'm gong to limit my sleeping and sitting time to 23 - 23.5 hours each day."

Here's a nice video presentation you can watch while walking on a treadmill or pedalling a stationary bike:!

The title screen mentions obesity, but I promise, this is not just for overweight people. If you're reading this and you are overweight, or trying to maintain your weight after losing 10% or more of your body weight, I have some links to good weight control blogs and websites on my Altamira blog.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chatting about Aging

Damien: The inundation of results from anti-aging related research, for good or ill, keeps thundering in. Rather than repost details of the latest findings, it's probably helpful if I post this link to a recent discussion by two experts. Here's part of the introduction:

" I’m Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, a reporter for Science. I’m delighted that we’re joined today by two longtime experts in this fascinating field, Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, U.K., and chief science officer of SENS Foundation, a California-based charity that is trying to combat the aging process."

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is the brilliant and controversial scientist who is one of the major figures encouraging science in the direction of "longevity escape velocity," the point at which healthy life extension of, say, one year of extra living is achieved in less than a year. That would mean that while nobody would instantly become immortal, still, your chances of hale survival would increase every year, rather than diminishing. We dedicated our novel Post Mortal Syndrome to Aubrey, even though our story is a thriller, a sort of dramatized parable rather than a direct expression of his own approach to longevity.

Professor Olshansky is a demographer who finds some of Aubrey's optimistic expectations and analysis unlikely and even reckless. But it's a mark of the way the once-ridiculed topic is being reconsidered these days that he is happy to share an interview platform with Aubrey, and to advance his own more modest model of health extension under the rubric The Longevity Dividend.

Here are some extracts from the chat, where both men give brief answers to questions from the listening audience.

Olshansky: Although my friend Aubrey and I disagree on many things, most of what we disagree on is entirely irrelevant. It's what we agree on that is far more important, and that is, the time has arrived to take an entirely new look at aging. We now spend an enormous sum of money attacking the diseases that arise at later ages, but comparatively little on the underlying risk factor for most of what goes wrong with us as we grow older -- aging. I hope this conversation helps us all move in this direction, but you can certainly expect much more for my colleagues and I in the near term on an extension of The Longevity Dividend. 

Comment From Aaron  
What are the biggest stumbling block human anti aging science faces, and what actual progress, if any, is being made to over come them?

Aaron: without doubt the biggest stumbling-block is the "pro-aging trance" - society's determination not to think objectively about aging as a plausible and legitimate target of medicine, and as the precursor of the many and varied diseases of old age. If society were willing to appreciate that medical intervention against aging is no more nor less than preventative geriatrics, there would be vastly more funding for such research, and I estimate that progress would be at least three times faster. The scientific plan exists to defeat aging, and there is no shortage of world-leading scientists eager to do the work, so all that is needed is the resources to let them get on with it. What progress is being made? - well, a big thing is that people like me and Jay are being invited to do events like this. I'm serious - ultimately it's all about gerontologists getting out there and educating the public, and not being scared to put their heads above the parapet.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's not just the genes, but it's not just the environment, either

Damien: Dr. L. Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D., Co-Founder of the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group, commented today on a recent paper by the researcher Joao Pedro de Magalhaes and his colleagues, quoted below. Some of this response is compressed and technical, but I think it gives a good sense of the way in which exploratory science is beginning to unpick the locks of aging—and perhaps eventually to find a way around it by controlling the epigenetic aspects of cell growth and maintence.

Epigenetics is the cell’s control process switching on or off, or up or down, the activities of each gene. To quote the definition by Ali Shilatifard, Ph.D.: “an epigenetic trait is a stably inherited phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence.” As Science Daily amplifies this: “Shilatifard and colleagues have also proposed three categories of signals that operate in the establishment of a stably heritable epigenetic state. The first is a signal from the environment, the second is a responding signal in the cell that specifies the affected chromosomal location, and the third is a sustaining signal that perpetuates the chromatin change in subsequent generations.”

Dr. Coles cites Joao Pedro de Magalhaes’s paper on the genetics of aging in model organisms [1], and comments:

I believe that it provides us with a proper vision for the relation of genomics with epigenetics (Section D). I believe that it is futile to tease out the networks of gene interactions without epigenetic changes as a function of age. Epigenetics (nRNAi) is hidden in the non-coding portion of the DNA. Gene expression profiles of senescent cells are being worked out by Judy Campisi at the Buck Institute and by others. Cells with the senescent phenotype send out cytokine signals to adjacent cells in a positive-feedback loop that causes whole tissues to shut down with age, as they still take up space and consume caloric resources (oxygen and nutrients) without performing their important biological function(s). (And all of this as a defense mechanism against cancer?) Think of the heterochronic/parabiosis experiments with mice. We need to identify the cytokine network that triggers this senescent phenotype. Wellness depends on having cells that function in the manner that they did when we were young and constantly growing. The link of the genome to the onset of puberty will be a key step in this direction, since I believe it is under tight regulatory/programmatic control in the SCN (Supra Chiasmatic Nucleus); preparing to indulge in sex is the beginning of the process of senescence, in the sense of cellular turnover slows (fresh cells not keeping up with cell loss -- the Second Law of Thermodynamics [Entropy]) in which desynchronization of clocks and mitochondrial ROS take over with a net loss of vitality (fitness) as one passes through menopause/andropause and the genomic code runs out of new instructions (the pretty flower wilts, as it were). If this process is all programmed differently in different species then it is possible to contemplate reprogramming our own genomes (with artificial chromosomes) to suit our own personal agenda, as opposed to the uninspired stochastic Darwinian Agenda handed to us by Nature without our consent. Can we accept Her compelling us to become the prisoners of frail, blind, deaf, senile, and emaciated bodies just because we were tapped to enter into Her capricious n-person game? Homo sapiens are now at a stage in which we have figured out how avoid being consumed by other creatures/predators who would seek to eat us for lunch (that took a few hundred thousand years). But our present human condition still remains as Shakespeare poetically phrased it in Macbeth (Scene V)...  

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Not if we can engineer our way around it, it won't signify "nothing."      I put in a link on the website to your Table of the more than 20 companies worldwide that are focusing specifically on the aging process [2]. Also, thank you for your continuing to maintain the GenAge data base [3] of more than 700 genes that have been identified that regulate lifespan in model organisms across several metabolic pathways (TOR, SIR-2, SCH-9). This is a data base that I expect will expand considerably in the next five years, and we need to keep it up to date for our stem-cell research collaborators and our students.

 Refs. : 1. Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, et al, "Genome-Environment Interactions That Modulate Aging: Powerful Targets for Drug Discovery," Pharmacological Reviews, Vol. 64, No. 1, pp. 88-101 (2012).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We Have Kindle Ignition!

Damien: It's been a shockingly long time since we posted anything here. Life gets in the way, even of the search for extended life, not to mention fiction about that search.

That certainly doesn't mean the topic's exhausted. There's been a deluge of fresh information on topics related to humanity's eventual transition to the postmortal condition, We hope to get some links to these discoveries posted soon.

But meanwhile, Wildside/Borgo books (publishers of POST MORTAL SYNDROME) have at last made the novel available as a Kindle ebook. We've been waiting eagerly for this during the last few months, because it's just so much easier to download a novel to your Kindle--and much less expensive! The large and rather handsome trade paperback edition is, admittedly, fairly priced (by Amazon) at just under $20. But the ebook is just $3.19. I see a very positive review there as well, with 5 stars, which is always encouraging. :)

Oh, and here's the handy direct link.