Can old dogs teach us new tricks?
Frisbee is 14 years old but people often confuse her for a puppy.
Her owner, Daniel Promislow, pathology professor and director of the Canine Longevity Consortium, is interested in finding out what makes her age so well.
Promislow is the co-director of a project called The Dog Aging project which recruits dog owners and their pets to study the biology of aging in canines.
“There are a lot of really good reasons to carry out the dog aging project. People loved dogs and dogs age much more quickly than humans do. They die when they’re much younger than we are,” Promislow says.
“And so understanding how to keep dogs healthier longer is going to be good for dogs and good for the people who love dogs.”
The National Institute on Aging is paying for the $23 million project because dogs and humans share the same environment, get the same diseases and dogs’ shorter lifespans allow quicker research results.
The data collected will be available to all scientists.
The project will collect a pile of pooch data: vet records, DNA samples, gut microbes and information on kibble and walkies.
A subset of 500 dogs will test a pill that could slow the aging process.
For the study, the dogs will live normally at home, possibly with extra visits to veterinary specialists for certain tests.
Their welfare will be monitored by a bioethicist and a panel of animal welfare advisers.
“The Dog Aging project is going to recruit dogs of all ages, all breeds, purebreds and mixed breed dogs, males, females from every region of the country. And our goal is to follow them for the rest of their lives,” Promislow says.
His own dog, Frisbee, will not participate to prevent a conflict of interest.
The five-year study, funded by the US National Institute of Aging, formally launched on Thursday, November 14, at a science meeting in Austin, Texas.
To nominate a pet for the project, owners can visit the project’s website.
Promislow hopes the project’s findings will have the potential to translate to human health.
If scientists find a genetic marker for a type of cancer in dogs, for instance, that could be explored in humans.
“My research group particularly prefers to study pet dogs as compared to dogs in a laboratory setting because pet dogs live in diverse environments and eat diverse food and have diverse exercise schedules. Very much like their human owners,” says veterinarian Dr. Kate Creevy of Texas A&M University, the project’s chief scientific officer.
Creevy says today’s pampered pets live longer and get more geriatric diseases compared to farm dogs in the past.
Yet no geriatrics specialty exists in animal medicine, nor do standard measures of frailty or prognosis in sick, aged dogs, Creevy said.
The project will develop those tools.
That makes large dogs better test subjects for a potential anti-aging pill.
Dogs weighing at least 40 pounds will be eligible for an experiment with rapamycin, now taken by humans to prevent rejection of transplanted kidneys.
The drug has extended lifespan in mice.
Human devotion to dogs drives the project, the scientists say.
Michael Nicefaro, a dog owner in Seattle, believes dog devotion to humans is as strong.
“(The) great thing about dogs is they don’t seem to recognize disability and say just persevere,” he says.
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