You know, the one problem with dogs – and it is just one problem – they come and go far, far too soon. They’re here for a good time but, sadly, not a long time. But all that could be about to change, according to a new study.

Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, a biology of ageing researcher at the University of Washington, has been collaborating with a VCA Animal Hospitals, a US-based veterinary chain and together they have been testing the efficacy of a drug called Rapamycin.

Rapamycin, although not currently approved for use in dogs, has been shown to delay disease onset in mice and has been previously approved for use in human transplant patients.

So what does this mean for the future? Could we really be on the verge of a medical breakthrough for man’s best friend?

The study was conducted at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle by a team led by Dr. Karen Kline, VCA medical director and Dr. Heidi MacLean, cardiology specialist. Dr. Kline was in charge of performing physical exams on all patients, blood draws and interpretations, and communication with owners. Dr. MacLean performed echocardiograms on all patients and was responsible for measurements and interpretation. Dogs that were found to have any abnormalities in pre-study testing were excluded from participation. The study was a tolerability and safety study of the medication and used variable doses and placebo.

Dr. Kline found the findings of the study to be meaningful and multilevel. “I found that the human-animal bond is so deep in dog owners that they want to extend and help their companions live longer. It also allowed us to validate early detection of cardiac and metabolic abnormalities that in and of itself can extend lives.”

While Rapamycin is not currently approved for use in dogs, Dr. Kline stated: “This study is an essential building block to confirm safety which will then allow a study of the prolongation of ageing in a much larger population of dogs. The implications are exciting for a range of domestic animals if drug safety and minimal side effects can be proven.”

The VCA Clinical Studies program started three years ago and has coordinated a large number of studies for various industry sponsors. The program also performs non-sponsored studies with various VCA clinicians, residents and interns for the advancement of research in clinical animal care.

Dr. Philip Bergman, VCA director of clinical studies said, “With more than 600 hospitals nationally, of which about 10 percent are ER/specialty hospitals, we have the ability to do these clinical trials internally and externally in an efficient way. Our programs’ main goal is to move veterinary medicine forward and this latest study is another great example of how partnerships between private companies and universities are doing that.”

The study has passed an important first hurdle. Dr. Matt Kaeberlein has reported that rapamycin caused no significant side effects, and dogs receiving the medicine had hearts that pumped blood more efficiently. Next up, the team hopes to conduct a 5-year study in 450 dogs, pending much-needed funding.

Rapamycin has been interesting scientists for a long time in relation to a number of significant health issues. In April of 2016, the National Cancer Institute started their own research to see whether the drug is effective in shrinking osteosarcoma tumours. The work could yield a new treatment option in both dogs and people, particularly children, who develop osteosarcoma at higher rates than adults.

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