Calling all good boys and girls: This week, researchers debuted a citizen science project that’s hoping to enlist 10,000 furry friends to better study aging in both dogs and people. And they’re asking pet owners across the U.S. to volunteer their pups to participate.
The Dog Aging Project, or DAP, is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Washington and Texas A&M University. By gathering data from a large sample of dogs along the whole lifespan, they say, scientists can better understand the “biological and environmental factors that influence aging” in both species. While these sorts of large population studies are routinely done with humans, the project is billed as the largest of its kind ever done with dogs.
“What we learn will potentially be good for dogs and has great potential to translate to human health,” Daniel Promislow, project co-director and aging researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told NBC News.
Prospective citizen scientists—aka dog owners in the U.S. (excluding U.S. territories, sorry)—are asked to nominate their dogs (one per family) for inclusion in the project through a brief survey that asks them to jot down some basic info about their pups, such as breed, age, and where they sleep in the house. If they’re selected for the project, they’ll receive additional surveys and be mailed a kit to collect their dog’s slobbery spit for DNA testing. They’ll also have to visit the vet for an annual check-up, which is where some dogs will have their blood, urine, and other bodily samples collected via extra kits provided by the project.
“Other than your dog’s regular annual visit to your regular veterinarian, there is no out-of-pocket cost to participate,” the project’s FAQ page notes.
The project is estimated to cost $23 million—covered by a federal grant from the National Institute on Aging—and will take about five years to complete. Once the data is processed, the researchers have promised to make it openly available to other scientists.
About 500 or so owners will also be asked to have their dogs participate in more hands-on research, testing out a drug called rapamycin that’s shown promise in extending the lives of mice. Some of the researchers have already conducted a small safety trial in middle-aged dogs that seems to suggest it can be used with no serious side-effects. To be cautious, only larger dogs will be included in these newer clinical trials.
Regardless of how little or how much you’d want your dog to be involved, though, the researchers want you.
“Our canine participants are the heart and soul of the Dog Aging Project,” the project’s website reads.
And if you’re a dog owner living outside of the U.S. or you’ve somehow fallen in love with cats instead, there’s the similarly themed Darwin’s Ark for you.