Where Do You Go When You Die?

Aging Research

Funding Aging Research

Where Do You Go When You Die?

posted on October 20, 2009

Is there anyone who hasn™t considered this question? It™s the foundation of most religions. Civilizations were built and destroyed over varying opinions. Do you go to Heaven? Paradise? Do you get recycled? Or is death simply the end of the road?

Most people think they œknow the answer. But their œknowledge differs from others™ knowledge. And what they œknow is usually determined by where they were born and raised. We are largely products of our environments. Our beliefs are not knowledge, and they are usually formed early in life to explain the unknown. So in fact, none of us knows what¦ if anything¦ lies beyond.

I just got back from a funeral. The thought of œWhere did Delicia go? never crossed my mind. All I could think of in the midst of the sadness of the memorial service was that the world lost a wonderful and kind woman, her life force, knowledge and wisdom vanished, and she left many broken hearts behind.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what happens to us when we die. Now I don™t. How could a question that is the basis for most religions, which in turn were responsible for moral codes that held civilizations together for thousands of years, not be worth thinking about? Well, I didn™t say it™s not important. It™s just that it™s unknowable, so I spend my time more productively, figuring out ways to live as long as possible.

Whether you are religious or not, whether you have any pre-conceived notions about life after death, or whether or not you occupy yourself pondering philosophical questions of any sort, you most likely pay most of your attention to what you can control, and hopefully little on what you can™t.

What you can control is your health and longevity. Only about 30% is in your genes. The rest is in your head. That™s where you make your value judgments and your decisions. Seventy percent is up to you.

Look, we™re not talking about living forever. If you have an unshakeable opinion about life after death, that™s personal. I just suggest no one sacrifice their here and now in exchange for hopes of an afterlife. Remember, eternity is a long time, and Heaven can wait.

If you are in a hurry to get there, abuse your body. But if you are patient about finding out the answer once and for all, keep taking care of yourself, and enjoy life in the process.

Add an extra decade, century or more to your life, and you™ll have plenty of time to search for spiritual answers. That™s our plan for you. That™s our mission.

Personally, I™m not in a hurry to find the answer to this particular question.

And I miss Delicia.


MORE ENGINEERED HEART MUSCLE (October 16 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4425
Another example of progress in tissue engineering from the Boston Globe: "researchers have created a strip of pulsing heart muscle from mouse embryonic stem cells, a step toward the eventual goal of growing replacement parts for hearts damaged by cardiovascular disease. I think over the last five years or so, we've made great progress in being able to guide stem cells into whatever cell type we want, in this case the heart. For years, scientists have been able to turn embryonic stem cells into a variety of heart cells, producing dramatic videos of cells beating in a dish. In the new work, [biologists] first isolated a progenitor cell that would only give rise to ventricular muscle cells - the working muscle that drives blood around the body, and the tissue that is damaged during a heart attack. Then, collaborating with biomedical engineers, they seeded those cells on a thin film that had been engineered in such a way that it encouraged them to begin to form cardiac muscle." This doesn't seem quite as far along as some other groups, and it's still far behind what can be done with decellularization and a donor organ - but progress is underway.

NATURAL HEALING IS NOT OPTIMAL (October 16 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4424
If you look at research into the fundamental biological mechanisms of healing, you'll quickly see that we mammals are not optimally evolved. There are all sorts of changes and tweaks that may allow far greater regeneration in specific circumstances, such as nerve injury. Here is one example: "Scars can serve as double-edged swords in spinal cord injuries. The scar forms a wall around the wound, preventing the injury from spreading, but [releases] molecules that keep severed nerve fibers from passing the damaged tissue, so they cannot connect with their original targets to restore motor and sensory function.  [researchers have] identified where these potent molecules - called chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) - bind to the surface of neurons, exposing a novel therapeutic target. This discovery suggests that we might be able to treat central nervous system injuries with a pill in the future. It's hard to overcome CSPGs in the human body, but receptors may offer an easier target. Follow-up experiments in culture dishes on neurons missing the receptor - called PTP sigma - and studies in mice confirmed the connection. [researchers]  observed unprecedented levels of growth in the neurons of injured mice missing the PTP sigma receptor. In fact, motor neurons sent extensions all the way through the scar and well beyond the wound."

GENE THERAPY TO BOOST DOPAMINE IN PARKINSON'S (October 15 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4423
A fairly cautious article here on current work to stimulate the production of dopamine in Parkinson's patients: "Macaque monkeys that received gene therapy for symptoms of Parkinson's disease saw a significant improvement in their motor function without the side effects associated with current standard therapy. For the past 40 or so years, the treatment of choice for Parkinson's has been so-called dopamine replacement therapy, which uses drugs to increase dopamine levels in the brain. The approach helps, but because the infusion of dopamine takes place in fits and bursts, not continuously, people often develop involuntary movements. Scientists have thus been focused on finding ways to deliver dopamine to the brain more continuously. Simultaneous insertion of three genes allowed certain cells in the brain to take over production of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

But even if this gene therapy approach were to someday produce good results in humans, it still would not solve many of the myriad other problems associated with Parkinson's. The gene therapy would be considered a treatment rather than a cure because it 'corrects only dopamine-related symptoms.' An early-phase clinical trial in humans is in progress. So far, six Parkinson's disease patients have been treated - no serious adverse events, encouraging results so far. [But] the study is not ended, so still no final results."

MANIPULATING MICROGLIA TO REMOVE AMYLOID (October 15 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4422
Via EurekAlert!: researchers have made "the unexpected finding that when the brain's immune cells (microglia) are activated by the interleukin-6 protein (IL-6), they actually remove plaques instead of causing them or making them worse. The research was performed in a model of Alzheimer's disease established in mice. [Researchers] initially set out to prove that the activation of microgila trigger inflammation, making the disease worse. Their hypothesis was that microglia would attempt to remove the plaques, but would be unable to do so, and in the process cause excessive inflammation. To the surprise of the researchers, when microglia were activated by IL-6, they cleared the plaques from the brains. Researchers then set out to determine exactly how IL-6 worked to clear the plaques and discovered that the inflammation induced by IL-6 directed the microglia to express proteins that removed the plaques. This research suggests that manipulating the brain's own immune cells through inflammatory mediators could lead to new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer's disease."

A VIEW OF THE POWER OF PREVENTION (October 14 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4421
Many diseases, such as cancer, are curable - or at least treatable - using today's technology if they can be detected in their very earliest stages. Therein lies the challenge, of course. Here, a glance at one initiative emblematic of present research and development efforts in this direction: Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology "has secured $30 million in venture capital for a startup that aims to detect cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's in their earliest and most treatable stages. It will make it possible for doctors to diagnose diseases much earlier; it will open the door to more individually tailored therapies that will have much greater odds of success; and it will allow doctors to follow up with patients to see if treatments they prescribe are really working at the molecular level. My view is that P4 medicine - predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory - will emerge over the next five to 20 years, and this is the first step. This is going to be the platform in the initial days. We are optimistic that systems biology will become a critical tool in the development of personalized medicine." You might recall that Hood has said he thinks an additional decade or two of healthy life is possible through use of this sort of technology platform.

2009 HUMANITY+ SUMMIT IN DECEMBER (October 13 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4419
The humanity+ transhumanist advocacy group - the new face of the old World Transhumanist Association - will be holding their yearly meeting in December: "Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the (possibly quite near) future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth. The possibilities are tremendously broad and exciting - and the H+ Summit will provide a venue to discuss them with like-minded individuals, and hear exciting, presentations by the leaders of the ongoing H+ r/evolution." There are many of the same speakers and topics on the program as for the recent Singularity Summit, so coverage of that event should give you a good idea as to what to expect. I see that open source medicine makes an appearance - the more of that the better. It's an important concept for the future of medical research; as the cost of biotechnology plummets, the field of those who can contribute meaningfully broadens, and if we're lucky we will see a research culture that looks a lot like - and is as productive as - today's vibrant open source software community.

GENE ENGINEERING A LONGER LASTING HEART (October 13 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4418
Manipulating the insulin/IGF-1 signaling system is known to promote longevity in lower animals, and here is a demonstration of specific benefits to heart tissue: researchers "studied elderly mice genetically engineered to suppress the activity of one form of the PI3K gene, which is a part of the insulin/IGF-1signaling system that helps regulate the lifespan of cells. A variation of PI3K, known as the p110alpha isoform, plays an important role in tissue aging. Suppressing the isoform's activity in the roundworm C. elegans extends its life. And in fruit flies, suppression prevents the age-dependent decline of heart function. Researchers compared aged mice with a functional p110alpha to aged mice with suppressed p110alpha and found that mice with the suppressed gene had: improved cardiac function; less fibrosis (fibrosis causes the heart to lose flexibility); fewer biological markers of aging; and a pattern of cardiac gene expression like that of younger mice. This study showed that aging of the heart can be prevented by modifying the function of insulin and paves the way to preventing age-associated susceptibility to heart failure."

TEMPOROMANDIBULAR JOINT BONE GROWN FROM STEM CELLS (October 12 2009) http://www.longevitymeme.org/news/vnl.cfm?id=4416

From the BBC: "Scientists have created part of the jaw joint in the lab using human adult stem cells. They say it is the first time a complex, anatomically-sized bone has been accurately created in this way. It is hoped the technique could be used not only to treat disorders of the specific joint, but more widely to correct problems with other bones too. The joint has a complex structure which makes it difficult to repair by using grafts from bones elsewhere in the body. The latest study used human stem cells taken from bone marrow. These were seeded into a tissue scaffold, formed into the precise shape of the human jaw bone by using digital images from a patient. The cells were then cultured using a specially-designed bioreactor which was able to infuse the growing tissue with exactly the level of nutrients found during natural bone development. The availability of personalised bone grafts engineered from the patient's own stem cells would revolutionize the way we currently treat these defects. The new technique could also be applied to other bones in the head and neck, including skull bones and cheek bones, which are similarly difficult to graft." .

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