Carnivalia


Welcome to the tenth edition of Hourglass, our blog carnival about the biology of aging. This month, the carnival has returned home to Ouroboros. In this issue, we have submissions from six bloggers, including a nice mix of veterans and new participants. Several of the posts are united by common themes: we have heavy representation from the neuroscience community, and multiple discussions of the clinical and social payoffs that are likely to result from progress in lifespan extension.

At psique (which hosted Hourglass IX), Laura Kilarski describes an important, evolving online tool for biogerontologists: the Human Aging Genomics Resources:

As I was reading a paper earlier about chromosomal region 11.5p and its putative association with aging (Lescai et al, 2009) I came across an interesting sounding url, namely http://genomics.senescence.info. Turns out that the website is home to HAGR, an interdisciplinary project devoted to the genetic study of aging … GenAge constitutes a major part of the site, and is a manually curated database of genes which could possibly be associated with human aging, largely based on studies done on the usual suspects: Mr. Mouse, Drosophila, C. elegans, and yeast. … The AnAge database on the other hand contains entries for over 4000 animals and some basic life-span-related facts. … And then there’s the ‘Δ Project’, the aim of which is to figure out transcriptional differences between young and old organisms.

Laura describes HAGR in depth and also provides some of her own analysis of the available resources.

On another age-related subject, neurodegeneration, Laura discusses the potential value of regular brain scans for early ascertainment of diseases such as Parkinson’s. Free brain scans for all! It’s a moving piece, which underscores the human cost of neurodegenerative illness and describes the author’s personal reactions on the subject, while also addressing important clinical and scientific issues.

As we age, we all suffer from some level of neurodegeneration, though in most cases this falls below the threshold of a clinical pathology. Slow chronic change isn’t the only form of age-related brain damage: let’s not forget about strokes, which can wipe out otherwise healthy neurons in macroscopic regions of the brain. While the risk factors for stroke and neurodegeneration are distinct, therapies might ultimately be quite similar — since in both cases, the goal is to regrow neurons to replace those that have been lost. At Brain Stimulant, Mike tell us about a clinical trial that will use stem cells to treat stroke:

The company Reneuron has just recently gotten the go ahead to commence a new trial that will use stem cells to treat patients with stroke damage. The trial will use stem cells to replace missing brain matter in those who have had stroke brain trauma. They are injecting doses of approximately 20 million stem cells into the stroke patients brain. Interestingly these ReN001 stem cells will not require a patient to have immunosuppression therapy.

He goes on to discuss the future challenges posed by the prospect for brain engineering: precise cell delivery, control of axon sprouting and pathfinding, and the possibility of using non-invasive methods to encourage the growth of new cells.

Also coming from a neuroscience perspective, Christopher Harris of Best Before Yesterday writes about What we need to accelerate biomedical research and fight aging.

A few hundred years ago I could not have been born. I was massive – 5.5kg – and the birth eventually turned caesarean and took many long hours. I owe my life to medical science. One day, 11 years later, I was out biking and realized for the first time that the annihilation following my death would be infinite. Now, 25 years after my complicated birth, I think a lot about whether medical science, rejuvenation research of the SENS variety in particular, will save me a second time.

What do we need? According to Harris: (1) Safe and inexpensive brain surgery (to install devices that can manipulate the reward circuitry of the brain); (2) Widespread use of enhanced motivation through deep brain stimulation (specifically to encourage exercise and healthy living); and (3) Rewarding brain stimulation for research centers (to accelerate scientific progress).

One of my favorite new sites, the Science of Aging Timeline, has a new entry about the Sinclair lab’s discovery of sirtuin-activating compounds:

Working off a model of calorie restriction via sirtuins David Sinclair et al. worked to find molecules which could modulate sitruins activity, and thus longevity.

They accomplished this by screening a number of small molecule libraries, which included analogues of epsilon-acetyl lysine, NAD+, NAD+ precursors, nucleotides and purinergic ligands. Results from the screening where assayed against human SIRT1 to identify potential inhibitors, and the following molecules where found: Resveratrol, Butein, Piceatannol, Isoliquiritigenin, Fisetin, and Quercetin. Of all of these, resveratrol proved to be the most potent …

In the copious spare time left when he’s not working on the comprehensive history of biogerontology, timeline curator Paul House has started another ambitious project: a catalog of all the labs working on aging. It’s early days yet, and only a few labs are listed, but I’ve already seen Paul take one great idea (the timeline) from seed to oak, so I have every confidence that this page will grow substantially in the weeks and months to come. Those who are interested in having their labs listed on the page can send Paul an email.

Over at Fight Aging!, Reason continues excellent coverage of recent papers in biogerontology; I daresay that the detail of coverage on primary scientific literature has improved even further in the past month or so, concomitant with the site’s participation in the ResearchBlogging tracking system for blog posts about journal articles. For this edition of Hourglass, Reason has submitted two excellent analyses of recent papers, and a third piece of a more philosophical bent:

It is from the last piece that I’ve chosen an excerpt:

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up and find that we were all immortal? That would save a whole lot of work, uncertainty, and existential angst – and we humans are nothing if not motivated to do less work. The best of us toil endlessly in search of saving a few minutes here and a few minutes there. So it happens that there exist a range of metaphysical lines of thought – outside the bounds of theology – that suggest we humans are immortal. We should cast a suspicious eye upon any line of philosophy that would be extraordinarily convenient if true, human nature being what it is.

Moving on from a philosophical post written by a scientifically minded life-extension advocate, our next posts are scientific posts written about life extension from a political philosopher. Colin Farrelly of In Search of Enlightenment has submitted two long, thoughtful articles, the first about the clinical and social importance of tackling aging, the second about the cognitive biases that affect the way we think about risk and the significance of aging as a cause of mortality:

The “availability heuristic” was a new one on me. Here’s an operational definition as it applies to our thinking about aging:

In a rational world, aging research would be at the forefront of a global collaborative initiative to improve the health and economic prospects of today’s aging populations (and all future generations).

But humans are not rational. We suffer many cognitive biases. One prominent bias is the availability heuristic. Risks that are easily brought to mind are given a higher probability; and conversely, the less vivid a risk, the more likely we are to underestimate the probability of their occurring.

The two tests above reveal how prominent this heuristic is in your own comprehension of the risks facing yourself, your loved ones and humanity. Because death by aging is not something that is vivid is most people’s minds (though it is in the minds of the scientists who study the biology of aging and thus know all too well how it affects a species functional capacities), odds are you probably underestimated it as a risk of mortality.

The benefits of lifespan extension, both with regard to human health and society as a whole is sometimes called the Longevity Dividend. Alvaro Fernandez from SharpBrains sent in a long piece about the Longevity Dividend (written by a contributor from the Kronos Longevity Research Institute). Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Gray is the New Gold:

The Longevity Dividend is a theory that says we hope to intervene scientifically to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related diseases. Delaying aging just seven years would slash rates of conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in half. That’s the longevity part. … The dividend comes from the social, economic, and health bonuses that would then be available to spend on schools, energy, jobs, infrastructure—trillions of dollars that today we spend on healthcare services. In fact, at the rate we’re going, by the year 2020 one out of every $5 spent in this country will be spent on healthcare. Obviously, something has to change.

Alvaro, the editor of SharpBrains and founder of the parent website, has recently published a book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, which is the subject of this recent (and quite favoriable) review. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s list of cognitive fitness references, based on the authors’ research for the book.

That’s all for now. If you’d like to host a future installation of Hourglass, please email me.

The tenth installation of Hourglass, a monthly blog carnival devoted to the best blogging about biology of aging, will appear here at Ouroboros on Tuesday, June 9th.

The carnival’s mission:

Topics of posts should have something to do with the biology of aging, broadly speaking — including fundamental research in biogerontology, age-related disease, ideas about life extension technologies, your personal experience with calorie restriction, maybe even something about the sociological implications of increased longevity. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the management, so feel free to subvert the dominant paradigm. If in doubt, submit anyway.

Submissions should be emailed to [hourglass.host][at][gmail][dot][com].

In the meantime, feel free to check out previous editions of the carnival.

By the way, if you’d like to volunteer to host, please email me directly — basically the rest of 2009 is wide open. If you’ve already hosted before, don’t let that hold you back; while the carnival is young, some repeat hosting is going to be par for the course.

The latest edition of Hourglass, our monthly blog carnival about the biology of aging, is up at psique.

Host Laura Kilarski has done a wonderful job of weaving together disparate strands — Japanese mythology, Okinawan culinary culture, the evolution of senescence and the disposable soma theory — into a coherent collection of delightful aging-related blogging. Thanks to Laura for her editorial efforts in compiling one of the largest edition of Hourglass so far, and thanks to all who submitted their posts.

What are you waiting for? Check it out!

Welcome to the 68th installation of Encephalon, a blog carnival devoted to presenting the best recent blog posts in neuroscience and psychology.

Last time I hosted Encephalon I used a new format, motivated by my philosophy about what makes for good science blogging:

Science blogging isn’t merely a means of recording information. The best science bloggers are expert at asking, and then answering, a question that the reader might never have even thought about before. That gives us the organizing theme of today’s carnival: Q&A.

I liked the Q&A format so much that I’m going to use it again (though I don’t promise to always frame the questions that the bloggers themselves intend to be answering). Without further ado, then…

Q: What would neuroscience be like without informed consent?
A: It would be dreadful, as epitomized by the infamous Rafferty experiment. Roberts Bartholow, a physician, performed a series of invasive experiments on the brain of a “feeble-minded” terminal cancer patient, Mary Rafferty. His investigations caused significant pain and may have materially contributed to Rafferty’s death, but that didn’t stop Bartholow from publishing his findings and going on to a successful career. Romeo Vitelli has the gory details at Providentia.

Q: What can we learn from a damaged brain?
A: We learn a great deal about the functioning of the human brain by studying the symptoms that arise from damage to specific areas within the brain. At their best, these studies allow neuroscientists to test hypotheses that couldn’t be falsified in any other way. Brain-damage studies aren’t perfect, however (what study is?) and they’re vulnerable to a wide variety of confounding variables. Using an analogy between brains and computers, Jared Tanner discusses the advantages and disadvantages of brain damage studies at Brain Blogger.

A: The things we learn from damaged brains can be quite specific. From patients with heterotopopagnosia, we have learned that the left parieto-occipital junction is implicated in our ability to recognize the parts of other people’s bodies. At the Neurocritic.

Q: How do we figure out what to do?
A: In order to deal with the world, we must allocate our attention to gather the most relevant information, identify the available options, choose between the alternatives and then execute our action. When you put it that way, it’s a wonder we can get out of bed in the morning. Sandy G ponders stimulus conditioning and maximization of utility functions at The Mouse Trap.

Q: How does socioeconomic status influence the brain?
A: A large body of recent work has elucidated relationships between poverty and neuroanatomy, focusing on the physiological effects of chronic stress. At Neuroanthropology, Daniel Lende takes a critical look at the way some of these findings have been discussed. I was especially impressed by his points about the brain as “fetish” or “token” in discussions of the issue.

Q: Where do emotions come from?
A: Joseph Kim talks about the stereotypical differences in emotional expression between men and women, and between people from different cultures, in a question-filled, free-form post at Brain Blogger.

Q: Why do we have bad moods?
A: Low moods are often associated with unpleasant feelings and difficulty getting through the day. How could such a response have evolved? When the going gets tough, the tough should get going, not lie around on the couch eating pork rinds. In order words, it seems maladaptive to respond to bad circumstances by losing the ability to improve one’s lot. Then again, if risk hasn’t paid off, maybe it makes sense to be risk averse. What’s the ideal outcome? At The Mouse Trap, Sandy G summarizes and discusses a recent peer-reviewed paper on these issues.

Q:What is the mission of neuroanthropology?
A: In a 1986 video, Oliver Sacks describes the goal of the neurologist as “to try to imagine what it is like for them and enter into their situation and their world and relate it to one’s own.” Daniel Lende of Neuroanthropology argues that this effectively summarizes the mission goals of the modern neuroanthropologist. Over the past three decades, a number of developments (in neuroscience, epistemology, anthropology and psychology) have converged to dramatically changed the landscape in which neuroanthropologists work. The upshot, Lende argues is that we’re now able to design scholarly work around the mission defined in Sacks’ statement.

Q: What is the best way to disseminate and discuss a paper before it’s “published”?
A: At The Neurocritic, an discussion of the controversy surrounding the paper formerly known as “Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience.”

Q: How do baseball players catch fly balls?
A: Running to intercept tiny projectile moving rapidly along a (more or less) parabolic course is, to say the least, difficult. A significant amount of scholarship has been devoted to analyzing the trajectories of outfielders as they pursue their implicit strategies for catching that fly ball. Never one to take the easy road, Daniel Lende of Neuroanthropology ponders why novice players tend to take a step forward as soon as they realize a ball has been hit in their general direction.

Q: How do we learn from our mistakes?
A:More broadly, how do we use experience of the past to adapt to a changing environment? At Brain Health Hacks, Ward Plunet describes a study of the effect of a dopamine receptor polymorphism on learning behavior — the results would seem to indicate that some of us have a genetic predisposition to acknowledge (or at least realize) when we’re wrong, and to do something about that.

The next Encephalon will be hosted at Brain Stimulant on April 27th. More information about future installations of the carnival, as well as details about making submissions, can be found at the Encephalon archive.

The ninth installation of Hourglass, a monthly blog carnival devoted to the best blogging about biology of aging, will appear at psique on Tuesday, April 14th.

The carnival’s mission:

Topics of posts should have something to do with the biology of aging, broadly speaking — including fundamental research in biogerontology, age-related disease, ideas about life extension technologies, your personal experience with calorie restriction, maybe even something about the sociological implications of increased longevity. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the management, so feel free to subvert the dominant paradigm. If in doubt, submit anyway.

Submissions should be emailed to [hourglass.host][at][gmail][dot][com].

In the meantime, feel free to check out previous editions of the carnival.

By the way, if you’d like to volunteer to host, please email me directly — basically the rest of 2009 is wide open. If you’ve already hosted before, don’t let that hold you back; while the carnival is young, some repeat hosting is going to be par for the course.

The eighth edition of Hourglass, the monthly blog carnival devoted to biogerontology, is up at SharpBrains.

Host Alvaro Fernandez has been working hard lately on his own myriad projects, but has still done an excellent job assembling the submissions for this month’s edition of Hourglass. He also used an interesting table format that I like quite a lot. This month’s topics include cognitive enhancement, transhumanism, calorie restriction, and dementia.

Next month the carnival will be held on March 10th. We don’t have a host yet, so if you’re interested in hosting in March or subsequently, please email me directly.

For previous installations of Hourglass, see here.

Posts from Ouroboros are featured at two carnivals this week:

Both have a lot of great stuff in them, so in the absence of any substantive posting here, you can click on over and get your Friday science fix.

Remember,Hourglass VIII will appear at SharpBrains on Tuesday.

The eighth installation of Hourglass, a monthly blog carnival devoted to the biology of aging, will appear at SharpBrains on Tuesday, February 10th.

Alvaro is particularly interested in entries having to do with brain aging or other neuroscience topics, but will of course accept any post in the general area of aging and biogerontology:

Topics of posts should have something to do with the biology of aging, broadly speaking — including fundamental research in biogerontology, age-related disease, ideas about life extension technologies, your personal experience with calorie restriction, maybe even something about the sociological implications of increased longevity. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the management, so feel free to subvert the dominant paradigm. If in doubt, submit anyway.

Submissions should be emailed to [hourglass.host][at][gmail][dot][com].

In the meantime, feel free to check out previous editions of the carnival.

By the way, if you’d like to volunteer to host, please email me directly — basically all of 2009 is wide open. If you’ve already hosted before, don’t let that hold you back; while the carnival is young, some repeat hosting is going to be par for the course.

The seventh edition of Hourglass, the monthly blog carnival devoted to biogerontology, is up at brain health hacks.

Ward Plunet did a great job assembling the submissions, so be sure to stop by and check them out. This month’s topics include new aging-related funding projects, cell polarity, calorie restriction and demyelination.

Next month the carnival will be held on February 10th at SharpBrains. If you’re interested in hosting in March or subsequently, please email me directly.

The seventh installation of Hourglass, a monthly blog carnival devoted to the biology of aging, will appear at Ward Plunet’s brain health hacks on Tuesday, January 20th – Inauguration Day!

We are soliciting entries in the general subject area of aging and biogerontology:

Topics of posts should have something to do with the biology of aging, broadly speaking — including fundamental research in biogerontology, age-related disease, ideas about life extension technologies, your personal experience with calorie restriction, maybe even something about the sociological implications of increased longevity. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the management, so feel free to subvert the dominant paradigm. If in doubt, submit anyway.

Submissions should be emailed to [hourglass.host][at][gmail][dot][com].

In the meantime, feel free to check out previous editions of the carnival.

By the way, if you’d like to volunteer to host, please email me directly — basically all of 2009 is wide open. If you’ve already hosted before, don’t let that hold you back; while the carnival is young, some repeat hosting is going to be par for the course.

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