In late 2019, scientists began searching for 10,000 Americans willing to roll their pets as part of an ambitious new study on dog health and longevity. The researchers planned to follow the dogs throughout their lives, collecting detailed information about their bodies, lifestyle and home environments. Over time, scientists hoped to identify the biological and environmental factors that kept some dogs healthy during their golden years – and uncover insights about aging that could help dogs and humans live longer and in better health.
Today the Dog Aging Project you’ve registered 47,000 dogs and counting, and the data is starting to come in. Scientists say they’re just getting started.
“We view the Dog Aging Project as an ongoing project, so recruitment is ongoing,” said Daniel Promislow, a biogerontologist at the University of Washington and co-director of the project. “There will always be new questions to ask. “We always want dogs of all ages to participate.”
But Dr Promislow and his colleagues now face the prospect that the Dog Aging Project could see its own life cut short. About 90% of the study’s funding comes from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which has provided more than $28 million since 2018. But that money will run out in June, and the institute won’t seems unlikely to do so. approve the researchers’ recent request for a five-year grant renewal, scientists say.
“We were told informally that the grant would not be funded,” said Matt Kaeberlein, the other director of the Dog Aging Project and a former biogerontology researcher at the University of Washington. (Dr. Kaeberlein is now CEO of Optispan, a health technology company.)
An advocate for the National Institute on Aging said the NIH does not comment on the decision-making process regarding individual grant applications.
The NIA could still choose to provide more funding to the Dog Aging Project at some point, but if researchers don’t provide more money in the coming months, they will have to suspend or stop the study.
“It’s almost an emergency,” said Stephanie Lederman, executive director of the nonprofit American Federation for Research on Aging. “It is currently one of the most important projects in the field.”
HAS petition asking Continued support from the National Institutes of Health has garnered more than 10,000 signatures, said Dr. Kaeberlein, who organized the effort.
Yet researchers aren’t counting on the agency to come to their rescue, and they’ve learned how difficult it is to conduct large, long-term studies — which could take many years to be profitable – while grants are generally awarded over short periods. base.
So the three founders of the Dog Aging Project – Dr. Promislow, Dr. Kaeberlein and Dr. Kate Creevy, a veterinarian at Texas A&M University – have now created the nonprofit organization. Canine Aging Institute to raise funds for research. They hope to use the organization both to keep their own study alive and to fund other scientists interested in exploring similar topics.
“The data is coming in fast,” Dr. Promislow said. “On the contrary, we had to slow down the process due to these financing problems. And this is the worst possible time to slow things down, because now is when the really exciting things are just starting to happen.
The Dog Aging Project was born from two observations. First, people would give almost anything to have many more good years with their dog. Second, canine companions could be useful models for human aging. Dogs are prone to many of the same aging-related conditions as humans, including cancer and dementia, and are exposed to many of the same environmental stressors, such as air pollution and noise. But because dogs age more quickly, studies on canine aging can provide results over shorter periods of time.
Such was the case with the founders of the Dog Aging Project when they asked the National Institute on Aging to fund a large, long-term study of pet dogs. In 2018, the institute awarded the researchers a five-year grant, which was later extended to one year.
The study is vast. Owners of all registered dogs are asked to complete an annual 10-part health and life experience survey, encouraged to share animal medical records and invited to participate in a range of other surveys and activities. Researchers also aim to sequence the genomes of more than 10,000 dogs; A thousand of these animals will also provide a series of biological samples each year, including blood, urine, feces and hair. They also run hundreds of dogs in a randomized, placebo-controlled program. rapamycin triala drug that has been shown to extend the lives of laboratory animals.
The researchers estimated in their 2018 grant application that it would take at least three months to build the physical, digital and human infrastructure needed for the study. The process ultimately took three years. “I don’t think anyone understood how difficult this was going to be,” Dr. Promislow said. (The pandemic, which closed or strained veterinary clinics, didn’t help, he added.)
But the project is operational. The research team, which includes more than 100 people from more than 20 institutions, sequenced the genomes of more than 7,000 dogs and deposited 14,000 samples in the project’s biobank. Scientists added more than 36.5 million data points to their open access database and began to publish some first results. They found, for example, that a condition called canine cognitive dysfunction, also known as canine dementia, is more common in sedentary dogs than in active dogs and than dogs that are fed once a day They are less likely to have various health problems than those who eat more frequently. Other articles are in preparation.
But when the researchers applied to renew their grant for five years last year, their application did not score high enough in the first round of peer review to advance to the next stage of the funding process. . “Evaluators were asking us how much we had accomplished in five years,” Dr. Promislow said. “Given the size of the project, I think the reviewers were wondering where the best papers were.”
Steven Austad, a biogerontologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who is not part of the research team, said he was surprised the researchers’ grant was not renewed. “The importance of the things they publish and the depth of detail will increase over time, but I think they’re off to a very good start,” he said. “A large-scale study like this really deserves a chance to mature. »
Dr. Austad’s miniature dachshund, Emmylou, is enrolled in the Dog Aging Project. But at 2 years old, he noted, Emmylou “is not going to teach them much about aging for a long time yet.”
The project’s innovative approach could have worked against it, Dr Austad added. Reviewers accustomed to evaluating short-term research in lab mice and long-term studies in humans may not have known what to make of a huge epidemiological study in pet dogs.
Whatever the reason, the refusal to commit to more funding is “a mistake,” Dr. Kaeberlein said. “It’s really very difficult to justify this decision, considering the productivity and impact of the project.”
This impact extends beyond the results themselves, he added. “This project engaged nearly 50,000 Americans in biomedical scientific research.”
For the past several years, Shelley Carpenter of Gulfport, Mississippi, has provided researchers with regular updates and medical records regarding her Pembroke Welsh corgi, Murfee. (She also took a cheek sample for genomic sequencing.) Ms. Carpenter, whose previous corgi died of a neurodegenerative disease similar to ALS, hoped the project could produce new medical knowledge that could help with both dogs and humans.
If the NIH withholds funding, it will “waste” years of research, said Carpenter, who signed the petition. “Why did they start if they don’t want to follow through?”
The researchers are considering applying for more NIA grants, Dr. Promislow said, but they realized they will need to develop additional funding sources to ensure the project’s future. Although the Dog Aging Institute is still in its infancy, researchers hope to eventually raise $40 to $50 million for an endowment that could be used to fund various research related to canine health and longevity, including the Dog Aging Institute. AgingProject.
The institute’s immediate priority is to raise enough money to keep the Dog Aging Project afloat. It would take about $7 million to conduct the research the team planned to do over the next year, but $2 million would be enough to “keep the lights on,” Dr. Promislow said. The institute is still awaiting its official tax-exempt status but is already seeking donations. “We have yet to identify a dog-loving billionaire interested in supporting aging research,” Dr. Promislow said. “But we will definitely try.”