The Dog Aging Project
As anyone who lives with a dog knows, pets are part of the family. Unfortunately, our canine companions age rapidly and tend to die all too soon. Conversely, imagine gaining an additional two to five years with your beloved pet while he or she is still in the prime of life. With strides made into the biology of aging, this goal is within our reach.
Over the past few years, Matt Kaeberlein, Ph.D., and his team have shown that some drugs can slow aging and extend a healthy lifespan (healthspan) in small animals, such as mice. These same interventions could provide dogs with two to five additional years of life — possibly more. We hope that knowledge gained within the next five years will make this concept a reality.
Despite the wealth of veterinary expertise in treating elderly pets, no studies have carefully examined the fundamental biology of aging in dogs. Over the next five years, scientists at UW Medicine will embark upon the Dog Aging Project by recruiting dog owners and pets to be part of the research. This project will be led by Dr. Matt Kaeberlein and Dr. Daniel Promislow.
With this project, we hope to significantly improve health and extend the active period of life for pets, while assuring the safety of our canine subjects. The project is divided into two parts:
A Longitudinal Study: Gathering and Comparing Long-term Data
UW Medicine will perform the first comprehensive longitudinal study of aging in dogs, following pet dogs throughout their lives to understand the mechanisms that determine why some die early or succumb to diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, heart failure and dementia, while others live to a relatively old age free from these problems. Not only will this study provide a wealth of data about dogs, but it also should enable us to correlate the findings with similar data provided by human studies.
Testing a Healthspan-lengthening Drug
Low doses of an FDA-approved drug called rapamycin have been shown to safely slow aging and extend the period of healthy life in mice and several other organisms. In this two-phase trial, we will treat pet dogs with rapamycin. Based on our scientific studies, we anticipate that the drug will improve cardiac function, boost immune function, reduce or delay the risk of cancer, and increase healthy lifespan of middle-aged dogs by two to five years.
In the first phase of this study, Dr. Kaeberlein and his team will enroll middle-aged pet dogs (6–9 years old, depending on breed) in a three-month, low-dose rapamycin trial. Based on studies performed in mice, they expect that this will be sufficient to reverse age-associated cardiac dysfunction and improve some measures of immune response.
The first phase also will allow researchers to optimize dosing for individual animals based on molecular markers. In the second phase, they will enroll middle-aged pet dogs in a longer-term, low-dose regimen designed to extend healthspan. In addition to improved cardiac and immune function, they expect that cancer rates will be significantly reduced, overall health (including cognitive function and activity) will be improved, and life expectancy will be increased.
Click here to apply to enroll your dog in the study
Maintaining and improving animal health and well-being is very important to Drs. Kaeberlein and Promislow and their colleagues, and collaborating veterinarians will closely monitor the dogs during all phases of these studies.
Opportunities to Invest
We are seeking private support for the Dog Aging Project from people and organizations interested in the project’s capacity to extend the lives of pets — and to inform similar studies in humans.
The longitudinal study and the rapamycin intervention trial offer several opportunities for investment, including supporting costs associated with:
Enrolling pets in the study;
Veterinary exams and procedures, including home visits;
Diagnostics (EEG, EKG, CAT/PET scans);
Systems biology (microbiome and other -omes); and
Creation of a web portal for pet owners’ participation.
Director for Philanthropy
UW Medicine Advancement
206.543.7421 | email
Dr. Matt Kaeberlein with his dog Dobby
& Dr. Daniel Promislow with his dog Frisbee.
Photo by Brianna Wray