Scientists Need Your Dog's Help

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senior dog
Your dog wants her own special time with you every day. Holly Michele/Shutterstock

The most unfair thing about owning a dog is how short your pet's life span is compared to yours. We all want our dogs to live long, healthy, happy lives, and that's the focus of a massive data-gathering project that is currently recruiting.

The national Dog Aging Project plans to track 10,000 pets across the U.S. for 10 years to learn why some live longer, healthier lives than others. The goal is to understand how genes, lifestyle and environment play a part in aging. The project is recruiting now, looking for owners of all types of dogs to nominate their pets to take part in the citizen scientist project.

When you and your dog become part of the project, you'll be asked to fill out surveys about your dog's health and experiences. You'll send a saliva sample for genetic testing. You may be asked to complete specific activities with your pet and then report back about he performed. You may be asked to have your veterinarian send blood, urine and other samples at your annual visit.

A small number of dogs will be asked to take part in a clinical trial for rapamycin, an immunomodulatory agent used in humans for decades in cancer treatment and to prevent organ transplant rejection. Low doses of rapamycin have made mice live longer and more healthy lives, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. In earlier 10-week trials with dogs, researchers found no side effects with low doses of rapamycin, reports Medium.

"Our goal is to make the experience easy and fun for you and your dog. We hope you’ll join our team as we work together to accelerate medical breakthroughs for dogs and humans," according to the project's website.

The project is being lead by researchers at Texas A&M; University College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, along with partners from 14 institutions across the country including veterinary colleges, medical schools and research institutes.

Here's a look at how it works:

"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.' Their information will allow us to begin carrying out important research on aging in dogs," said one of the project's directors, Daniel Promislow, professor of pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a news release.

Because dogs and people share many aging-related diseases, some findings might also shed some light on human aging, according to the researchers.

"Aging is the major cause of the most common diseases, like cancer and heart problems. Dogs age more rapidly than people do and get many of our same diseases of aging, including cognitive decline," said Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "They also share our living environment and have a diverse genetic makeup. This project will contribute broadly to knowledge about aging in dogs and in people."

The project is being funded by a federal grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health as well as private donations.