Monday, September 19, 2016

Malbec, Malamutes and Moai

Frequently, in person and sometimes on social media, I joke about the 2004 vintage Malbec we keep in our house. The joke, of course, is that while Malbec is our favorite red wine, it’s also the name of our beloved but aging Alaskan malamute (pictured below), who was born in May of 2004. Given that a malamute’s average lifespan is 10 to 12 years, and that he’s slowed noticeably – he used to drag us around the block and now we have to drag him - we've started to wonder about what’s left for him.
While we wouldn’t go to extremes to prolong his life – I wouldn’t even expect that for myself – I couldn’t help noticing, recently, a research project at the University of Washington (my undergraduate alma mater) to test an anti-aging drug with pet dogs. The drug in question, Rapamycin, has been successful in extending the lives of laboratory mice by 13 percent in females and nine percent in males.
Canine longevity aside, what interested me here was the origin of the drug – Rapamycin, also known as Sirolimus, was developed from a bacterium discovered on remote Easter Island (pictured above), where I have traveled at least half a dozen times in the course of researching and writing my guidebooks to Chile. It takes its name from Rapa Nui, the island’s place name in the local indigenous language. All this time, though I never knew it, a potential cure was at my feet – or at least at the base of the island’s iconic moai (two of which appear below, at the Rano Raraku quarry site).

The UW researchers are recruiting dog owners to participate in their study and, for that reason, I nominated Malbec as a potential participant. Given his relatively advanced age, I expect he’d be a low-priority candidate for any treatment, and those treatments do have potentially serious side effects. Maybe, though, we’ll name our next malamute “Moai.”

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