MIT Technology Review has published a long-read featuring three research groups, the Vaika team among them, that are seeking to understand and improve dogs’ aging. The article summarizes the different approaches that scientists choose in their attempt to delay and reverse the aging process in dogs.
Andrei Gudkov, one of Vaika’s founders, is cited describing his notion of aging as DNA damage, which accumulates in an animal with age and can provide a signal to the immune system to destroy affected cells. With an increase in the number of damaged cells and a decline in the immune system, chronic inflammation occurs in those damaged tissues.
This damage can provide a signal to the immune system to destroy affected cells, resulting in damage to tissues. Some of this DNA damage is caused by what Gudkov calls the retrobiome—fragments of ancient viruses that have been incorporated into our DNA over millions of years of evolution.
The part of an animal’s DNA that contains these fragments are usually kept “silent” by epigenetic markers, says Gudkov, but the system seems to break down with age. Gudkov believes that these ancient virus fragments are a major cause of age-related decline in humans and other animals, including dogs.
His team is trialing an experimental anti-aging drug that he believes will stifle the activity of the retrobiome in the 103 dogs collected so far. If the drug can prevent DNA damage, it should allow the animals to live longer, healthier lives, says Gudkov.