UW Researcher Uses Dogs To Understand How People Age

Oct 9, 2018

University of Washington researcher Matt Kaeberlein says dogs age in similar ways as people, contracting many of the same age-related diseases.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

University of Washington researcher Matt Kaeberlein is studying another way in which dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Kaeberlein says dogs age in many of the same ways humans do. They contract many of the same afflictions (cancer, diabetes, arthritis).

Kaeberlein spoke about his research Tuesday in downtown Spokane. He is Gonzaga’s Next Generation Medicine lecturer.

Kaeberlein is a professor of pathology and he studies the biology of aging. Here are excerpts from our interview with him.

Matt Kaeberlein: “We all recognize from an early age this idea of one human year is about seven dog years. Another way to say that is dogs age seven times faster people do. What I’m interested in understand is why that is.”

Matt Kaeberlein: “From a human health perspective, if you think about the diseases that most people in developed countries suffer and die from, they’re almost all age-related, meaning your risk of getting most cancers, heart disease, Alzheimers’ Disease, kidney disease, goes up exponentially as you get older. The traditional biomedical approach has been based on waiting until people get sick in trying to cure their disease. If we can understand those diseases from the perspective of aging biology, we have the potential to delay their progression or even prevent people from getting them in the first place.”

Matt Kaeberlein: “Anybody who’s ever had dogs, and particularly dogs that have gotten old, will recognize that dogs age very much like we do and, over the last 30 or 40 years, as Americans, and this is true in lots of other countries, have begun to think of their dogs as family than as property, veterinarians have gotten really good at treating and diagnosing diseasing of aging in dogs. So now we know that dogs develop all of the same aging-related diseases that people do, they just do it about seven-to-10 times faster. They don’t necessarily get those diseases with the same prevalence that people do. One interesting example of that is vascular disease, which is a major killer in humans; dogs don’t get as much vascular disease. Dogs are much more prone to different age-related cancers. But the fact remains that they develop all of these diseases at a much-higher frequency as they get older. Even when we get outside of diseases to things like arthritis, they show almost the same changes that we do. So there’s now very good reason to believe, especially now that the science has matured to the point where we understand aging better at a molecular level, there’s very good to believe that aging in dogs and people and cats and cows and mice and whales is fundamentally similar at a basic molecular level.”