No ruff estimate: UCSD researchers develop formula to more accurately track dog age in human years

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A Labrador Retriever rests in its pen on the final day of the Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, central England, on March 11, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO – Researchers at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine have developed a new formula to more accurately compare the ages of dogs to humans, the university said Thursday.

Results of the study published in the scientific journal Cell Systems are based on “changing patterns of methyl groups in dog and human genomes” as they age, according to the university. Because the two species don’t age at same rate over the course of their lives, the study determined the 1-to-7 ratio โ€” generally how humans calculate the age of a dog โ€” not to be a “perfectly linear comparison.”

Researchers say the formula is the first to be transferable across species and it could be a tool used by veterinarians as well as in determining the effectiveness of anti-aging treatments.

In a news release, Trey Ideker, senior author of the study and a professor at the UCSD School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center, said there are plenty of anti-aging products on the market “with wildly varying degrees of scientific support.”

โ€œBut how do you know if a product will truly extend your life without waiting 40 years or so?” Ideker was quoted as saying. “What if you could instead measure your age-associated methylation patterns before, during and after the intervention to see if itโ€™s doing anything?โ€

Ideker added that he found dogs interesting to study, as their environment and chemical exposures tend to be similar to those of humans. The tool can be used to further understand the aging process, particularly as veterinarians tend to use the 1-to-7 ratio to track a dog’s age and determine treatment options based on that information, he said.

“This makes sense when you think about it โ€” after all, a nine-month-old dog can have puppies, so we already knew that the 1:7 ratio wasnโ€™t an accurate measure of age,” Ideker said.

More information about the study can be found in Cell Systems. Researchers also developed a graph comparing the ages of humans and dogs โ€” using visuals of the actor Tom Hanks and a yellow Labrador retriever, respectively โ€” on the university website.

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