Star Trek a True Perspective, Aging Research

Longevity Research

Funding Aging Research

Does Star Trek Give You a True Perspective?

posted on May 26, 2009

Interesting week last week.

On Tuesday, I saw Star Trek at an IMAX theatre. Saturday evening, I celebrated my 125th birthday at my œCome as You Will Be party. There were some similarities and lots of contrasts.

First, the movie was totally enjoyable but far from my favorite. Typically, it was full of warfare and destruction, crisis and triumph and aging and dying to make sure they sold a bunch of tickets. In my opinion, if we get past some societal and technological thresholds, warfare will be obsolete. So will aging and death from natural causes. But these are hard concepts for the general public to grasp this early in the game, so the producers need to deliver thrilling storylines that people can relate to.

For example, Captain Pike was aging, and even had graying hair in the 23rd century. That is utterly ridiculous, especially gray hair. But without it, the story falls apart, there no succession, and people can™t relate to a non-aging Captain of the Enterprise or to a non-aging Spock. We™re not quite ready for parents and children looking the same age, for Bones McCoy having absolutely perfect teeth and for ordinary crewmembers with Terminator-like abilities.

When we jump from concepts to conclusions without gradually drawing people along with one small familiar idea linking to a bigger idea and so on, until we arrive at the grand conclusion, we™ll lose 99% of our audience. It™s like a tiny tugboat pushing and pulling a huge ocean liner along with seemingly little effort. If you weren™t familiar with how it happens, you might close your mind to the possibility. But once you understood the process, then it™s an easy leap for you. First, someone throws a small rope from the liner to someone on the tugboat. Attached to that rope is a larger rope, and then a larger one still and so on until they eventually have a large heavy cable connecting the vessels. From there on, it™s a simple matter of leverage.

You can™t jump from a small idea to a huge idea without gradually ramping up if you want to keep your audience. If you were to travel back in time one or two centuries and tell people about the marvels of technology we take for granted today, they would think you are nuts, because they wouldn™t have points of references to link to. But once they grasped the concept of electricity, the light bulb becomes easier to accept and so on until they could eventually understand miracles like the Internet, wireless communication and more.

It™s the same with aging and the future ability to completely reverse it. Sure, it™s been a dream for thousands of years, and the desire is not hard to sell. The believability is though, even today with all our scientific marvels. But those scientific marvels are a perfect starting point for gradually getting people to understand exactly why the dream could finally be achievable in your lifetime.

As more people understand the rationale of how reversing aging could evolve, we™ll have greater intellectual and financial support to pull it off and less resistance to making it happen. So the way we present the possibilities of extreme longevity could impact your life.

The party was upbeat and positive. No one was killed and no worlds were destroyed. The attendees of the future (2068) did not age and did not get sick. Unlike Bones, they had perfect teeth, and unlike Captain Pike and Spock, they stayed young. Let™s make that future happen for us.


Early Stem Cell Therapy for Kidney Disease (May 22 2009)
The Times of India reports on early results in using stem cells to repair nephritis: Indian researchers claim "to have pioneered stem cell therapy for the first time on patients suffering from acute and chronic nephritis which may end in kidney failure. Nephritis is an early kidney disease which in many cases is chronic and becomes resistant to drugs. The disease may lead to kidney failure. Since we are doing stem cell therapy for kidney transplant patients, we decided we should also try using it to prevent kidney failure as well. The stem cell therapy for nephritis has been done in two patients. The bone marrow and mesenchymal stem cells were delivered directly into the kidneys through [an artery] so as to help the organ repair the damage. This treatment is at experimental stage as we are still working out the dose of stem cells per kg that a patient may need for best results." Both patients greatly improved, to be point of being able to claim a cure, but as noted this is very early stage work. Still, India is not the US; while its regulators are excessive, they are nowhere near as bad as the FDA. So expect to see medical tourism for this therapy within the next year or two.

Making Sense of Gene Expression Patterns and Aging (May 21 2009)
Gene expression, the process by which the body manufactures the protein components of molecular machinery and control mechanisms, changes constantly. Some proteins are turned out in greater quantities, some less. This should be an ongoing record of the changes that happen with aging, and therefore also helpful on the path to slowing, preventing, and reversing aging. If we can make any sense of the complexity, that is: "To study how gene changes are related to individual longevity, we need another type of data in addition to gene expression profiles: the survival time of individual animals after their gene expression is measured. With this information, we could determine which transcriptional responses are associated with a longer lifespan, and in principle even develop a personalized medicine approach to aging: we could train a machine learning algorithm to peek at the expression levels of a handful of crucial genes and predict your physiological age - and the number of healthy years you have left. Previous [studies] of aging humans haven't included survival times because we live too long. Recently, some human survival data - together with matching gene expression data from lymphoblastoid cell lines - have become available from a long-range study that began in the early 1980s. In the first aging study to take advantage of this resource, [researchers] mine the data to identify gene changes associated with longevity."

More Data Pointing to the Importance of Mitochondria (May 20 2009)
Here a research group digs into a common factor observed as a result of a number of different longevity mutations in nematode worms: lower mitochondrial membrane potential, implying increased mitochondrial uncoupling, a process by which mitochondria produce heat rather than chemical energy for the cells. As we already know, greater uncoupling is correlated with greater longevity. "[Mitochondrial] energy production via oxidative phosphorylation generates a mitochondrial membrane potential (DeltaPsim) across the inner membrane. In this work, we show that a lower DeltaPsim is associated with increased lifespan in [nematode worms]. The long-lived mutants daf-2, age-1, clk-1, isp-1 and eat-2 all have a lower DeltaPsim than wild type animals. We conclude that longevity pathways converge on the mitochondria and lead to a decreased DeltaPsim. Our results are consistent with the 'uncoupling to survive' hypothesis, which states that dissipation of the DeltaPsim will extend lifespan." Mitochondria are very important to longevity; all the signs point in that direction.

Stem Cells Targeting Cancer (May 20 2009)
Targeted therapies are the immediate future of cancer treatments: destroy only the cells that matter with few or no side-effects. Here, stem cells are used as the targeting mechanism: "Experiments in cell cultures and in mice showed the adult stem cells - a type known as mesenchymal stem cells - could home in on cancer cells and deliver a lethal protein that attacked only the cancer while sparing normal healthy tissue. ... We've developed cells which specifically target cancer through the body and deliver an anti-cancer protein to where it is needed in a seek-and-destroy approach. [researchers] altered the cells to express or make the cancer-killing protein called TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand or TRAIL. This protein has the ability to cause the death only of cancer cells. By combining these two approaches, we have a cell which has the ability to go around the body and find and destroy tumors. An attractive property of these cells is that they are 'immunoprivileged,' meaning the body will not reject them as foreign invaders. That means they can be made in batches instead of having to make custom stem cell treatments for each patient. The team hopes human trials could begin in two or three years."

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (May 19 2009)

A general interest article on one of the longest-running human studies from the Washington Post: "Every year hundreds of people travel to Baltimore for an unusual purpose. These folks, some of whom have made this journey for decades, believe the trip is worth their time and expense because how they live - calculated according to everything from the strength of their grip to how many apples they consume in a month - may offer clues to how the rest of us might live better, longer, healthier lives. These individuals [are] participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), the country's longest-running study of aging. Since 1958, a total of more than 1,400 volunteers have agreed to regularly undergo in-depth physicals and memory and other screenings conducted by the study's physicians. The resulting data span more than half a century and are a gold mine for researchers interested in the aging process. Because of the BLSA, scientists know that signs indicating that a person could be at risk for dementia and other cognitive diseases may appear 20 years before symptoms emerge. Findings that today are common knowledge (that exercise can help reduce high blood pressure, for one) can be traced back to BLSA's annual physicals and the data analysis done by the study's scientists. Think of it as a vast historical record."

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