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The largest research project of its kind, this study aims to better understand aging in dogs and humans with help from pet owners across the country.
All dog owners want their best friends to live longer, but now tens of thousands of owners across the country have been given a chance to help make that dream a reality.
Since the launch of the Dog Aging Project (DAP) in 2019, more than 32,000 dogs have been enrolled in what is now the largest canine health study in the world.
Since the launch of the Dog Aging Project in 2019, more than 32,000 dogs have been enrolled in what is now the largest canine health study in the world.
Kate Creevy, DAP chief veterinary officer and CVMBS professor of veterinary internal medicine.
Photo: Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Photos: Michael Kellett
The Dog Aging Project, being conducted by the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), the University of Washington School of Medicine and a dozen other partner institutions, is supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health.
“We all want to help our companion dogs to live long and healthy lives,” said Kate Creevy, DAP chief veterinary officer and CVMBS professor of veterinary internal medicine. “To accomplish this, a better understanding of the aging process in dogs is needed. The Dog Aging Project brings together a community of dogs, owners, veterinarians, researchers and volunteers to advance this understanding.”
Ultimately, the varied, rich and complex data collected through the project will allow the team to characterize aging in companion dogs, metrics which do not currently exist. To generate that data, owners will use tests developed by the DAP scientists to measure changes in physical function as their dogs age. There are similar tests for aging humans—moving from seated to standing, gripping devices or age-specific normal ranges on blood chemistry values. For dogs, however, aside from owner observations, there are few standardized assessments. Researchers believe this study will contribute to fields beyond canine medicine because humans are affected by many of the same issues as dogs.
“The DAP is an innovative approach to understanding the process of aging,” said Francesca Macchiarini, chief of the biological resources branch in NIA’s Division of Aging Biology. “There are remarkable similarities between humans and their canine companions. They share the same environment, have similar lifestyles and, when it comes to aging, both species develop the same types of diseases.”
“We’re going to learn more in a relatively shorter period of time than if we studied the human population—how biology, lifestyle and environment can affect healthy aging in dogs and how that’s applicable to humans,” Macchiarini said.
A recent $2.5 million pledge from a consortium of tech entrepreneurs has allowed the project to expand its most exciting component—the Test of Rapamycin in Aging Dogs (TRIAD) study.
A clinical trial will involve veterinary cardiologists at universities across the country. TRIAD will evaluate the effectiveness of the immunosuppressant drug rapamycin in hundreds of middle-aged, large-breed dogs. At lower doses rapamycin has been shown to increase lifespan, improve heart and cognitive function and reduce age-related disease in laboratory species.
Matt Kaeberlein, University of Washington professor and co-director of the Dog Aging Project, said TRIAD will provide the first clinical evaluation of an intervention that may increase lifespan and healthspan from this approach.
“Targeting biological aging is 21st century medicine, with the potential to greatly enhance healthy longevity for both people and our pets,” he said. “This generous donation will greatly accelerate our research and bring us closer to this goal.”
Because the project is an open-data study, scientists around the world from many different fields will have access to the massive amount of data generated, as well as the opportunity to contribute to the study in a variety of ways, based on their interests. For example, one key contributor is noted canine and archaic human genome science researcher Joshua Akey, of Princeton University.
“We are generating one of the most comprehensive catalogs of canine genomic variation, which will not only provide insights into the genetic determinants of aging but can also be leveraged to learn more about the evolutionary history of domesticated dogs and how humans shaped canine genetic variation through artificial selection,” he said.
For more information, or to learn how people can enroll their dog in the ongoing project, visit dogagingproject.org.