Veterinary researchers at Texas A&M are part of an historic effort to study at least 10,000 dogs to observe how they age, according to an announcement made Thursday — and dog owners can sign their canine companions up to be part of the long-term effort, regardless of the dog’s age or breed.
A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences partnered with researchers from the University of Washington on the Dog Aging Project, which is a 10-year, $23 million initiative funded by a federal grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health and by private donations.
Kate Creevy, associate professor of veterinary internal medicine at Texas A&M and one of the project’s directors, told The Eagle on Friday afternoon upon returning to College Station from the announcement that dog owners from the Brazos Valley and across the country can nominate their canine as a candidate on the Dog Aging Project website, according to a press release.
“If you have a dog and you want to fill out some surveys, then we want you,” Creevy said with a laugh.
Researchers made the announcement Thursday at the annual Gerontological Society of America meeting in Austin.
“As researchers, we are all also dog owners and dog lovers, and we are so excited to be involved in a project that has the potential to help our pet dogs — to better understand aging in pet dogs and help them age more healthfully,” Creevy said. “We also hope that things we discover about dogs can be translated into research about human aging.”
One of the project’s trio of directors, biology of aging expert Daniel Promislow, said in a press release that all owners who complete the nomination process will become “Dog Aging Project citizen scientists, and their dogs will become members of the Dog Aging Project ‘pack.’ ”
Promislow is a professor of pathology and biology at the Washington School of Medicine.
Longevity and healthspan researcher Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the Washington School of Medicine, rounds out the trio of project leaders.
Creevy said that pack members’ owners, upon completing the nomination process, fill out a detailed survey about their dog to help the teams of researchers learn more.
“These lengthy surveys go over everything about a dog’s life, its environment, what it eats and how it exercises, along with any medical problems that it’s ever had,” Creevy said. “The first thing we’re going to do is start to study the responses their owners give us. From within that group, we’re going to start to invite people into other parts of our research.”
Creevy said that 12 years ago, when she was on the faculty at the University of Georgia, she connected with Promislow, who was also then at Georgia, which led over time to the collaborative work they do today.
“We know that pet dogs of different breeds have very different life spans,” Creevy said. “Large dogs tend to have shorter life spans than smaller dogs across all breeds.”
“[Promislow] became very interested in the possibility that because breeds of dogs are like families of people in that they share their genetics, it would be possible to understand what the reason is that dogs of different sizes have different life spans,” Creevy said. “More importantly, what kinds of diseases of aging do these different breeds of dogs get?”
Creevy said Promislow contacted Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and they began to work together. She said that their research on aging in dogs began with using medical records data, but over time, they realized that it would be better to enroll pet dogs and gather information throughout their lives, rather than just employing retrospective research.
Creevy said that the project is jointly based at the University of Washington and at Texas A&M. She said seven people at A&M are working on the communications team — working with participating dog owners and recruiting others. Creevy said that three A&M-based cardiologists are working with the project, as well.
According to a press release, the research teams will develop tests to measure each dog’s changes in physical function as it gets older. Additionally, genome sequencing data from the dogs will be integrated with health measurements and behavioral traits in comprehensive genome-wide association studies.
The release also indicates that researchers will look for molecular predictors of disease, decline or longevity.