June 24, 2009

The girl who doesn't age: How a bizarre genetic disorder may help in the struggle against aging

She is the size of an infant, has all her baby teeth and exhibits the mental capacity of a toddler.

Trouble is, she's 16 years old.

Brooke Greenberg hasn't aged in the conventional sense. Her physician, Dr. Richard Walker of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, in Tampa, says Brooke's body is not developing as a coordinated unit, but instead as independent parts that are out of sync. She has never been diagnosed with any known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality that would help explain why.

In a recent paper for the journal "Mechanisms of Ageing and Development," Walker and his co-authors chronicled a baffling range of inconsistencies in Brooke's aging process, including the observation that her bone age is like that of a 10 year old.

Walker and his team have studied samples of Brooke's cells and DNA to look for what they think may be an undiscovered genetic mutation that has affected the way she ages. He believes that if the gene can be isolated, it may provide clues to questions about why we age and die. If the gene -- or complex of genes -- is identified, he plans to test laboratory animals to determine whether the gene can be switched off and, if so, whether it will cause the animal's aging to slow.

"Without being sensational, I'd say this is an opportunity for us to answer the question, why we're mortal, or at least to test it," Walker said. "And if we're wrong, we can discard it. But if we're right, we've got the golden ring."



Go Democrats said...

I'm curious about whether and how Brooke consented to the use of her genetic material for this larger purpose. Did her parents consent? Does she have a court-appointed guardian?

George, I know when you discussed the Ashley treatment one of the comments you received the most flak for was how undignified it was for Ashley X to have an infant's mind in a full-grown woman's body. No similar commentary this time?

George said...

1) Brooke's parents definitely gave consent; they see her existence as something that may have larger meaning or importance than a mere genetic fluke.
2) There's no comparison to this and the Ashley X case -- though they did give her growth hormones to no avail.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be so quick to call this a "golden ring". It seems to me to be more about premature growth stoppage. Most people stop growing when they're around 21. I'm not referring to growth in the sense of increasing physical size (though that's a large part of it) but rather physical development toward adulthood. Brooke appears to have stopped growing when she was an infant. The fact that there are some inconsistencies seems to point to me that she hasn't actually stopped *aging* despite that. If anything comes of it, I suspect we'll gain the ability to freeze people physically in adolescence in some ways (which may even be useful, assuming it preserves some desirable elements of youth), but it probably won't help people who are already past that point and probably won't significantly increase anyone's lifespan.

Hope I'm wrong, though.

Anonymous said...

@fallingupthesky: Well, you've got nothing to lose. If it's not a golden ring, it doesn't really matter, because we've then gained knowledge that can help us find the golden ring.

Now it's a question of whether the church will allow us to do this... and whether they will or won't try and terrorize the project like they do abortion clinics.

Anonymous said...

first the murder of innocent children is horrible from any angle...
if one cell on mars constitutes life, one cell in a woman's womb that is not her DNA must also be.

but as far as this:

it has a terrible potential:

would we allow, or force our children to stop growing?

what age should we limit this too? 18? 21?

yes it has possibly great potential, but how do we make sure this knowledge is not used for evil?
(personally I would love to stay 30 years old until my body wears out... I'm asking how do we make sure to stop abuse?)