The Genetic Link

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Article by: Shauna White

Podcast: Multi-omic methods investigate aging process in man's best friend


A team of researchers is hoping old dogs can teach us some new tricks. The scientists, with the backing of the U.S National Institute on Aging, have launched a project in which they ask dog owners to enrol their pets in a study of canine aging. I interviewed Dr. Daniel Pomislow from the University of Washington in Seattle, Dr. Elinor Karlsson from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane from the Morris Animal Foundation about their work on this Dog Aging Project. The full interview is published on our podcast, Molecules, microbes and multiomics. In the podcast, they discuss how the study is creating a multiomic network that will help understand why some dogs are healthy and others not, and the surprising connection to humans.

You can listen to the full podcast here and selected highlights are below:

Highlights from the Podcast

Dr. Promislow, how will this project contribute to the canine geriatric field?

The first thing that we can do is begin to really understand the genetic factors that shape the differences in how long the dogs live, and what the diseases are that they are likely to experience as they get older. We know quite a bit already but no one has ever done a genetic study of health and aging in dogs at this scale so we will be learning a lot about the genetic basis of aging. In fact, we’ll be measuring several different factors about the molecular biology of dogs. We’ll be measuring the fecal microbiome which are all the microbes that are in the gut. One thing we’ll learn from the microbiome is why certain genes affect age-related traits. The microbiome will help us explain the mechanisms for why certain genes are associated with certain traits. – Dr. Daniel Promislow, Professor at the University of Washington.

Dr. Karlsson, why is it important to define the metrics for aging dogs?

There are two reasons we need to do this. The first is that all of us that have pets that are older want to know that they are happy and have good health. Right now, we don’t have really consistent ways to be able to tell how old a dog really is in the way that they feel. If we could measure that better, we could improve veterinary care for geriatric pets. The second reason that I think it’s really important is that we think that dogs probably age in many ways that are similar to people and we don’t understand aging all that well in people either. If we can figure out ways to measure aging in dogs, because dogs have a shorter life span that people do, we can do scientific studies of aging much more quickly in dogs and people can benefit much sooner. –Dr. Elinor Karlsson, Professor at the University of Massachusetts

Dr. Patterson-Kane, What goals do you have once the project is complete?

Thinking about completion is quite a difficult thing because we’re gathering so many samples and so much data. I would say that this work is probably going to go on past the lifetime of these dogs. We really want to maximize the science because we want to give something back to the people in the Golden Retriever community who helped us so much with this study. We’ve become very good as a foundation at running a project like this. So I think just watch this space because I can see this foundation going on to other projects of this type and by that I mean where we are involving and communicating with dog owners and their veterinarians. – Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Chief Scientific Officer, Morris Animal Foundation

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