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UW researchers testing drug as 'fountain of youth' for pet dogs

SEATTLE - Merlin is a black lab who works wonders as Leila Jones' service dog. If there was a pill that could magically make Merlin live longer, Jones is buying.

"If I could extend his life a couple more years that would be great," said Jones, who considers Merlin her only child.

Merlin may be in luck. Researchers at the University of Washington Medical Center are looking for the fountain of youth for dogs, trying to increase their lifespan by 1 to 4 years.

"We're not turning back time, what we're really trying to do is slow the aging process," said Professor of Pathology, Matt Kaeberlein who is heading up the Dog Aging Project.

Bella is an 8-year-old rescue dog, a mix of Australian Shepard and Border Collie. She is among 32 older dogs participating in clinical trials, receiving doses of a drug called Rapamycin.

The pets will be monitored to see if the drug delays diseases that come with age. "Dogs also get a lot of the same diseases as people do when they get older, dogs get cancer, they get heart disease, they get dementia," said Kaeberlein.

Researchers have studied Rapamycin's impact on worms, yeast, fruit flies, and mice and say it's extended the lifespan in several organisms with few side effects.

What would take 30 years to test in humans, takes 3 years to identify in dogs.

"What we'll learn from this study will be important in applying these discoveries to human aging, but the primary goal for me personally is to improve the quality of life for pet dogs," said Kaeberlein, who has two dogs of her own.

Bella's owner says she signed up for clinical trials out of selfish reasons. A pet's quality of life has a direct impact on the owner's quality of life.

"If she didn't greet me at the door saying it's time to play, I probably wouldn't go out running every night," said Lynn Gemmell.

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