Researcher Matt Kaeberlein runs the Kaeberlein Lab at the University of Washington, where he and his team studies the biology of aging. Their goal is ambitious: to learn the biological mechanisms behind what makes people get "old," and then to find interventions that would actually slow the rate of aging.
They'd like to increase the human healthspan, or the period of life spent free from disease. And, for that matter, they'd like to extend the canine healthspan, too.
So far, the lab has studied the biology of aging in yeast, nematodes and mice. And in a current clinical study, called the Dog Aging Project, they're working with pet dogs and their owners. They're studying an intervention called Rapamycin, essentially a pill that targets some of the biological hallmarks of aging and which has had promising results in mice. They hope it will help pet dogs live a longer healthier life.
Results of the study are years away and human trials would be difficult to do. But they believe that the ability to target human aging will happen during the lifetime of many people currently alive.
Kaeberlein acknowledges that some people see his work as science fiction. But, he says, "this really is science fact. It's really just biology, there's no magic involved. In fact if you just think about different animals in the animal kingdom, we can see that nature has figured out how to change the rate of aging by more than a hundred fold."
Consider a mouse, he says, which might live one to two years, and then consider a human, who might live 70 or 100 years, or even a certain species of clam, that might live 500 years. These animals age at dramatically different rates, and Kaeberlein and those in his field would like to understand the mechanisms behind that, so that they can design interventions that would actually slow the rate of aging.
Listen to the full interview to hear Kaeberlein talk about his work, discuss some of the ethics behind extending human lifespan and healthspan, and share how he got inspired to work with pet dogs.
The Dog Aging Project is currently accepting nominations for dogs to participate in the study.