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Biological Aging Research

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Biological Evolution

posted on July 24, 2008

We™ve come a long way in our lifetimes. In fact, we have accomplished as much then as we did in all of recorded history. At least technologically. As a race, we really didn™t seem to have learned many lessons. Oh sure, maybe our justice systems are a little more fair (and maybe not), we may have developed a little more tolerance and compassion, and maybe we™re not quite as barbaric. All in all though, we react to intrusions about the same as prehistoric man.
We still settle disputes and differences about the same way. We either initiate or answer with violence for the most part. But instead of clubbing each other senseless and confining our rage, jealousies, pettiness and intolerances to an area roughly equivalent to our immediate reach and to one enemy or victim at a time, we now have these wonders of science at our disposal, capable of inflicting widespread death and destruction.
Then, we had clubs and primitive minds. Now we have nukes, biological and chemical weapons, potentially devastating nanotechnology capabilities¦ and primitive minds.
While we have evolved in some ways at light speed, our ability to solve social problems and disputes and our tendency to hate hasn™t changed since caveman days. Look, we™re on the cusp of breaking through to indefinite lifespans and solutions for health problems, poverty and pollution. But what good does it do us when emotionally unstable individuals have abilities to wipe out millions with no more effort or forethought than swinging a club? 
Fortunately, the human race is extremely resilient and resourceful. We often respond to challenges in creative and unexpected ways. A relatively new foundation recognizes this challenge and is taking it on as part of its agenda. See more information at         
They recognize that biological evolution is a somewhat haphazard and non-optimizing process that has produced many undesirable artifacts. Among a large number and wide variety of such artifacts, two stand out as the underlying causes of the most pervasive and extreme human suffering: mental and lifespan limitations. Mental inabilities, including the failure to resolve conflicts non-violently, are universal. They must ultimately serve to explain our ongoing failures to end human warfare, crime, poverty, and famine, and to completely cure diseases, disabilities, aging and death. Therefore, these inabilities are fundamentally even more harmful to humanity than the categories of biomedical dysfunction we currently labor to cure.
This belief forms the core of the Bioprogressive philosophy. The overall goal of the InnerSpace Foundation (IF) is to accelerate developing biomedical technologies for transcending these limitations. IF is taking specific steps toward enhancing memory, learning and cognition. These near-term goals should ultimately help us to eliminate or transcend other unwanted artifacts of Darwinian evolution.
IF, among others, have longer-term goals aimed at preserving memories. So hang on. We have some interesting times ahead.

Are some immune systems much better than others at destroying cancer in its earliest stages? It seems that this is the case. Can we copy that proficiency and use it as a therapy? The prospects look promising:

"First, we had cancer-resistant mice and asked, 'What can we learn from it?' The reason it's resistant is because it has very different white cells. So then that immediately prompted the concept of therapy, because you can easily transfer white cells. You can extract them as a therapeutic agent and give them to another mouse. It's a therapy. It's much better than to find the gene. If you find the gene, then you have to understand the mechanism, and you have to find a way to put the gene into the cell, into all the cells you want to, and that would not work very easily. The technology as we speak right now is not really mature for that area. You might have to wait another 10, 20 years before that technology catches up with the concept. However, what we found is a cell as a therapeutic agent, so why not go ahead and see how it works. It worked really well in mice, so the next question, very obviously, is can we find a similar cancer resistance for humans as a donor for a therapeutic agent. And the answer is yes, we did find quite a few of them ".

From a broad assessment of cutting edge cancer research, it seems that we are well on the way to turning cancer into a controllable chronic illness. You'll have outbreaks, they'll be caught early, and the medicine of the 2020s will eliminate them. The question is whether this is good enough: is a comprehensive suite of low-risk, safe cancer cures enough to remove cancer as a threat while our lives are extended by other medical technologies?


The Broadening Search for Longevity Genes (July 17 2008)
The MIT Technology Review looks at continued attempts to understand the degree to which present healthy human longevity is influenced by genes: "An ambitious plan to sequence 100 genes in 1,000 healthy old people could shed light on genetic variations that insulate some people from the ailments of aging, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, allowing them to live a healthy life into their eighties and beyond. Rather than focusing on genetic variations that increase risk for disease, scientists plan to focus on genes that have previously been linked to health and longevity. Advances in genetic screening technologies have allowed scientists to start searching the genome for clues to healthy aging and a lengthy life span. That work has revealed that the genomes of healthy old people are not blemish free. These people have genetic susceptibility markers for many serious diseases [but] they don't get any of these diseases. What is the explanation? What might account for their insulation from these diseases?" Genes are not fate - evidence to date suggests that lifestyle choices have much more weight for all but the most genetically unlucky, and those choices are reflected in epigenetic variations, not genetic variations.

Self-Assembly in Tissue Engineering (July 16 2008)
The MIT Technology Review looks at a promising strategy in tissue engineering: "Tissue engineers are ambitious. If they had their way, a dialysis patient could receive a new kidney made in the lab from his own cells, instead of waiting for a donor organ that his immune system might reject. Likewise, a diabetic could, with grafts of lab-made pancreatic tissue, be given the ability to make insulin again. But tissue engineering has stalled in part because bioengineers haven't been able to replicate the structural complexity of human tissues. Now researchers have taken an important first step toward building complex tissues from the bottom up by creating what they call living Legos. These building blocks, biofriendly gels of various shapes studded with cells, can self-assemble into complex structures resembling those found in tissues. This will be an effective way to put the cells where we want them to be. You can probably generate a tissue with a higher complexity [using] the new method than is possible with a scaffold that has to be seeded with cells." Compare and contrast with the use of whole-organ cell matrix templates, another recent development aimed at solving the same problem.

Stress, Cortisol, and Shortened Telomeres (July 16 2008)
Chronic stress correlates with shorter telomeres, as well as with worse health. Via EurekAlert! researchers are proposing a mechanism by which telomere length is reduced by stress, leading to a worse immune response: "Short telomeres are linked to a range of human diseases, including HIV, osteoporosis, heart disease and aging. An enzyme [called telomerase] keeps immune cells young by preserving their telomere length and ability to continue dividing. The stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells' ability to activate their telomerase. This may explain why the cells of persons under chronic stress have shorter telomeres. When the body is under stress, it boosts production of cortisol to support a 'fight or flight' response. If the hormone remains elevated in the bloodstream for long periods of time, though, it wears down the immune system. We are testing therapeutic ways of enhancing telomerase levels to help the immune system ward off cortisol's effect. If we're successful, one day a pill may exist to strengthen the immune system's ability to weather chronic emotional stress."

Why Fight Aging? (July 15 2008)
A Future Current transcript of one of Aubrey de Grey's presentations at Aging 2008: "Some people say, 'I don't want to live to a thousand.' I don't want to live to a thousand, necessarily. I don't even know if I want to live to a hundred. But I do know I want to make that choice when I am 99, rather than having it gradually removed from me by declining health. This is what it comes down to. The extension of lifespan by the defeat of aging is not the point - at least it is not the main point for me, and I do not think it is the main point for most people who are engaged in this crusade. The purpose is to alleviate the suffering that goes with getting decrepit, frail and dependent. Of course, this includes not just those who are suffering that, but the suffering of their loved ones. The extension of average lifespan is essentially a side benefit. It is something that will happen because the way that we are going to do this, using regenerative medicine, will also mean that you have only the same probability you did when you were a young adult of dying peacefully in your sleep without any of these diseases. In other words, a very low probability indeed. You will indeed on average live a great deal longer, and I don't think you™ll complain if you do. However, that is not the purpose. The purpose is to alleviate suffering."

On the Way to Longevity (July 14 2008)

The Daily Bruin talks to some of the folk who were at Aging 2008: "Defeating the effects of time by finding a cure for aging has become the focus of multiple areas of research, bringing the possibilities of achieving immortality from fantasy into the realm of science. The new possibilities offered by regenerative medicine illustrate how advancements in therapy on the molecular and cellular level may be able to extend the healthy human life span within the next 20 years. Finding a cure for aging is no longer a theoretical target or a fantasy, but on the way to becoming a practical target. Aging is the most universal degenerative condition and is now becoming the target of regenerative medicine. The body is a really complicated machine, but it's still a machine, so its healthy lifespan can be extended indefinitely by sufficiently comprehensive repair and maintenance, just like simple man-made machines. Aging is a complex phenomenon that affects many different systems. Understanding it and fixing the damage as it comes can potentially cure the harmful effects of aging and as a result, elongate the healthy human lifespan."
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