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Dog Aging Project Searches for Keys to Healthy Aging in Pets, Humans

SAN DIEGO (GenomeWeb) – Members of the Dog Aging Project are bringing together data on up to 10,000 purebred and mixed breed pet dogs for an open science effort to understand healthy aging in humans and dogs, and to search for ways of extending healthy canine companion lifespans.

During a session on feline and canine genomics at the Plant and Animal Genomes conference here yesterday, University of Washington pathology researcher Daniel Promislow, director of the Canine Longevity Consortium, outlined the strategy for the effort.

The project, funded through a National Institutes of Health U19 cooperative agreements grants, has four arms focused on defining healthy aging in dogs; searching for genetic and environmental determinants of healthy aging; exploring the use of the drug rapamycin for to extend lifespan; and using systems biology to analyze age-related metabolomic, epigenomics, and more.

To that end, the researchers plan to include 10,000 or more companion dogs in a nationwide, longitudinal study for teasing out factors that contribute to aging in canine, as well as potential interventions to stretch out the healthy years our pet pooches experience.

A subset of the dogs will be selected for a precision medicine-like cohort composed of some 1,200 canines that will be subjected to omic analyses, activity tracking, and other more detailed analyses. Another 600 or so dogs will be included in a trial of low-dose rapamycin as a potential means of stretching out the dogs' healthspan.

"We will collect a large amount of information about each dog, including frailty measures, genotype, electronic health records, activity levels, diet, home environment information, and more," Promislow and co-authors wrote in the abstract accompanying the PAG presentation, noting that the "Dog Aging Project has the potential to greatly increase the understanding of the causes and consequences of aging outside of the lab, and to help veterinarians predict, diagnose, and treat age-related diseases."

Using these and other analyses, the team hopes to get a look at gene-by-environment interactions, track down disease-specific genes, search for an epigenetic clock, and get a better idea of factors that impact healthy dogs, potentially with the help of a canine "centenarian" study on dogs that reach especially old age in good health.

It is known that dog lifespan can vary depending on their size, breed, and more, Promislow noted, but the extent of this variation and the reasons for it are less well understood. And while dogs tend to get some of the same chronic diseases that afflict humans, they are less prone to others, despite sharing many of the same environments.

The authors noted that "pet dogs live in the human environment, and have a highly sophisticated health care system," suggesting that the animals offer "a powerful opportunity to understand the genetic and environmental determinants of variation in aging and age-related diseases, to uncover the underlying mechanisms by which genes and environment influence aging, and to do so more quickly and cheaply than would be possible in a human cohort."

Promislow and colleagues from the University of Washington and University of Georgia outlined the motivation for the Dog Aging Project — as well as the broader value of "translational geroscience," in general — in a 2016 study in the journal Mammalian Genome.

The team is currently putting together the infrastructure for the project, Promislow said during the presentation, adding that there are plans to work with members of the Golden Retriever lifetime study.