Daniel Promislow, an evolutionary geneticist and dog dad to an 11-year-old Weimaraner, is one of several researchers at the University of Washington who are about to launch a study of that chemical, rapamycin. They are hoping the answer is Yes.
“We’re trying to understand why some dogs age better than others, and help all dogs age in a better way,” Promislow told the Seattle Times.
In dozens of laboratory studies, rapamycin delayed the onset of some diseases and extended the lives of elderly animals by as much as 40 percent. (Rapamycin has also been used to prevent human patients from rejecting transplanted organs.)
“We’re not talking about doubling the healthy life spans of pets,” another of the researchers, molecular biologist Matthew Kaeberlein, told the Seattle Times. “But at a minimum I would predict that you would get a 10-to-15 percent increase in average life span, and I think bigger effects are possible.”
Rapamycin inactivates a protein that causes cells to grow, which in turn can slow down the growth of cancer. The chemical also has anti-inflammatory properties and improves heart health — which is the first potential benefit for dogs the researchers want to track, according to the Seattle Times.
Kaeberlein told Nature.com that pet dogs would provide realistic results of how rapamycin’s anti-aging properties may also work for humans, because the dogs have some of the same environmental influences and age-related diseases as their pet parents.
The participants in the first phase of the study will be 30 large, middle-aged pet dogs whose average breed life span is eight to 10 years. For three to six months, low doses of rapamycin will be given to half of them, while the rest get placebos. The researchers will look for improvements in the dogs’ heart function, as well as any side effects. The dogs will be monitored by veterinarians for the rest of their lives to see if the rapamycin had any effect on their longevity.
In the study’s second phase, the researchers plan to administer rapamycin to hundreds of pet dogs from around the country.
According to Nature.com, the study could wrap up in fewer than three years, “but researchers will know long before that — perhaps in months — whether rapamycin improves cardiac function or other aspects of health.”
The researchers are hoping to get the funds for the study’s second phase from private donations, foundations and/or dog-food companies, since typical underwriters, such as the National Institutes of Health, are more likely to fund studies for human diseases.
“I think it’s worth a go, not just from what it can teach us about humans, but for the sake of the animals themselves,” Steven Austad, chairman of the University of Alabama biology department and an expert in aging research, told the Seattle Times.
“It may not work in dogs, but if it did, boy, it’s going to be huge.”
More information about the study can be found at DogAgingProject.com.
Photo credit: psyberartist