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Can Your Dog Fetch the Fountain of Youth? Potentially with Rapamycin for Dogs

Illustrated cartoon of dogs playing in the fountain for the topic the fountain of youth for dogs.

Age is one of the greatest factors that make humans, animals, and other living organisms vulnerable to illness. Scientists have been working for decades to find interventions to at least delay age-related illnesses, as well as promote longevity. Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, co-director of the University of Washington Medicine’s Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging and leader of the Dog Aging Project, found that rapamycin for dogs can potentially lengthen the life of these pets and other animals. Rapamycin is originally for human patients with cancer and those who undergo organ transplants.

What is Rapamycin? A Medical Background

Rapamycin is a chemical present in soil bacteria on the Easter Island in the South Pacific. They did the initial test on yeast, worms, and mice in laboratories. In several experiments, scientists found that the drug was able to lengthen the lifespan of the subjects by 25%. The drug is already FDA-approved in the US to be used on humans, especially for those who undergo organ transplants.

Popularly known under its trade name Rapamune, the drug is used to prevent rejection of an organ transplant. Rapamycin does this by weakening the body’s immune system, allowing the acceptance of the new organ.

Typically, the body’s initial reaction is to treat the new organ as an alien, considering it a bacteria or virus. In effect, the immune system, being the natural guardian of the body, destroys the organ tissues. Rapamycin works by restraining a protein called mTOR, a component in T-cell activation. If mTOR is under restraint, the T cells don’t attack the new organ. Therefore, the organ is able to function well.

Rapamycin for Dogs, A Pet-Friendly Drug

Dr. Kaeberlein started the Dog Aging Project in 2014. He and his team recruited 40 middle-aged companion dogs around Seattle. Why dogs? According to Kaeberlein, the lifespan of dogs is close to that of humans, only seven times faster. They also live in a human environment with comparable health care, risks, and the chances of getting sick when they get older. These are the factors that the experiment cannot achieve in a controlled environment inside the laboratory.

female dog owner playing with her pet whose life could be extended by rapamycin for dogs
Dogs and their owners share a lot in common, including health care, risks, and diseases in old age.

Of the 40 dogs, however, only 24 (6 years and older) were randomly given a low dose of the drug or a placebo. Sixteen were omitted from the experiment because of their health conditions. None of the researchers and pet owners knew which dog received the low dose and which one received the placebo drug. The study concluded that rapamycin for dogs improved heart condition and potency.

In a CNN Health report, dog owner Paola Anderson proved that her 13-year-old white Pomsky, Momo, could keep up with younger dogs. Momo and his brother Sherman were abandoned by their original owner and were nursed back by Anderson. Sherman had a stroke and had only 20% chance of survival after the operation. Luckily, a vet prescribed rapamycin to him. He was able to recover after three days and now lives a healthy life. On the other hand, the older dog, Momo, tires easily.  They also gave him the same meds and the dog became livelier. Today, he can keep up with Anderson’s other dogs that are only 3 to 5 years old.

Future Studies for the Dog Aging Project

Kaeberlein further explained that this is just a small initial study. However, for verification purposes, they need to repeat the study. Rapamycin for dogs shows signs of hope, especially for pet owners who want their pets to enjoy life to the fullest. Furthermore, it is a significant development in treating other illnesses that involve similar factors. The Dog Aging Project team is actively recruiting 50 companion dogs for their future studies. This time, they aim to monitor the heart function, activity, memory, and thinking skills. The study will launch in 2019.

Future Human Testing

Although already FDA-approved, the drug is still under debate on its use to delay aging in humans. Kaeberlein said, “It’s complete speculation, but with something like rapamycin, we might get 10 to 15, maybe as much as 20 years. And in most people, they would be healthy additional years.” However, he did explain that results from animal testing do not always guarantee similar outcomes when applied to humans.


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