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Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax have found a way to use mice to study frailty in elderly humans. (CBC)

Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax have found a way to use mice to study frailty in elderly humans and are hoping the discovery will find ways to keep humans spry as they age.

Dr. Susan Howlett, a pharmacology professor at Dalhousie University, has been studying black mice to see how diseases strike in old age.

"They get heart disease, they get tumours sometimes, they get different types of cancers," she said.

"Sometimes they even get sudden cardiac death, and things like that. Seizures. All sorts of things you might see in people as they get older."

She's also been measuring how mice become frail by recording how fast they move, their blood pressure, their coat condition and their grip strength.

Howlett said she discovered mice become frail in a pattern similar to people, only mice do it in two and a half years, while humans can live for 80 or 90 years.

Dr. Robert Rose, an assistant professor of physiology at Dalhousie University, said scientists can also use mice to test if frail patients respond better to some drugs than others.

"We can use aged mice that are aged two, two and a half years as a model of elderly people — people that would be, for example, in their late 80s or early 90s and study cardiovascular disease in those age groups in the mice," he said.

Scientists can run such experiments with mice to try to prevent frailty in people and those experiments will take years instead of decades, said Howlett.

"Can we intervene to treat frailty? Can we give drugs to treat frailty? Can we modify frailty with an exercise program? What's the best time to put that exercise program in?" she said.

Howlett is set to unveil their work at meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in San Diego on Thursday.