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Diabetes Drug May Make You Smarter (Also, The Importance Of Unintended Consequences) July 5, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Ethics, Transhumanism.
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Unintended consequences have led to some of the greatest advances in modern medicine (just look at penicilin).  Well know we may be able to add the name Metformin to the list of We Didn’t Expect This To Happen But It’s Still Awesome.

A drug commonly used to control Type 2 diabetes can help trigger stem cells to produce new brain cells, providing hope of a potential means to treat brain injuries and even neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, researchers say.

A study by scientists at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children found the drug metformin helps activate the mechanism that signals stem cells to generate neurons and other brain cells.

Researchers started by adding metformin to stem cells from the brains of mice, then repeated the experiment with human brain stem cells generated in the lab. In both cases, the stem cells gave rise to new brain cells.

They then tested the drug in lab mice and found that those given daily doses of metformin for two or three weeks had increased brain cell growth and outperformed rodents not given the drug in learning and memory tasks.

One standard test involves a water maze in which the mice must swim around until they locate a hidden platform.

“And the remarkable thing is the mice that got the metformin, what they showed was increased flexibility in terms of the way they learned the location of things,” said Miller, explaining that the drug-treated mice had a greater ability to learn and remember.

There are two main things I like about this.  Firstly, this is further evidence of Metformin shaping up to be a wonder drug.  In addition to it’s main use as a highyl effective treatment for diabetes and this new evidence of it’s use as nootropic it may also protect against cancer and heart disease and do all of this without any serious side effects (with the ever important caveat that no drug is truly safe).

More importantly for me is what this does to the debate over human enhancement.  A common tactic on the anti-enhancement side is to set up a rather arbitrary line between medicine (bringing a person back to a “healthy state”) and enhancement (improving a person’s abilities beyond their “healthy state”).  This is mainly done to get around the problem of having to condemn enhancement technologies as being unnatural while at the same time supporting all the other wonderful unnatural things that modern technology has brought us.  The argument usually looks something like this: It is wrong to enhance human abilities because to do so would alter the human condition, something which is desireable to maintain.  Medicine, while not in itself natural, is acceptable as long as it does not alter our basic humanity by enhancing our abilities beyond what is natural.

Others have pointed out the numerous problems with this line of reasoning so I will only draw attention to two points.  The first is the difficulty involved in defining what is natural.  Is it the state a person is in at that point in time?  Is it what is average for a member of the population or species?  Is it species typical functioning?  If we gave a drug to an 80 year old that returned their physique to that of their 20 year old self would that constitute enhancement since their “natural state” is that of a senior citizen?  If we raised someone’s intelligence higher but not beyond what is typical for humans would that constitute enhancement?  There are far more of these which I will not list here but you get the idea.

The other thing I wanted to point out is the problem of unintended consequences.  A common retort to the medicine/enhancement argument is that given a person with a serious condition and a drug which can cure it but will also enhance that persons abilities it would seem to forbid us from treating said person with said drug.  This puts defenders of the position in a bit of a quagmire, having to refuse to (potentially) save a person’s life because it might cross their imaginary boundary.  To my knowledge this argument has been entirely theoretical.

Until know.

I look forward to Leon Kass telling diabetics to stop taking their life saving and life improving enhancements.

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Rapamycin: Potential Cognitive Enhancer July 1, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity, Transhumanism.
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Rapamycin has been seeing a lot of attention as a possible inhibitor of aging.  First isolated as a bacterial product from Easter Island (yes, that one) it has consistently proven to be one of the most exciting drugs in the anti-aging field.  How big is it?  The protein it affects is officialy known as mTOR or mammalian Target Of Rapamycin.  TOR incidentaly has also been implcated in the positive effects of fasting on human health and the breakdown and reapsorbtion of old organelles during cellular “housekeeping”.

Now, researchers have discovered another potential benefit of rapamycins use.

“We made the young ones learn, and remember what they learned, better than what is normal,” said Veronica Galvan, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, part of the UT Health Science Center. “Among the older mice, the ones fed with a diet including rapamycin actually showed an improvement, negating the normal decline that you see in these functions with age.”  The drug also lowered anxiety and depressive-like behavior in the mice, Dr. Galvan said.

Mice are burrowers that prefer tunnels with walls. To observe behavior, Halloran used an elevated maze of tunnels that led to a catwalk. “All of a sudden the mice are in open space,” Halloran said. “It’s pretty far from the floor for their size, sort of like if a person is hiking and suddenly the trail gets steep. It’s pretty far down and not so comfortable.”

Mice with less anxiety were more curious to explore the catwalk. “We observed that the mice fed with a diet containing rapamycin spent significantly more time out in the open arms of the catwalk than the animals fed with a regular diet,” Halloran said.

The second test measured depressive-like behavior in the rodents. Mice do not like to be held by their tails, which is the way they are moved from cage to cage. Inevitably they struggle to find a way out. “So we can measure how much and how often they struggle as a measure of the motivation they have to get out of an uncomfortable situation,” Dr. Galvan said.

The fact that this improved cognition in young as well as old mice as well as the mood related effects suggests this isn’t a reversal of age related decline one might expect from an anti-aging drug but rather something different going on.  Either way keep an eye on rapamycin.  It’s shaping up to be something special.

Longevity Link Dump April 27, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity.
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Occasionally I remember that my original blog, long since lost to the unforgiving maelstrom that is the internet, was focused on healthy living and that what originally got me into transhumanism was an interest in longevity, anti-aging and overall healthy living research.  It’s still sort of a side interest for me but nowadays relegated to little more than trying to keep up with what’s actually going on in the field via science websites.  In that spirit here are a few interesting tidbits that have popped up in the last few weeks.  Give them a read if you missed them the first time around.
Dark chocolate helps prevent cardiovascular disease – Science has given you an excuse to eat chocolate.  What more do you want?

Berries may prevent cognitive decline among elderly – Berries too!

Oregano kills prostate cancer cells – If I could put oregano in everything I would.

Secret to staving off age related declines? Stay stimulated – You don’t use it, you lose it.

Island evolution may select for longer lived animals – Lack of predators seems to be the main driver but I was more interested in the role resource limitation plays.  Why?  Because it sounds familiar.

Salad may prevent oxidative damage after workouts – I hate salad.  I may desire immortality but I have my limits.

You may have noticed that a lot of these have to do with “natural” solution like eating a healthier diet.  Why have I neglected supplementation?  Well, mainly because I’m not a fan.  Part of that may be the fact that I had to sell them at one point in my life and am thus intimately familiar with the sheer amount of crap peddled by the industry.  More importantly though I just don’t think the concept is a sound one.  Given our current understanding of the human body and the relative primitive nature of our tools to fix it I’m not convinced that supplementation is a viable path to longevity, especially given the massive dosages that supplements are usually given in when compared to the concentrations of those same compounds found in food.  Call me a luddite if you want but occasionally I put my trust in evolution and life rather than human ingenuity.

New Treatment Uses Nanofibers To Aid In Wound Healing April 18, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity, Transhumanism.
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I’ve been hearing about the potential of nanomaterials in medicine for some time now so it’s nice to see it finally showing some practical applications:

The nanofibrous hollow spheres are combined with cells and then injected into the wound. When the nanofiber spheres, which are slightly bigger than the cells they carry, degrade at the wound site, the cells they are carrying have already gotten a good start growing because the nanofiber spheres provide an environment in which the cells naturally thrive…

To repair complex or oddly shaped tissue defects, an injectable cell carrier is desirable to achieve accurate fit and to minimize surgery, he says. Ma’s lab has been working on a biomimetic strategy to design a cell matrix — a system that copies biology and supports the cells as they grow and form tissue — using biodegradable nanofibers.

Pretty darn cool, though I’m still waiting for my nanotech blood cells.