Health & Wellness

Canine Volunteers Wanted

You and your dog may be able to help further science

Photo: iStock/SherryL18.

A group of US scientists is recruiting a cohort of 10,000 dogs to support their efforts to study human longevity and perhaps design a pill that can slow aging.

The Dog Aging Project will gather information from dog owners, who will also supply DNA samples. Owners taking part will have to fill out surveys and take their dog to the vet once a year.

The researchers hope that their findings will help inform research into human aging and perhaps yield information useful in cancer research. Since dogs and humans live in the same environments and suffer from similar diseases, what researchers learn about the aging process in dogs could likely be applied to us. Of the 10,000 dogs taking part, 500 will be given a pill containing rapamycin, a drug used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients that has been shown to slow the aging process in mice.

The US National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, will be partially funding the five-year study with a $23 million grant.

“Most of what we know about the biology of aging comes from studies of yeast, worms, fruit flies, and laboratory mice,” said project co-director Kate Creevy in a statement. “While we certainly have discovered major genetic pathways and important environmental factors that impact the aging process through the study of these organisms, they make an imperfect comparison to dogs and people, whose lives are rich and diverse [like ours].”

“In fact, no other species allows us to study the impact of environment and lifestyle on health in all its detail and complexity,” she said.

All breeds and ages of dogs are welcome, but for now the study is limited to US dogs. However, the study’s website has a link to an international project on genetics and behaviour that is open to Canadians and their dogs. Participants who sign up for the Darwin’s Dogs project will answer 10 surveys, after which they can choose to receive a free DNA-testing kit so that they can send in a saliva sample. The data bank compiled using the genetic and other information gathered by the project will be made available to sientists internationally.