Scientists are looking for 10,000 pets for the largest-ever study of aging in canines. They hope to shed light on human longevity too.
The $23 million government-funded 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. All ages and sizes, purebreds and mutts are welcome.
The five-year study was formally launched Thursday at a science meeting in Austin, Texas. 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, said deputy director, Dr. Marie Bernard. The data collected will be available to all scientists.
Today’s pampered pets live longer and get more geriatric diseases compared to farm dogs in the past, said veterinarian Dr. Kate Creevy of Texas A&M University, the project’s chief scientific officer.
Preparation for the massive study have been on-going for years, setting up protocols for data and DNA collection, and doing preliminary research with smaller groups of dogs at different universities, including in Texas A&M where Creevy is based.
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 said. Owners will gladly fill out surveys, send records and submit a pup’s poop for analysis if they think it will help all dogs live longer, even if it won’t help their pet.
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