by Cate Cauguiran

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — In a city where dogs outnumber kids, Lynn Miller says her pets might as well be her children.

“Your dog is part of your family. Life without your dog is not life,” Lynn contended.

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Lynn knows a dog’s lifespan is limited so she enjoys every moment she can with her poodles.

“I’m on my fifth standard poodle and if I could have my poodles live longer, I totally would,” she said.

American Aging Association researchers say they may have found something that can do just that, with a drug called rapamycin. It’s an immunosuppressant drug, already approved by the FDA.

Currently, rapamycin is used as part of a drug combination to help organ transplant recipients and also to treat certain types of cancers. A little over ten years ago, Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, a researcher at the University of Washington Medical Center, started working with the drug to see its effects on aging.

“This drug has pretty incredible effects in terms of increasing life span and improving life in aging in every laboratory where it’s been tested,” Dr. Kaeberlein told KPIX.

Dr. Kaeberlein felt so strongly about the positive results rapamycin showed in mice that he got funding to spearhead the “Dog Aging Project.” Twenty-four medium-to-large dogs, age seven and eight (considered middle age for canines) were part of the study, which focused on cardio function.

After the 10-week study, they found the dogs on rapamycin appeared to reverse some measures of age-associated cardiac decline with no negative side-effects. And, he says, based on the research it’s possible the drug could increas a dog’s lifespan by about 25 percent — 2 1/2 years — for an animal that would typically live to about ten.

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The Dog Aging Project is currently enrolling dogs for a second phase of the study.

Dr. Betsy Goldenberg, a veterinarian with San Francisco-based VetPronto, says that, at this point, rapamycin is not being prescribed for pets in the Bay Area.

“As a scientist, as a researcher, I would like to see the hard data to say whether or not I believe there’s promise to work as an anti-aging medication and I think it’s just not there yet,” she said. “This drug does not have FDA approval for cats and dogs but it’s being able to be used off-label for the Dog Aging Project,” she added.

Dog owners are hopeful, though.

“It would be tremendous, it would be really great, like a dream come true,” said Lynn Miller.

Dr. Goldenberg thinks it will be a long time before rapamycin makes it to the pet market. But there are still tried and true ways to maximize a dog’s life.

“Keeping them a healthy weight, going to the vet on an annual basis — those are the biggest things I think that I see in my daily practice that could help,” she said.

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As for humans, a derivative of rapamycin has been tested on people and it showed positive results as well. Researchers think it might be a preventative medicine for Alzheimers and other age-related diseases.