Soon this blog will celebrate its third birthday. So I pause here to discuss where it has been and is going. I also issue a new invitation for applicants who may be interested in becoming associate researchers/writers for the blog.
History and where we are
I started my career as a longevity scientist some four years ago in January 2008 by writing and publishing a major online treatise ANTI-AGING FIREWALLS – THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF LONGEVITY. My approach was to characterize the 14-odd major theories of aging and then ask for each theory “If this theory is correct, then what can be done now to slow or stop aging according to that theory?” As 2008 proceeded I kept updating the treatise every week or so to reflect current developments. But I soon came to realize that far too much was happening in research related to longevity to cram into a single treatise.. So, I decided to supplement the treatise with a blog. The blog is now my major communication vehicle although I continue to update the treatise every few weeks.
In January 2009, I started this blog with the initial idea that it would be a medium to report and comment on science news related to longevity. I thought this approach would lead to insights about what is known concerning human longevity and the possibility for longer healthier lives. However, soon thereafter I largely abandoned this plan and started to evolve the blog into a medium for serious review articles covering key areas of science related to longevity. This shift followed from realization that: 1. Both the general press and responsible science-reporting media like Science Daily do a good job on reporting on one-off new developments, and 2. Such simple reporting on new developments does not really yield the desired insights and often can leave readers with incorrect perceptions. This is because without already-knowing a great deal about the context of a new research development, say one related to induced pluripotent stem cells, the P53 protein or the SIR-1 pathway, it becomes nearly impossible to grasp the significance or absence of significance of the development.
Even among responsible reporters of science in the general press, incremental developments are too-often reported as breakthroughs when they are actually just more bricks in a large rambling but still-mostly-incomplete edifice. With very rare exceptions, important research discoveries are incremental. To understand them requires understanding the context of prior work, so I soon recognized that it is import to provide my readers with contextual backgrounds. See the blog entry When reading press releases and newspaper articles about research discoveries, beware!.
In August 2009 I wrote the post What motivates me to write this blog? More than two years later my motivations remain basically unchanged.
As time progressed, the blog entries have tended to become review articles with large numbers of citations, similar in many respects to major journal articles. I have kept coming back to certain themes highly relevant to longevity including:
- The major theories of aging, what is being learned about them and how they can be linked up
- Stem cell developments, both stem cell therapies and progress with induced pluripotent stem cells and therapies based on adult stem cells.
- Key genes, proteins and biological pathways known to be related to longevity in animals, including BFNF, CETP, Klotho,P53, FOXO, NRG-1, IGF-1 mTOR, the Sirtuins, PGC1-alpha, Fas and P16(Ink4a)
- Epigenetic effects and their relationship to disease processes and aging
- Multiple foods, phytosubstances and dietary supplements having health and possible longevity benefits strongly supported by research.
- Theories of biological evolution that affect views on longevity, like antagonistic pleiotropy
- Key biological processes related to health and longevity such as oxidative damage, inflammation and tissue glycation
- Alternative theories of aging such as micronutrient triage, increasing mTOR signaling or decline in expression of Klotho.
- DNA damage and its repair
- Micro RNAs and their roles
- Cell senescence; its relationships to aging, cancers and telomeres.
- Roles of glia and microglia and their relationship to neurological diseases
- The immune system, immunotherapies, roles of B, T, NK cells,
- Heat shock proteins, protein folding and hormesis
- Telomeres and telomerase
- Animal models of aging including nematodes, pythons, zebrafish, naked mole rats, salamanders, fruit flys, mice, rats and humans.
- Cancers and cancer therapies
- Cognitive function, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline
- Other key diseases such as spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders, lymphomas, Lyme disease and glioblatoma
- Novel therapeutic approaches to aging-related diseases such as kinase inhibition
- Disease biomarkers and future trends in predictive personalized preventative participatory medicine
- Demographic populations known to be related to longevity
- Lifestyle factors related to longevity including mental attitude, exercise, stress, nature of diet, social relationships
- Novel viewpoints such as systems biology and quantum biology
- Mitochondrial metabolism
- Prospects for breaking through the 123 year known human age limit
Some blog entries contain brief video segments, many from the film To Age or Not to Age, in which I was interviewed by the producer-director Robert Kane Pappas.
Other than for an occasional opinion piece or message about the blog itself I have above all striven to focus on reputable published research. This research can be of several types ranging from in-vitro studies of pathways using tools of molecular biology to large multi-year population studies. See the blog entry About longevity research. I strive to be meticulous in providing citations to back up key assertions.
Once in a great while I will publish a spoof with a message. One favorite is P38, P39 and P40 channel receptor functions inhibit activities of BF-110, HE111 and HE177 leading to reduced expression of (SC)1000 in BOB.
The intention of my blog discussions is to convey current research findings and opinions, not to give medical advice. See the Medical Disclaimer for this blog. I avoid any linkage with commercial interests. See Scientific integrity and advertising on my sites.
Some current blog statistics are:
- Total number of posts to date: 393
- Total number of comments to date: 2,243
- Number of unique daily visitors (typical): 2,500
- Visitors view average of 1.8 posts per visit
- Number of registered users: 4,553
- Typical number of new blog registrants per day: 20-30
- Guess estimated number of total occasional readers: 20.000 plus
- More than 50% of usage appears to be from outside US
Shifts in my viewpoint over the 4 years of the blog
About twice a year, I write a blog piece about where I currently stand with respect to aging science. My most recent was the February 2011 post The evolution of my perspective as a longevity scientist. That post outlines some of my personal history with respect to longevity science and describes a number of perceptions I still stand by today. Some of the most important shifts for me are:
- Telomeres/telomerase – I started out thinking that keeping telomeres long by activating telomerase via ingestion of substances like astragaloside IV or cycloastragenol could contribute to our longevity. I now see telomere length as a downstream effect rather than itself as a possible cause of longevity. I have written a series of blog entries on this topic. You can start with the March 2011 blog entry The epigenetic regulation of telomeres and link from there to other telomere-related blog entries and the related discussion in my treatise.
- Oxidative damage – I also started out thinking, with many other researchers, that oxidative damage is a major cause of aging and that inhibiting such damage by taking antioxidants might be life extending. I now think these views are too simplistic and see oxidative damage in a much more nuanced perspective. See Victor’s September 2011 blog post End of the free radical theory of aging and negative consequences of indiscriminante antioxidant supplementation and my editorial A shift in a key aging sciences paradigm.
- Complexity – Having some academic background in theoretical physics, I started out thinking that compared to quantum physics, relativity theory, quantum electrodynamics, gauge field theories, fractal, chaos and string theories, etc., biology would turn out to be relatively simple and easy to grasp. Instead I now see biology as at least an order of magnitude more complex than physics. Compared to biology, studying origins of the universe is relatively simple stuff where widely applicable principles apply. This is not just a crazy idea of my own. Two prominent theoretical physicists (Martin A. Burcher and David N.Spergel) recently initiated their article in the special edition of Scientific American on The Cosmic Life Cycle by writing “Cosmology has a reputation as a difficult science, but in many ways explaining the whole universe is easier than understanding a single-celled animal.” And they wrote “The unfolding of the cosmos, it seems, is almost completely insensitive to the details of its contents. Unfortunately for biologists, the same principle does not apply to even the simplest organism.”
- Breaking the 123 year age limit – I started out four years ago with the viewpoint that extending human lifespans beyond the normal limit will probably become possible in time and would probably be based on some kind of telomerase- based intervention. Now I still think that extending human lifespans beyond the normal limit will become possible but that the intervention(s) most likely to do the trick will either involve induced pluripotent stem cells or epigenetic modifications of gene promoter areas. See Closing the loop in the stem cell supply chain – presented graphicallyand my presentation Towards a Systems View of Aging at the American Aging Society 2010 annual meeting.
- Need for new societal views of aging – There is little recognition that this 21st century is undergoing a revolution in health and longevity with ultimate consequences more profound than the electronics and information revolution had in the 20th century. We are already living much longer than recognized by our institutions like Social Security, and science soon will probably allow us to extend our lives by a dozen or more healthy years, perhaps longer. This change is being driven by advances in the life sciences and our basic understanding of the relationship between disease and aging. And it is being driven even more by societal forces operating in the background. Everything else will change as a consequence. We could well have an older more wisdom-oriented population The 20th century saw immense gains in productivity connected with electronics, computers and worldwide networking. The 21st century is likely to see even greater gains through reduction in health care costs coupled with the preservation, expansion and utilization of our pool of human capital. The ramifications will become more and more profound, and a public dialog is needed to bring them into public awareness. What this watershed may ultimately lead to in terms of the human condition is anyone’s guess, but the more the awareness the more we may be able consciously to shape our future.
- Scientific breakthroughs versus a complex social process – Four years ago I was looking for a single blockbuster breakthrough in scientific knowledge that would allow us to live much longer in a healthy condition. I was looking for science to unlock the secret of the fountain of youth. Now I still anticipate the same result of longer healthier lives. But I expect it to happen as a complex social process involving many actors and much more than scientific knowledge. Massive applications of engineering, new companies, investments of money, trial-and-error and risk taking will be required. Not one big secret but a combination of hundreds of smaller ones will be involved. The computer and information revolution of the last century was not based on a single discovery but emerged as a very complicated and messy process involving elements of science, engineering, commerce, finance, entrepreneurship, government and public policy. I expect the longevity revolution to happen in the same way. It is the only way profound things can happen.
Increase in complexity of blog articles, decline in their numbers
As time progresses my associates and I have been writing repeated updates on specific topics, both to explore deeper and to keep up with the literature. This turns out to be a very challenging task, particularly when research in the area concerned is is going on at a furious pace. For example, between October 2010 when I generated the blog entry Klotho anti-aging gene in the news and the December 7 2011 update entry More about Klotho – spinner of the thread of lifeover 100 serious research publications related to Klotho appeared. And I attended a multi-speaker session on Klotho at the November meeting at the Gerontological Society of America. Digesting all that material prior to publishing the new blog entry was a challenging task requiring many days.
So, as time progresses I am tending to publish longer and more comprehensive treatise-like review studies that describe the state-of-the-art for specific topics. But it is taking me a lot longer to do them so the number of new entries per month has been declining.
Continuously growing readership of the blog suggests that the blog has already proven itself to be useful. Yet, to keep up with the pace as the research expands I believe it will be necessary to publish items more frequently. The need is to do this while maintaining full integrity and quality in the blog. This brings me back to the topic of Associate Researchers/Blog writers. To increase the rate of publication and flow of blog materials I have invited others to apply to join me as associate authors, in April 2011 putting out Call for associate researcher-writers. I now have two excellent associate researcher-writers, Victor and Brendan Hussey. They have each produced some excellent articles. But, like myself, they have are living full lives and can devote only limited resources to reading or writing. We need a few additional key colleagues, so I am repeating my “casting call” here, slightly expanding the original version.
Casting call II for blog researchers/writer associates
I am looking for a few Associate Researchers/Writers to join me in generating interesting and quality posts for this blog. I am initially looking for people who can cover relatively broad swaths of the longevity sciences in depth as I have been doing. Later, it may make sense to add more researchers/writers focusing on specialized areas. In such a case, the initial Associates could possibly graduate to becoming Area Editors. If you satisfy the following, please communicate with me by e-mail:
- You have a passionate interest in the longevity sciences or in an applied area related to longevity, perhaps with a focus in a certain key area.
- You are good at perusing the scientific literature to see what is going on,
- You can express yourself well in writing and would like that writing to have targeted exposure that generates feedback.
- You have sufficient training, background and patience to scan key areas of the emerging literature, identify important new trends, and generate blog entries with the sophistication and degree of literature documentation typically found in this blog. A number of readers have commented that this blog is the best source of scientific information related to aging on the web. I want to keep it that way.
- You are aligned with the Mission of this blog and willing to respect the blog guidelines outlined here. The Mission of the blog is to present information clearly on key current research developments pertaining to aging and information on related technological and social topics. Secondarily, it is to share informed opinions on the same topic. The target audience includes professionals and students in the aging science community, health and geriatric practitioners, and informed individuals with a substantial interest in aging and aging sciences. Editorial commentary and informed opinion may also be of great value provided it is identified as such.
- You would like to get your signed writings out to a growing International community which I estimate currently to be more than 20,000 regular readers. Currently, an average of 2,500 different readers visit the blog daily. And 150 t0 200 new registrations come in weekly from all over the world.
- You are willing to research and write at least one blog entry every two months. Documented mini-reviews of key topics are particularly welcome. The history of previous blog entries illustrates what I consider acceptable topics and blog formats, the degree of citation documentation, and the quality of the writing I will be looking for.
- You are willing to follow the general guidelines of this blog such as no commercial product promotions, no giving of medical advice and staying broadly “on topic” with respect to longevity. While individual blog entries can be concerned with specific theories of aging or anti-aging interventions, the blog itself is inclusive of a wide variety of viewpoints provided that they are informed and anchored in respectable research. Opinions, when offered, will be identified as such. And I will also entertain occasional humor pieces.
- You are willing to work now for the same compensation I am getting – zero pay but significant public exposure, acknowledgement and opportunity to learn.
- You are willing to have me review and possibly lightly edit your blog entries before they are published on the blog. And I will reserve the right to not publish any writings if I feel they don’t meet quality or other standards of the blog.
My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use the e-mail heading BLOG WRITER so I can easily sort your message out from junk. Tell me about yourself, your background, what you know/don’t know, your academic and work status, any institutional affiliation you may have or had, why you want to contribute and what you have to offer. Also please point me to online examples of your relevant writings or attach same to your e-mails. Finally, you might wish to identify the subject of any initial blog entries you might want to write.
If I invite you to join me as an Associate, I will do an editorial review of your blog entries before they go online and everything you write will be attributable to your authorship.
Please do not let your age or academic or institutional status be seen as a barrier here if you have what it takes to do the job. Whether you are a vital oldster like me or a young graduate student, this could be an opportunity to get yourself out to a big audience of readers and make a difference.