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New Research Aims To Extend Lifespan Of Dogs, Are Humans Next?

By Mark Ackerman

DENVER (CBS4) - A Labrador retriever living in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood may soon be on the cutting edge of aging research.

At 12-years-old, Reagan's age is starting to show and she is "slowing down a lot," according to her owner Sean Lipsey.

"She's like my kid," said Lipsey. "She just means the world to me."

Reagan (credit: CBS)
Reagan (credit: CBS)
Reagan (credit: CBS)

Lipsey is hoping to spend a few more years with his dog, so he's enrolled Reagan in the University of Washington's Dog Aging Project. The landmark study will attempt to determine if the drug rapamycin can safely extend the life of dogs.

Matt Kaeberlein and Daniel Promislow, the lead researchers of the Dog Aging Project, say the drug rapamycin works on a cellular level to sense the environment and determine whether it's a good time to grow, or if it's a good time to become stress resistant. By triggering the stress-resistant stage, aging happens more slowly.

"We now know that aging itself is a process that can be modified," said Kaeberlein.

Rapamycin (credit: CBS)

According to the research team, the benefits of rapamycin have already been found in lab animals like mice who live up to 25 percent longer on the drug.

"They not only live longer, but they age more slowly and don't develop the diseases that go with the aging process," said Kaeberlein, who now hopes to determine if rapamycin can provide both a longer and healthier life for dogs.

Professor Don Mykles has been studying rapamycin at Colorado State University for close to a decade.

(credit: CBS)

"Rapamycin has been shown to extend the lifespan of a variety of organisms, like nematode worms, fruit flies, and mice, "Mykels said.

But Mykles is studying growth and aging from a very different perspective. He's trying to see if he can use rapamycin to speed up the aging process in crabs and shrimp. He's making crustaceans grow faster so they can reach market faster as a food source.

(credit: CBS)

Rapamycin can both speed up or slow down the growth process.

"Miracle drug? Not sure," he said. "But it seems to be promising."

It's not only promising for animals but theoretically the same age-defying treatments could one day be used on humans.

"What we learn from dogs is likely to teach us a lot about people," said Dog Aging Project researcher Daniel Promislow, who notes that opposed to lab animals, humans and dogs are both genetically diverse and often share the same environment.

(credit: CBS)

"We are really on the cusp of a paradigm shift as we think about health," said Kaeberlein, who thinks one day doctors could treat aging itself instead of the diseases associated with getting older.

Right now, rapamycin is an approved anti-rejection medication for transplant recipients. In large doses it can have serious side effects, but those side effects haven't been detected in the low doses the dogs are getting.

The Dog Aging Project hopes to have 10,000 dogs enrolled in the study and is still looking for volunteers.

LINK: Dog Aging Project

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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