Dog Aging Project aims to enlist 10,000 canines

Dog Aging Project
The organizers of the Dog Aging Project plan to use big-data tools to study canine health – and apply their findings to human health issues as well. (Dog Aging Project / UW / Texas A&M Photo)

Scientists are looking for 10,000 good dogs to take part in a 10-year effort aimed at tracking their health and identifying factors that can lengthen their lifespan.

The pets that are selected for the Dog Aging Project could come in for some scientific pampering, including genome sequencing and health assessments.

But that doesn’t mean the project’s organizers at the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and other research institutions are totally going to the dogs. The larger purpose of the campaign — and the reason it’s getting $15 million in direct funding from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health — is to pick up new clues about the aging process in humans.

Researchers can use dogs as a model for human health studies, just as they use lab mice, said project co-director Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the UW School of Medicine. And for this project’s purposes, pets bring an extra advantage.

“Unlike laboratory animals, they also share our environment,” he told GeekWire. “So we absolutely believe that, in that respect, pet dogs are going to be superior to laboratory models for understanding the aging process in humans, because we’re able to capture that environmental diversity.”

Kaeberlein and his colleagues have been ramping up the project for several years, but now they’re ready for prime time: The official launch comes today in Austin, Texas, at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

Dog owners can nominate their canines as candidates for study on The nomination process entails setting up a secure user portal and providing health and lifestyle information about their dogs. Participants will also be asked to share their pets’ veterinary medical records.

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Dogs get what you say, and how you say it

Image: Dogs on scanner
Trained dogs gather around the fMRI scanner in Budapest. The researchers said the dogs seemed to enjoy lying in the scanner during the experiment. (Credit: Enikő Kubinyi)

Scientists have put dogs through brain scans to confirm what pet owners already suspected: Dogs not only comprehend the words we speak, but also how we say them.

The patterns of brain activity suggest that dogs process the words of their trainers much as humans do.

“There is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain,” Attila Andics of Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University said in a news release. “It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation. The human brain not only separately analyzes what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning. Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar brain mechanisms.”

The findings, which are being published in this week’s issue of the journal Science, are based on functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.

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