WASHINGTON — The death of a family dog can be devastating. Imagine a simple pill that could extend the life of your canine companion by three years, perhaps more.
Researchers at the University of Washington think they've found a drug that could add years to the life of man's best friend. It's called rapamycin. Researchers say early tests in rats, mice and dogs show the drug slows the aging process.
"So you can take an old heart or an old immune system and treat a mouse with rapamycin for eight weeks and see that function improve," said Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, co-founder of the Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington. "I know it sounds a little bit like science fiction. But when you actually look at the data, it's quite remarkable."
Dr. Kaeberlein is a dog owner himself. He is now leading a large study involving nearly 600 dogs from around the country.
Kevin Medved has enlisted his dog Stormy in that study. He doesn't know whether his chocolate Labrador retriever will receive a placebo or the actual drug. "Another three or four years would be great, anything beyond that would be gravy," he said.
"We love our dogs so much. And we appreciate everything they've done for us," Medved said.
In addition to the study of rapamycin on dogs, the Dog Aging Project has launched a larger study that aims to find out how dogs age, why some dogs develop dementia, and other issues. You can learn more about the project and nominate your dog to be part of the study here. All breeds and ages are welcome.
Researchers say the rapamycin study could have implications for the human lifespan as well. That's because dogs age like humans in some ways, experiencing many of the same age-related diseases.
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The Food and Drug Administration has already approved rapamycin for humans. It's used as an anti-rejection drug for people receiving organ transplants.
“It hasn't been tested in the context of lower doses and otherwise healthy people," said Kaeberlein. But he added, "There really are very little in the way of side effects and potentially pretty significant benefits for age-related functional declines and diseases.”