I sat through a very interesting session at this year’s Experimental Biology conference called, “The Power of Comparative Models for Accelerating Translational Healthspan Research: Underutilized Lab Animals, Companion Pets, Old World Monkeys, and Pumas.” While the title seems to capture the general idea of the symposium, I thought I would share a bit more information about the presenters and their exciting research.
Dr. Karyn Hamilton from Colorado State University presented her research on ways to increase our “healthspan” – how to maintain quality of life for as long as possible. To study this, her research examines aging processes in guinea pigs because some breeds have similar declines in movement and muscle function with aging as humans. For example, Dunkin Hartley guinea pigs show signs of cognitive decline, osteoarthritis, inflammation, and decreases in muscle mass (sarcopenia) as well as reduced longevity compared to other breeds that can 7-8 years in relative health.
Dr. Kylie Kavanagh from Wake Forest School of Medicine is also interested in healthy aging. Her research focuses on aging and nutrition as well as diseases related to aging including diabetes, liver disease and obesity. gut microbiome and the need to get away from traditional laboratory animals when studying the gut microbiome as laboratory rodents have a habit of eating their own poop as well as that of their roommates (gross!!). They are also fed unnatural laboratory diets that do not model what the animals may typically eat in the wild. Sounds reasonable to me. As a veterinarian, she loves animals and studies the healthy aging and gut microbiome of primates as they more closely model humans.
Dr. Sue VandeWoude from Colorado State University studies diseases relevant to felines and works with community partners to study interactions between house cats and wild bobcats as well as pumas in the Colorado area. All I can say is – try to keep your pet cats indoors if you live in an area with these predators. Yikes.
Dr. Michael LaCroix-Fralish from Cellular Longevity, Inc dba Loyal for Dogs and Marist College spoke about his research aimed at improving the health and longevity of dogs through studies aimed at preserving their muscle mass and body composition. In some ways, dogs are a lot like humans – they have access to a variety of calorie-rich foods and develop many of the same diseases associated with aging as humans. They also have access to high quality medical care through their local veterinarians.