Dog Aging Project seeks more canine participants


Dog Aging Project leaders Daniel Promislow and Matt Kaeberlein with their dogs
Randy Carnell
Two of the Dog Aging Project leaders, Daniel Promislow (left) and Matt Kaeberlein, walking their dogs Frisbee and Dobby in the Cascade foothills.

The Dog Aging Project, a national research effort to learn how to foster healthy longevity in canines is looking to expand its pack of participants across the country. They welcome the owners of all kinds of dogs to register.

They are also seeking particular ages, sizes, breeds, home locations and even occupations – herding, K9, service, mushers — to round out their study.

The project team estimates almost 90 million dogs are living in the United States.

Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and University of Washington School of Medicine launched the Dog Aging Project (in November 2019. The research team knew owners across the country would answer the call for participants

And answer they did.

Nearly 30,000 dog owners have volunteered for this community science research project dedicated to understanding the biological and environmental determinants of canine aging. The effort is part of a five-year, $23 million project funded by the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

“The Dog Aging Project came in as an innovative approach to understand the process of aging, ” said Dr. Francesca Macchiarini, chief, Biological Resources Branch, National Institute of Aging’s Division of Aging Biology. “This is because of the 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 in a relatively shorter period of time than we would to study the human population a lot about how biology, lifestyle, and environment can affect healthy aging in dogs, and then have that be applicable to humans.”

Now, more than a year later, the Dog Aging Project is looking for additional canine participants for this research.

All kinds of dogs are invited to join, but the Dog Aging Project researchers are specifically seeking dogs, both purebred and mixed breed, in the following categories:

Breeds

  • Large breed dogs weighing between 70-100 lb, especially breeds other than labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds (the most common breeds in the US)
  • Giant breed dogs weighing more than 100 lbs, such as Great Danes, Wolfhounds, Mastiffs
  • Hound dogs, spaniels, pointers, terriers, bulldogs, and pit bulls (purebred and mixed breed)
  • Working dogs, such as herding, K9, service, agility, mushing dogs, etc.

Geographical regions

  • Dogs living in rural areas, small towns and large cities, in particular
  • Dogs living near veterinary teaching hospitals who are project partners in an upcoming clinical trial
    • Texas A&M
    • University of Georgia
    • Iowa State University
    • Colorado State University
    • Oregon State University
    • Washington State University
    • North Carolina State University

According to Dr. Daniel Promislow, principal investigator and co-director of the Dog Aging Project, “Healthy aging is the result of both genetics and the environment. It’s really important for us to study dogs who live in all kinds of environments from farm dogs to city dogs. Right now, we are specifically recruiting dogs from areas where we don’t have as many participants as we’d like to.”

Veterinary heart specialist Dr. Sonay G. Gordon, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Science at Texas A & M University said, “I am excited and proud to have the opportunity to take part in this ground breaking project. This project is a foundational epidemiologic study that will help answer many questions, and perhaps more importantly, will help guide the design of future impactful studies. All of which will contribute to better lives for dogs and their families.”

Another veterinary cardiologist, Dr. Jessica Ward at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine said, “My particular involvement in the Dog Aging Project is with the TRIAD study, the Trial of Rapamycin in Aging Dogs. This is a subset of the overall project that investigates the use of a drug (rapamycin) to actually potentially slow the aging process and prolong healthy life. As a cardiologist, I get to participate in this exciting work by tracking cardiac outcomes in dogs over a 5-year period, some of which will have received the drug and others which will have received placebos. These enrolled dogs will become part of our “family” at ISU Cardiology since we will get to visit with them every 6 months for a significant period of their lives!”

From the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, veterinary cardiologist Dr. O. Lynne Nelson said., “I am excited to work with a vast number of colleagues across the nation on an important subject. When many clinical scientists come together for such a large study, that’s when rapid progress happens.”

Puppies

Because the Dog Aging Project is a long-term study, puppy participants are especially beneficial to the project. The research team wants to follow dogs through their entire lives.

“Better understanding the health effects of the presence and timing of spaying and neutering your dogs is of particular interest to the veterinary community,” said Dr. Kate Creevy, the project’s chief veterinary officer. She is from the College of Veteinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A & M University.

“Following puppies through the process of spaying or neutering or through reproductive activity will tell us a lot about how these events influence healthy aging,” she explained

Research Areas

As the largest research data-gathering program of its kind, the Dog Aging Project offers many opportunities to glean important information on canine lifespan, but also canine healthspan, which is the period of life spent free from disease.

Through this collaborative, open access scientific effort, all data collected by the Dog Aging Project are available to researchers worldwide through Terra, a cloud-based computing platform, located at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The Dog Aging Project research team includes more than 40 experts from a variety of fields and institutions, who use the information submitted by participants and stored in Terra to investigate many aspects of canine health and longevity. The Dog Aging Project includes research in these areas:

  • Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Toxicology
  • Canine cognition
  • Age-related mobility
  • Cardiology
  • A clinical drug trial of rapamycin

“Aging is a complex phenomenon,” said Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, co director of the Dog Aging Project and a professor of pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “By combining insights from many areas of veterinary research, the Dog Aging Project aims to develop the field of veterinary geroscience and ultimately develop interventions that will help dogs live longer, healthier lives.”

Join the Pack

To participate in the Dog Aging Project, owners nominate a dog (one per household) at the project website, DogAgingProject.org. Afterward, they are invited to set up a personal research portal where they answer scientific surveys about their dog and upload veterinary records.

As a member of the Dog Aging Project Pack, participants will be asked to complete an annual dog health survey, which will take 2 to 3 hours, and several other shorter surveys (estimated 10-30 minutes each) spread throughout the year.

A dog who is a member of the Dog Aging Project Pack may be eligible for a variety of other research activities (all voluntary), which could include genetic analyses, collection of biological samples, or participation in a clinical trial.

“By summer 2021,” Creevy said, “we’re hoping to have 60,000 Pack members eligible for additional studies. These animals bring so much to our lives. Our entire team is dedicated to extending quality of life into advanced age for dogs and their humans.”

The Dog Aging Project is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging, grant 5U19AG057377-03.

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