This comes from ScienCentralNews.
Dogs are doing much more than keeping your feet warm during the winter season. Scientists are collecting information from senior citizen Rottweilers to discover the secrets behind healthy aging and cancer prevention. This ScienCentral News video has more.
Researching the Oldest Old
When Lu Castro’s Rottweiler Kona was younger, she was a champion show dog. Now she’s graying but healthy at the age of 13, which in people years is practically 100-years-old. “She’s doing great,” says Castro. “She’ll stand there and take her treats as if she was still in the show ring … just doesn’t move quite as quick as she used to.”
Now Kona is sharing her secrets to a long, healthy life by joining a database of some of the oldest dogs in America. The “Exceptional Longevity Database,” assembled by longevity researcher David J. Waters, has already collected information from more than 125 of the oldest old Rottweilers in the country.
Waters, who also directs the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation and is associate director of the Purdue Center on Aging and the Life Course, says it could teach scientists how to prevent diseases of aging, such as cancer, in both dogs and people.
“Cancer is a disease of old tissues,” he says. “And our idea is that if we can better understand aging, then we can get some fresh thinking as to how to prevent these cancers. The emphasis on prevention.”
Waters’ previous research on canine centenarians found that the oldest old Rottweilers resemble some of the oldest old humans. “Number one, there’s a preponderance of females,” Waters says. “Secondly we found that the dogs that have exceptional longevity have disease resistance. More than half of the dogs that live to be the oldest old escape all major age-related disease until after 13 years of age. Consider that the average Rottweiler has died 4 years earlier, and these dogs are still free of any major age-related disease.”
“It’s difficult to identify cancer resistant populations, and now we’ve identified one,” Waters says.
Dogs can get many of the same cancers as people, for example, Rottweilers have a higher than average incidence of osteosarcoma and lymphoma. “When it comes to cancer, people and their pets are in the same boat. We call this the ‘curse of domestication,'” Waters says. “If not for domestication, dogs, and people, would be living very short lives, they would be killed by spears and tuberculosis.”
The compressed life span of dogs and the attentiveness of their owners give researchers valuable information about lifestyle factors that may contribute to longevity. Dog owners and veterinarians complete a questionnaire that asks detailed questions about things like physical activity, weight, vaccination history, exposure to lawn chemicals, and diet.
“We’re learning that early life events figure into late life health outcomes very importantly,” he says. “The difficulty in studying human centenarians is you ask the 102-year-old great grandmother how many servings of fruits and vegetables did you eat when you were a teenager.”
And since a large percentage of the dog and human genomes are the same, the researchers are also collecting biological samples. By comparing them to the pooches’ pedigrees, researchers can identify genetic factors that may also be present in people.
“Exceptional longevity runs in families. So there’s a potential for a strong genetic component,” Waters says.
By collecting all of this information, Waters hopes that the database will be a resource for scientists working in aging research. “We believe that scientists may have ideas on aging that they may want to test,” he says. “And they can tap into our database and explore things that we haven’t even considered.”
You can participate in Waters’ database if you had or currently have a 13-year-old or older Rottweiler. You can contact the Center for Exceptional Longevity at the Gerald P. Murphy Foundation directly and request a questionnaire.
Waters’ research was published in the December 2006 Scientific American magazine and his 2003 study was in the Journal of Gerontology. His research is funded by the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation, the Brookdale Foundation, and the IAMS company.