AUSTIN, Texas – A team of researchers hope that old dogs can teach the science of aging new tricks. Scientists, with support from the US National Institute on Aging, have launched an ambitious project in which they want dog owners to register dogs in aging research with human friends, hoping it will help dogs and humans live longer and better lives. life.
"Citizen scientists" will answer dozens of questions about their dogs over the life span of animals, such as how much and how often they exercise, what they eat and how much, and their interactions with other people or pets in the household.
"These dogs will do what they do normally," said Daniel Promislow, co-director of the Dog Aging Project.
Dog owners are very accustomed to changes in their dog's behavior, which makes their observations valuable to science. "This is the power of attention," Promislow said.
As part of the study, a small number of dogs will provide DNA, blood and urine samples. Selected middle-aged canine groups will also be enrolled in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of a drug that has been shown to increase the life span of mice in hopes of determining whether it will have the same effect on dogs.
In the long run, this research, which has a US $ 22.8 million funding from the National Institute on Aging, will help scientists understand the factors that influence "healthspan" – the proportion of life spent in good health.
The project was launched last Thursday with a lively media conference at the annual scientific meeting of the American Gerontological Society in Austin. While the official goal is to register 10,000 dogs, the researchers aspire to follow as many as 100,000 dogs.
Within hours of announcing the project, 16,000 dog owners had "nominated" their pets online.
The hypothesis in the gerontology cycle is that, if aging can be delayed, it will also delay chronic illnesses such as arthritis and type 2 diabetes, which leads to a longer and healthier life, said Dr. Marie Bernard, geriatric expert and deputy director of the National Institute of Aging.
Researchers have shown that they can increase the life span of yeast, fruit flies and mice through a number of steps, including calorie restriction, periodic fasting and the administration of a combination of metformin, which reduces blood sugar, and rapamycin immune-suppressing drugs.
Jay Olshansky, a respected expert in pushing the limits of longevity, estimates that curing cancer, heart disease or both in humans will only extend life expectancy between three and eight years. However, slowing down aging can extend the life expectancy of more than 30 years, and that will maximize the portion of life that is free from chronic diseases and disabilities.
"Those years will be spent in good health," said Matt Kaeberlein, co-director of the Dog Aging Project.
"Sounds like science fiction, but this is a fact of science."
Nature has found a way to modify the rate of aging in different species, said Kaeberlein. Naked mole rats, rodents native to East Africa, can live for more than 30 years, for example, while most rats and mice live only a few years.
The aim of the Dog Aging Project is to understand the genetic and environmental factors behind dog aging. Dogs age about seven times faster than humans, so data on thousands of dogs during their lifespan will produce important information about what correlates with a long, healthy life for a dog over an accelerated period of time.
In general, larger animals live longer than smaller animals, but the reverse is true for dogs. Chihuahuas have a longer life expectancy than the Great Dane, for example, said Dr. Kate Creevy, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University and a member of the research team. Mixed breeds also live, on average, about one year longer than pure breeds.
Researchers will also look for dogs that have lived for a very long time: dogs that are on par with human centenarians.
This project is an open science initiative. Finally, raw data, with confidential information removed from it, will be available to every researcher who wants to use it to look for patterns, including community members.
The study is open to dogs of all breeds and ages, but so far funding for research is limited to dogs in the United States, Promislow said.
Rapamycin has been shown to restore heart function and increase immunity in middle-aged rats. It has been used in a small number of dogs in research studies and their owners have not noted negative side effects and some positive side effects, including that dogs are more energetic and loving.
"People love their dogs. Priority No. 1 we are the safety of the dogs, "Promislow said.
Rapamycin is approved for use in limited quantities in humans, including preventing rejection in organ transplants. It seems to reduce the inflammation that comes with aging, but it's still far from being approved as a delay drug for humans, said Kaeberlein.
This is a longitudinal study, which means it will follow subjects throughout their lives. While researchers often have problems staying in touch with their subjects in longitudinal studies, dog owners involved in research have been very cooperative in previous long-term studies, he said.
"This is the most ambitious project in companion dogs and one of the most ambitious projects in aging," Promislow said. "We will have a lot of data."
Joanne Laucius was awarded a 2019 journalism scholarship on aging by the Gerontological Society of America. The program is funded by the Silver Century Foundation, the Retirement Research Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, and the John A. Hartford Foundation.
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