Scientists have long studied aging in short-lived lab animals such as yeast, worms, flies, and mice. But this presents several problems. For example, many lab animals are inbred and therefore don’t represent the same genetic variability we humans have. The lab animals also live in very different environments than ours, and don’t live long enough for scientists to closely study their entire lifetimes.

That’s why the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Aging is funding the Canine Longevity Consortium-- a research network comprised of scientists from across the country who are coming together to study aging in dogs. Their goal is to start the first nationwide Canine Longitudinal Aging Study (CLAS).

According to Adam Boyko, evolutionary geneticist and assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Cornell University, “[Dogs] share many genetic characteristics with humans that let us combine traditional demographic and epidemiological approaches with new techniques like comparative genomics. Unlike any other model system for aging, dogs share our environment and, increasingly, our health care options. Once developed, a canine model holds enormous promise, and we expect it to have a significant impact on aging research.”

Of course, longitudinal studies can and have been done on humans as well. And although these have led to great insights, a study on dogs has the additional advantage of allowing researchers to test new ideas and treatments at a rapid pace impossible with humans.

Currently, the researchers are working to select the best dog breed for the study and determine a system for collecting, analyzing, and sharing the data they gather.