A couple of University of Washington professors love their dogs as much as you do. That’s why they started the Dog Aging Project to study how dogs age and try to extend their lives while keeping them healthier longer.
They’ve already started enrolling dogs that are six years and older in a 10-week placebo-controlled study, where some dogs are given a particular drug.
“Rapamycin is an FDA approved drug that’s used to prevent organ transplant rejection,” says Professor of Pathology Matt Kaeberlein. “What has been learned from basic science studies in the lab is that treating animals with Rapamycin not only extends lifespan but seems to delay many of the diseases and declines in function that come with age. So we know from studies in the lab, in small animals like mice, that 10 weeks of treatment with Rapamycin in an old mouse can cause that mouse’s heart to function more like a youthful heart. So we want to assess whether just 10 weeks of this treatment in dogs may be sufficient to improve cardiac function in middle-aged dogs.
“If we base it on what’s seen in mice, a 25 to 30 percent increase in life span is reasonable. Now, whether you would get that in dogs or not, I don’t know. But that could be three, four years depending on the breed of dogs. I think the important point is, we’re talking quality years not just increasing the older years when the dogs are already suffering from chronic disease and disability.”
Professor of Pathology and Biology Daniel Promislow began working in dog research about eight years ago.
“Mixed breed dogs tend to live about a year longer than purebred dogs of the same size,” Promislow says. “And we also found that dogs that have been spayed or neutered tend to live about a year longer than intact dogs, both males, and females.”
Looking to adopt the longest living dog? Promislow says the sweet spot is a 20-pound mutt.
The hope is that the research they’re doing with dogs might eventually translate to humans.
“Dogs are genetically variable just like we are, they live in our environment. They tend to get the same diseases we do. The medical care for dogs is second only in quality to that of humans. So really, we can learn a lot about dogs, but we can also learn a lot about people.”
The researchers anticipate a pretty quick turnaround.
“Certainly within three to five years we’ll know the effect that this drug is having,” says Kaeberlein. “Not just on cardiac function but on cancer rates and kidney function and cognitive function and ultimately mortality. So to me, a three to five-year timeline for potentially having an intervention that can significantly improve healthy longevity in pet dogs is certainly not an unreasonable timeline for a project like this.”
They are gearing up for a large study where they’ll be enrolling thousands of pet dogs from around the country and plan to follow some from birth to death. Click here to learn more, or to enroll your dog in the study.