Are Fluffy and Fido key to anti-aging research?

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(Credit: Alex Balan/Flickr)

Lab research has its limits when it comes to extrapolating results to human populations. What a yeast cell or mouse does in a highly controlled environment often does apply to the human body and the complicated environment that surrounds it.

To get around this problem, University of Washington Seattle biologists are using pet dogs, in their natural environments, to study the anti-aging properties of compounds. Dogs, like their human owners, are exposed to pollution, often have less than desirable diets and don’t always exercise as much as they should. These factors make them much better models for humans in the wild.

Ericka Check Hayden covers the story in Nature:

Pet dogs should provide a more realistic test than lab mice of how the drug would work in humans. Pets experience some of the same environmental influences and get some of the same age-related diseases as their masters, says Kaeberlein. (He plans to enrol his own German shepherd dog when it is old enough.)

Other researchers say that Kaeberlein and Promislow’s reasoning makes sense. “We’re talking about whether aged pets will benefit, and that’s a good model for a human population,” says physiological geneticist David Harrison of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, who has studied rapamycin in mice.

Kaeberlein and Promislow have collected about US$200,000 in University of Washington institutional funds for the pilot. But they will need much more funding for a larger trial of several hundred dogs to test whether the drug, given over years, can extend lifespan — and to study the normal ageing process in thousands of animals to try and understand the mechanism of any life-extending effects.

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