Human Elements: What dogs can teach us about how we age

Dr. Matt Kaeberlein’s curiosity about aging in the body led him to research how age impacts the health of man’s best friend.

Dr. Matt Kaeberlein studies how we can live forever … sort of. 

Kaeberlein is a professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington. He began his career studying cell division in yeast and how many times the cells could divide before essentially dying.

“I just got completely turned on to that idea and the complexity of the problem,” he said.

Kaeberlein said it’s not so much about how long we live but how well we live. 

This concept is called healthspan. It can be determined based on a person’s organ function and the number of diseases of aging that person has, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s or diabetes. 

“We're interested in understanding how and why animals and people age and, in particular. what are the mechanisms that cause different animals or different people to age at different rates?” Kaeberlein said.

This curiosity led Kaeberlein to research how age impacts the health of man’s best friend.

Kaeberlein is the co-director of the Dog Aging Project. The project surveys 30,000 pet owners to collect data on what factors may impact dogs’ lifespan. This includes diet, exercise and lifestyle. In addition, a small group of dogs participates in a drug trial with the drug rapamycin to see if it has an impact on extending these pets’ life.

Kaeberlein hopes that good health for humans and their pets allows for more quality time with the people and animals you love.

“The relationship that a lot of people have with their pets, that probably is the most profound personal thing I've learned from the study,” Kaeberlein said.

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