BOSTON (CBS) – With a bounce in her step and a healthy wag in her tail, only the white on her face begins to betray her age. “She’s a typical golden retriever, a real pleaser, happy to hear your voice, wants to be around all the time,” an instant smile comes to Beth McGoldrick’s face when she talks about her dog, Layla, who just turned 12.
“She’s really been a fantastic dog. It was heartbreaking to see her go lame.” That was when Layla was just 6 years old. Beth did everything she could to get her faithful companion back on her feet. For Layla that now means routine acupuncture and lots of trips to the vet. “The happiness they bring you is really worth it.”
“There’s so much we don’t know about what happens to dogs as they age,” explained Dr. Lisa Moses of MSPCA Angell in Boston. Dr. Moses is now working with a team of researchers involved in a first-of-its-kind study to help dogs live longer. “The trial of a drug that is hoping… we hope… will extend good quality life span in a dog. As you can imagine people are pretty excited about that.”
That drug is rapamycin. It’s a cancer drug approved for humans that in small studies has shown promise increasing the lifespan of mice.
“It’s a very exciting time. Because we’re really on the cusp now of being able to… improve healthy longevity in dogs but ultimately to improve healthy longevity in people,” explained Matt Kaeberlein of the Dog Aging Project. “We are interested in understanding whether rapamycin can promote healthy longevity in dogs that are older but are healthy for their age.”
Rapamycin is currently in clinical studies but that’s only half of the Dog Aging Project. Researchers are also hoping to begin the first-ever study to follow 10,000 dogs across the country through their entire life. “This is a really fantastic opportunity for people who are dog owners who love their dogs to also directly participate in the scientific process,” explained Kaeberlein.
“The researchers are very interested in avoiding the idea that we want dogs to live long at any cost. And they are trying hard to focus on that idea that it needs to be a good life,” said Dr. Moses. And a good life is Beth’s focus for Layla.
She would only be interested in a so-called wonder-drug if Layla continues to enjoy her golden years. “I think you would only do it if the dog was in a good place.”