12 Questions to Test Your Level of Self-Connection

We often try hard to stay connected to others (e.g., to friends and family). But how do we stay connected to ourselves? Self-connection is a new, important concept, one which I will discuss in the rest of this post. To do so, I describe a recent study by Klussman and colleagues on the development and validation of a new measure called the self-connection scale.

What is self-connection?

Self-connection has three components. These consist of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-alignment.

  • Self-awareness: Awareness of one’s internal experiences, thoughts, emotions, sensations, preferences, values, intuitions, resources, goals, etc.
  • Self-acceptance: Full acknowledgment and acceptance, without judgment, of self-relevant characteristics and experiences. And seeing them as part of us and belonging to us.
  • Self-alignment: Using self-knowledge to behave in ways that authentically reflect oneself and fulfill one’s psychological needs (e.g., autonomy).

All three components are required for self-connection. For instance, awareness without acceptance may result in self-loathing and self-harm.

Before we continue, let me note that self-connection is different from similar concepts such as authenticity and mindfulness. Authenticity is only one element of it (i.e., self-alignment).

And mindfulness is closer in meaning to a combination of self-awareness and self-acceptance, but not self-alignment. Let us take a brief look at the research by Klussman and colleagues on the measurement of self-connection.

Investigating the validity and reliability of the self-connection scale

Study 1

Sample: 308 participants; 49 percent female; average age of 38 years old; 80 percent white; 45 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Measures

  • Self-connection: A pool of 29 items
  • Authenticity: Authenticity Scale
  • Mindfulness: Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised
  • Self-concept clarity: Self-Concept Clarity Scale
  • Flourishing: Flourishing Scale
  • Meaning: Presence of Meaning subscale of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire

Study 2

Sample: 164 participants; 39 percent female; average age of 36 years old; 77 percent white; 47 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Measures

  • Self-connection: The Self-Connection Scale developed in the previous investigation
  • Life satisfaction: “In general, how satisfied are you with your life?”
  • Positive and negative affect: Positive and Negative Affect Schedule
  • Anxiety and depression: Patient Health Questionnaire for Depression and Anxiety (PHQ-4)
  • CDC health measures: CDC Healthy Days Questionnaire
  • Health behaviors: Preventive Health Behaviors Scale

Study 3

Sample: 992 participants; 56 percent female; average age of 34 years old; 72 percent white; 52 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Measures

  • Anxiety and depression: PHQ-4
  • Eudaimonic well-being: Flourishing Scale and Presence of Meaning subscale of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire
  • Hedonic well-being: Positive and Negative Affect Schedule
  • Self-connection: The Self-Connection Scale
  • Self-acceptance: The self-acceptance subscale of Ryff’s Psychological Well-Being Scale
  • Self-compassion: The Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form

Results

The Self-Connection Scale demonstrated good reliability and validity. For instance, analysis of data showed it was related to similar constructs—authenticity, mindfulness, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-concept clarity, hedonic and eudaimonic well-being—yet distinct from them.

In addition, the factor structure of the scale was confirmed.

Testing your self-connection

To determine your level of self-connection using the scale developed in the study, follow the instructions below.

Indicate your agreement with the items from the Self-Connection Scale—whether you strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), somewhat disagree (3), neither agree nor disagree (4), somewhat agree (5), agree (6), or strongly agree (7). The numbers in parentheses are the scores associated with each response. Note, Item 4 should be reverse-scored.

  1. I have a deep understanding of myself.
  2. It is easy for me to identify and understand how I am feeling in any given moment.
  3. I know myself well.
  4. I am often surprised by how little I understand myself.
  5. I try not to judge myself.
  6. When I find out things about myself that I don’t necessarily like, I try to accept those things.
  7. Even when I don’t like a feeling or belief that I have, I try to accept it as a part of myself.
  8. I can easily forgive myself for mistakes I have made.
  9. I find small ways to ensure that my life truly reflects the things that are important to me.
  10. I spend time making sure that I am acting in a way that is a reflection of my true self.
  11. I try to make sure that my actions are consistent with my values.
  12. I try to make sure that my relationships with other people reflect my values.

So, how did you do? Note: The first four scale items are related to self-awareness, the next four to self-acceptance, and the last four to self-alignment.

A high score suggests a high level of self-connection. A low score suggests you are either not self-aware, not accepting of yourself, or do not act in concert with your feelings, beliefs, values, goals, etc.

Needless to say, a high score is desirable. Indeed, research by the authors shows that self-connection is associated with a number of positive outcomes. These include positive emotions, life satisfaction, flourishing, clarity in life, and meaning in life.

People who are disconnected from themselves are more likely to experience negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, confusion, stress) and feel their life is unsatisfactory and has no purpose.

Takeaway

Many of us commit to staying in touch with friends and coworkers, current events, the newest trends, and the latest cutting-edge technology, but rarely commit to staying in touch with ourselves—our changing feelings, sensations, thoughts, inner resources, goals, etc.

If you belong to this group and are disconnected from yourself, there are ways to remedy the situation. Simply pause a few times during the day and check how self-connected you feel. Ask: In the last little while…

  • Have I been self-aware?
  • Have I been self-accepting?
  • Has my behavior reflected my true self?

Commit to getting to know yourself better and becoming your best friend. It may change your life.

By: Arash Emamzadeh

Arash Emamzadeh attended the University of British Columbia in Canada, where he studied genetics and psychology. He has also done graduate work in clinical psychology and neuropsychology in U.S.

Source: 12 Questions to Test Your Level of Self-Connection | Psychology Today

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Mental Health Startup Uses Voice ‘Biomarkers’ To Detect Signs Of Depression And Anxiety

Young female character having a panic attack, an imaginary monster shadow silhouette, mental health issues, psychology

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” Rima Seiilova-Olson says slowly and emphatically over Zoom.

The simple sentence holds enormous value for mental health care, she explains, smiling as if to acknowledge that it might be less than obvious how a silly phrase could be so meaningful to a computer programmer and leader of an artificial intelligence startup.

The short saying contains every letter of the alphabet and phoneme in the English language, says Seiilova-Olson, an immigrant from Kazakhstan who is cofounder and chief scientist of Kintsugi Mindful Wellness. Kintsugi believes these sounds offer invaluable insight that can help mental health providers better support people with depression and anxiety.

The Bay Area-based company is building AI software that analyzes short clips of speech to detect depression and anxiety. This so-called voice biomarker software is being integrated into clinical call centers, telehealth services and remote monitoring apps to screen and triage patients reaching out for support, helping providers more quickly and easily assess their needs and respond.

“There’s just not a lot of visibility as to who is severely depressed or anxious.”

Kintsugi CEO and co-founder Grace Chang

Seiilova-Olson, 36, first met co-founder and CEO Grace Chang, 40, a Taiwanese immigrant now based in Berkeley, in 2019 at an open AI hackathon in San Francisco. Surprised to cross paths at a male-dominated event, the women began comparing notes about their respective personal challenges trying to access mental health care:

Seiilova-Olson had struggled to secure a therapist during postpartum depression with her first child, and when Chang had needed her own support, she said it had taken months for anyone from Kaiser to call her back.

“Living in the Bay Area, you can push a button and a car can come to you or food can come to you,” Chang says. “But this was really a challenge.” As engineers, they viewed the dilemma differently than clinicians might.

“We saw this as an infrastructure problem, where you have so many people trying to jam through that front door,” Chang explains. “But there’s just not a lot of visibility as to who is severely depressed or anxious, who is low-to-moderate. And if we could provide this information to those frontline practitioners, then we’d maybe have an opportunity to greatly alleviate that bottleneck.”

Kintsugi was born out of that idea in 2019. It sits in a competitive space of health tech startups like Ellipsis Health and Winter Light Labs that are using voice biomarkers to detect mental health or cognitive issues, built on research showing that certain linguistic patterns and characteristics of a person’s voice can be correlated with psychiatric or neurological conditions.

Kintsugi last year raised $8 million in seed funding led by Acrew Capital, and in February, announced it had closed a $20 million Series A round led by Insight Partners, which valued the company at nearly $85 million, according to PitchBook.

In-person mental health facilities typically use questionnaires to gauge the severity of patients’ anxiety or depression, measures known as PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scores. But during telehealth visits or phone consults — where face-to-face interaction is lost, making it harder to pick up on symptoms — Kintsugi’s technology helps to fill that gap.

Nicha Cumberbatch, assistant director of public health at Spora Health, a provider focused on health equity and people of color, uses Kintsugi’s software to assess women in its all-virtual, doula-led maternal health program, Spora Mommas.

The voice analysis tool, which Spora began using for patient consultations a few weeks ago, has helped Cumberbatch identify women who are, or may be at risk of, experiencing anxiety and depression before, during or after their pregnancies. When a patient starts speaking to a Spora clinician or doula on Zoom, Kintsugi’s AI begins listening to and analyzing her voice.

After processing 20 seconds of speech, the AI will then spit out the patient’s PHQ-9 and GAD-7. The employee can then use that mental health score to decide what additional testing may be needed and how best to advise or direct the patient to resources — like a psychiatrist, cognitive behavioral therapist or obstetrician.

Cumberbatch says Kintsugi’s technology is allowing her to “​​keep a more watchful eye” on her patients “and then move forward with proactive recommendations around mitigating their symptoms.” And while it’s not meant to replace clinicians or formal medical evaluations, she adds, it can be used as a screening tool to “allow us to have a more well-rounded, 360-view of the patient when we don’t have them in front of our face.”

“That technology… [allows] us to have a more well-rounded, 360-view of the patient when we don’t have them in front of our face.”

Nicha Cumberbatch, assistant director of public health at Spora Health

Dr. ​​Jaskanwal Deep Singh Sara, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who has collaborated with Ellipsis and led research on potential uses of voice biomarkers for cardiology, cautions that while the technology is promising for health care, the field has a long way to go to ensure that it’s accurate, safe and beneficial for patients and clinicians alike.

“It’s not ready for primetime by any stretch of the imagination yet,” Dr. Sara says. Studies in psychiatry, neurology, cardiology and other areas have shown an association between voice biomarkers and various conditions or diseases, but they haven’t shown how this relationship can be used to improve clinical outcomes, he says.

Such research is “not the same as saying, ‘How can we instrumentalize it in clinical practice, and how feasible is it? How effective is it in gauging an individual’s medical trajectory?’” he explains. “If it doesn’t provide any benefits in terms of how we manage them, then the question is: why would you do it?”

He says addressing those questions is “one of many next steps that we have to undertake on this” and that larger clinical trials are needed to answer them. “If it makes health care delivery cheaper or more efficient, or if it improves outcomes for patients, then that’s great,” he adds. “But I think we need to demonstrate that first with clinical trials, and that hasn’t been done.”

To address these issues and validate its software, Kintsugi is conducting clinical studies, including with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the National Science Foundation has awarded Kintsugi multiple grants to ramp up its research. The company is also pursuing FDA “de novo” clearance and continuing to build its own dataset to improve its machine learning models.

(Data and insights from Kintsugi’s voice journaling app, as well as conversations with call centers or telehealth providers and clinical collaborations with various hospitals, all become part of an enormous dataset that feeds Kintsugi’s AI.) Seiilova-Olson says this self-generated, unfettered proprietary dataset is what sets Kintsugi apart in the AI health care space — where many technologies are reliant on outside data from electronic health records.

That collection of troves of data on individuals’ speech can be concerning — particularly in the mental health and wellness space, which is widely considered a regulatory Wild West. (These products and services are often not subject to the same laws and stringent standards that govern how licensed clinicians provide formal medical care to patients.)

But Kintsugi’s founders say that patient privacy is protected because what matters for its technology is not what people are saying, but how they are saying it. Patients are also asked for their consent to be recorded and care is not affected by their decision to opt in or opt out, according to the founders.

Kintsugi says it has served an estimated 34,000 patients. The company is currently working with a large health system with 90 hospitals and clinics across 22 states, and they are active in a care management call center that services roughly 20 million calls per year. It is also partnering with Pegasystems, which offers customer service tools for health care and other industries, to help payers and providers handle inbound calls.

Chang says other customers include Fortune 10 enterprise payers, pharmaceutical organizations and digital health applications focused on remote patient monitoring, but that she could not yet share their names. Kintsugi’s clinical partners include Children’s Hospital Colorado, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London and SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital in Spain, Chang said.

Prentice Tom, Kintsugi’s chief medical officer, adds that it’s working with the University of Arkansas to explore how the tool can be used to possibly identify patients with suicidal ideation, or increased or severe suicide risk, as well as with Loma Linda University, to look at how the technology can be used to spot burnout amongst clinicians.

The team is also looking for ways to expand availability and uses for younger and elderly patients, as well as for maternal and postpartum populations. And beyond patients themselves, it’s perhaps nurses who are benefiting most from Kintsugi’s work, according to the founding team: having a triage tool that helps reduce administrative work or the time spent asking generic questions enables nurses to more seamlessly move patients in their journey.

But Tom, a Harvard-trained emergency medicine physician and former faculty member at Stanford University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, says Kintsugi is now doing far more than addressing infrastructure issues alone. It’s democratizing access to mental health care, Tom said, moving away from a physician-centric paradigm that caters more to people with significant enough depression that they require medical evaluation.

“This tool actually creates a view of mental health in terms of mental wellness,” Tom said, “where everyone has the opportunity to understand where they sit on the spectrum and that actually stratifies treatment options well beyond the current infrastructure.”

I’m a Senior Writer at Forbes covering the intersection of technology and society. Before joining Forbes, I spent three years as a tech reporter at Politico, where I covered

Source: Mental Health Startup Uses Voice ‘Biomarkers’ To Detect Signs Of Depression And Anxiety

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Healthy Lifestyle May Increase Life Expectancy, Research Suggests

A healthy lifestyle may allow older people to live longer, with women adding three years and men six to their life expectancy, suggests research published in the journal BMJ. In addition, more of those years may be dementia-free. More than 6 million Americans 65 and older have the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s, for which there is no cure.

The study found that, at age 65, women with the healthiest lifestyle had an average life expectancy of about 24 years, compared with 21 years for women whose lifestyle was deemed less healthy. Life expectancy for men with the healthiest lifestyle was 23 years, vs. 17 years for men who were less healthy.

The findings came from research that involved 2,449 people who were 65 and older and part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, which first enrolled participants in 1993.

The current researchers developed a healthy lifestyle scoring system for their participants that encompassed five factors: diet, cognitive activity, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption. People were given one point for each area if they met healthy standards, yielding a final summed score of 0 to 5, with higher scores indicating a healthier lifestyle.

As for living with dementia, those with a score of 4 or 5 healthy factors at age 65 lived with Alzheimer’s for a smaller proportion of their remaining years than did those with a score of 0 or 1. For women, the difference for those with a healthier lifestyle was having Alzheimer’s for 11 percent of their final years vs. 19 percent for those with a less healthy lifestyle; for men, it was 6 percent of their remaining time vs. 12 percent.

The researchers concluded that “prolonged life expectancy owing to a healthy lifestyle is not accompanied by an increased number of years living with Alzheimer’s dementia” but rather by “a larger proportion of remaining years lived without Alzheimer’s dementia.”

People who engage in a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol consumption, incur many health benefits, including a longer lifespan.

It was not previously known if this benefit was also seen in people living with multiple conditions. Multimorbidity is the presence of two or more long-term conditions, ranging from anxiety and eczema to cancer and schizophrenia. It has become a major worldwide epidemic. People with multiple conditions have poorer health and a higher risk of death compared with others in the population.

Researchers compared the impact of a healthy lifestyle on life expectancy in people with and without multiple conditions. It was the first study to be able to look at the impact of different lifestyle factors.

The key finding is that a healthy lifestyle is equally important for everyone, whether they have multiple conditions or not. Age is a strong risk factor; even so, young and middle-aged adults who live in deprived areas are the most likely to have multiple conditions. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle could be more difficult for people in this group.

The study also found that certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking and physical activity, were more damaging than others. Public health policies and healthcare professionals could therefore focus on these lifestyle habits. This study suggests this approach would have more impact than costly strategies to address multiple risk factors.

By Linda Searing

Source: Healthy lifestyle may increase life expectancy, research suggests – The Washington Post

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Scientists are Studying Blood Tests For Dementia

As pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, other researchers are focusing on a more elemental question. How can you tell whether a family member or loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

These researchers say a new generation of blood tests could offer an easier and accurate way to detect signs of Alzheimer’s, a disease that afflicts an estimated 6.5 million Americans. New research found one blood test can detect hallmarks of the disease in older adults with memory problems. It is among more than a half dozen blood tests being developed and tested to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts say the tests are important because they would be easier, cheaper and available to more people than brain scans or spinal taps now used to detect biological hallmarks of the disease.

Developers of blood tests say the immediate payoff would be testing older adults with signs of memory loss as well as quickly screening large numbers of people necessary to test new drugs that aim to slow or halt Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, the tests might be useful in detecting the earliest signs of disease, informing individuals of their risk years before memory and thinking problems take root.

Blood tests represent “a very early start to a new era of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Stephen Salloway, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Brown University who directs a memory and aging program at Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. “I see them as being transformative for Alzheimer’s, because once we validate them a little bit further, and hopefully get coverage for them, we can use them both to screen for clinical trials and to screen for treatment.”

Diagnosing the disease is time-consuming and inaccessible to those who live far away from memory clinics or other specialists. Doctors might quiz a patient or family members about habits, changes in behavior or personality. Specialists conduct memory and cognitive tests and rule out other potential causes such as depression. Brain scans and spinal taps confirm biological signs of the disease.

One blood test, called the PrecivityAD test, which uses a technology called mass spectrometry, measures amyloid proteins and genetic risk for the disease. In two studies published April 21 in Journal of the American Medical Association Open, the test accurately detected the protein amyloid in 81% of samples when compared with a brain scan.

Amyloid accumulates and forms clumps in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Researchers and drug companies have spent hundreds of million of dollars over the past two decades on the theory that drugs clearing amyloid from the brain could slow memory decline, but those drugs have not proven to halt Alzheimer’s disease.

Other drug studies are now underway to administer amyloid-targeting drugs even earlier, before memory and thinking problems emerge. C2N Diagnostics CEO Joel Braunstein said the peer-reviewed study is an important step for doctors who want to see more evidence before recommending his company’s test to patients with memory and cognitive problems.

“Clinicians like to see evidence that a test works,” Braunstein said. “This was an important step forward because of the transparency of the scientific findings.”

The test, which has been available since 2020, is now mostly used to accelerate research for new drugs being studied to slow cognitive decline and memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Braunstein believes more doctors will be willing to recommend the test as they grow comfortable from findings in the studies.

Blood tests promise quicker, cheaper diagnosis

Scans and spinal taps now used can be invasive and don’t work for all patients. For example, people who are on blood-thinning medication might not be able to get a spinal tap, Salloway said. In such cases, a validated blood test would be suitable replacement.

Blood tests also might be more affordable than positron emission tomography, or PET scans, which cost consumers $3,000 out of pocket, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Hospitals charge for administering a PET scan, which includes special chemical tracers to reveal the amyloid. Consumers also can expect a bill from an imaging specialist who interprets the results to verify whether a patient has amyloid.

The PrecivityAD test, which is not yet covered by Medicare or private insurers, costs $1,250. The company offers financial assistance for eligible consumers, Braunstein said, while it is “making progress” in efforts to get Medicare and private insurers to pay for the test.

The company is allowed to market the test under Food and Drug Administration rules because it’s performed at the company’s lab, which is certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, the federal laboratory law known as CLIA. Doctors or testing sites ship samples to the lab and the company completes the test within 10 days, Braunstein said.

Braunstein said the company’s lab has the capacity to handle tests performed within the United States and Canada. As the company seeks to offer the test overseas, it probably will partner with other labs that can perform the intricate measurements the test requires.

Another blood test developed by Eli Lilly detected signs of Alzheimer’s disease 20 years before cognitive problems were expected in a group of people who carry a rare genetic mutation, according to a study published in 2020 in JAMA. The p-tau217 test measured the tau protein on more than 1,400 people already enrolled in dementia studies in Sweden, Arizona and Colombia.

Eli Lilly used the test during a 257-patient Phase 2 study of its Alzheimer’s drug called donanemab. The drugmaker also will use the test to screen people for a prevention trial to test donanemab in at-risk patients who have not yet exhibited memory and thinking problems. Lilly plans to send mobile units to communities and use the test to screen people, which would expand the company’s efforts to recruit patients from diverse populations, a Lilly spokeswoman said.

Quest Diagnostics, a national lab company, launched a new blood test in March that measures two amyloid variants, a Quest spokeswoman said.

Advocacy organizations would like to see tests that are simple, inexpensive and accessible to doctors and their patients, said Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We ultimately want to be at a place where we can identify an individual at the earliest possible point who may be at the greatest risk and may have initial changes associated with the disease,” Snyder said.

She said it’s important for the field to have “a toolbox of potential interventions” such as medications or lifestyle changes “that would allow us to stop or slow the progression of the underlying biology at that time.”

In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved Biogen’s Aduhelm, a $28,000-a-year drug that yielded mixed results in clinical trials, even though the agency’s own experts suggested the agency reject the application. The agency that oversees Medicare decided to pay for the drug only in clinical trials.

Aduhelm is part of class of Alzheimer’s drugs known as monoclonal antibodies, several of which could soon land before FDA decision-makers. Lilly expects to submit donanemab, a monoclonal antibody, for approval later this year. Roche’s Genentech has studied two Alzheimer’s drugs, gantenerumab and crenezumab, in late-stage clinical trials.

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Source: Scientists are studying blood tests for dementia: ‘A new era of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease’

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What Old Dogs Can Teach Us About Aging

For many of us, our dogs are our constant companions. Whether collie or retriever, purebred or mutt, dogs climb mountains with us, travel on airplanes with us, and eat the scraps off our plate.  

And as we get older, so do they. In fact, dogs experience a lot of the same age-related changes that humans do, from greying hair and creaky joints to more serious conditions like cancer or cognitive decline. Today, scientists are learning how comparing different dog breeds can give us new insights into the aging process — for both our canine companions and their owners. 

Old Dogs, New Tricks

One major project currently underway is the Dog Aging Project. Headquartered at the University of Washington, the project is working with dogowners across the country, gathering info about their pets’ lives, lifespans and medical ailments.  The project has more than 32,000 dogs already enrolled, though co-director Daniel Promislow says it’s kind of just getting started. “Over this past year, we’ve sort of launched into the next phase, which is pretty exciting,” says Promislow. One key development:

Building out their logistics network, like where to store computer data and physical samples and how to make that data easy to sort through. The second development? Time.  The scientists behind the project hope that this wealth of data could soon be used to see which health problems are commonly found together, and even figure out how long problem may lead to another.

 “Once we move into this longitudinal phase, which we’re now doing, we can identify how something that happens early in a dog’s life eventually impact his health late in life. That’s the real power of discovery,” says Promislow. “Years in the future, a veterinarian could enter some information about the clinical history of a dog and know that a particular diagnosis was more or less likely.” 

They’re also collecting DNA samples from the dogs, which could help reveal the underlying genetic causes of disease. Beyond that, dogs in particular present a rare opportunity for researchers thanks to the artificial selection pressures that have shaped them.

It’s All in the Genes

Exactly when and where dogs were first domesticated is a matter of debate, but scientists think it was at least 14,000 years ago. Since that fateful day, breeders have shaped our canine companions by repeatedly choosing for specific traits like intelligence, attitude, or speed. The signs of this artificial selection and in-breeding are visible in dogs genetics or, more specifically, the amount of variation in their genetics.

“Across all dogs, it’s about the same as us genetically,” says Promislow. “But within a single breed it’s like having a whole bunch of full siblings. Or even closer.” This means that specific breeds of dogs may have traits built into their genes.

Variation in a gene known as IGF1, for instance, accounts for nearly half of all size differences between breeds.  What does this actually mean for researchers, though? Essentially, if a particular problem shows up frequently in a given breed, it may be due to something in that breed’s genes.

The IGF1 gene has been implicated as influencing both size and lifespan, possibly helping explain why large dogs tend to die younger than small ones, though it’s still being researched. Meanwhile, variants in a gene called SLC2A9 may be behind the high rate of urinary problems in Dalmatians, whereas a gene region called CDKN2A/B could contribute to the high rate of certain cancers in Bernese Mountain Dogs.  

Looking at cancer in particular helped kickstart another major project, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, says geneticist Janet Patterson-Kane, the project’s principal investigator.

The research team has recruited a one-time cohort of over 3,000 golden retrievers and have been going since 2012. By looking at just one specific breed, they can zero in on the effects of individual genes.  Plus, the fact that researchers are studying one breed helps them see things beyond just genetics, as well.

Because the dogs are quite similar genetically, you may be more likey to tease out the influence of something environmental or dietary to their health, says Patterson-Kane. “There’s a power in taking dogs that are quite similar to each other, and then you’re looking at the factors acting upon that,” says Patterson-Kane. 

Lessons for Humans

What’s more, studying how dogs age could help us not only help our pets, but ourselves, too. The SLC2A9 gene that causes Dalmatian urinary problems also exists in humans, for example, and could be the target of future research.  And with regards to environmental exposure, because our canine companions get exposed to a lot of what humans do — like home pesticides, second-hand smoke, or even asbestos — and suffer the same problems humans do, a dog’s health may serve as warnings for their owners.

 Studies suggest that a pet dog contracting a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma could be an early warning sign of asbestos exposure for the humans in the household.  Both The Dog Aging Project and The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study are still ongoing, though the researchers behind the latter say they’re now coming to the end of many of their enrollee dogs’ natural lifespan. “We are losing a lot of dogs right now.

It’s just one of those sobering things,” says Patterson-Kane. “But those samples from those dogs are a legacy to those dog’s lives. And after they’re gone, we’re still going to be getting those samples out looking at that data.” The hope is that more researchers, not just veterinarians but also people in other fields, will be able to use the group’s data. 

The Dog Aging Project, meanwhile, is continuing to recruit new dogs. “The Dog Aging Project welcomes dogs of all ages, from puppies to geriatric dogs,” says Promislow, adding that the research project takes dogs from all around the country. “What better way to discover the cool things that science can do then, by doing it through this dog who you love and who’s a part of the family?”

By James Gaines

Source: What Old Dogs Can Teach Us About Aging | Discover Magazine

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