Pushed To The Extreme: The Girl Who Doesn't Age
TAMPA, FL (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The key to aging, or more importantly, the key to stop aging, may be found in a 17 year-old. But what does she have that the rest of us don’t? Why are scientists around the world fascinated by her?
“She has temper tantrums. She has good moods, bad moods, she giggles, she has a great laugh,” Howard Greenberg, Brooke's father, told Ivanhoe.
Brooke Greenberg looks like a toddler but is actually a teenager.
“If she was 12 years old, I'd say 12 months old. If she were 14, I'd say 14 months old. She’s going to be 18 years old. I can’t say 18 months anymore because she doesn’t look 18 months old,” Melanie Greenberg, Brooke's mother, said.
Brooke Greenberg is a medical mystery. She's a teen who weights 16 pounds and is 30 inches tall.
“The only thing that grows on Brooke is her hair and believe it or not, her fingernails,” Howard Greenberg said.
Family photos reveal her story. As an infant, there were no signs anything was wrong. But as her younger sister grew, Brooke didn’t. Then at age 4, tragedy struck; a stroke, then doctors found a brain tumor.
“When Brooke was sick, she would be lying very still in her crib and the walk from the door to her crib, even though is was a couple of steps seemed like 10 miles because I was always wondering when I got to the crib, would she be alive?” Howard Greenberg said.
Brooke survived, and for the next ten years, there have been few medical problems. Now, the focus is why did this young girl stop aging? Or did she?
“She is changing and she’s changing slowly,” Richard Walker, Ph.D, at the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida explained.
Dr. Richard Walker has dedicated his life's work to unravel the mystery of aging.
“I was looking primarily for the cause of the basic mechanism that results in our ultimate demise,” Dr. Walker said.
He believes aging is a continuum of development and that our genes control that drive to change. For Brooke, her father says it’s simple.
“Her aging gene is not turned on,” Howard Greenberg said.
“If we can locate those genes in Brooke’s DNA, then we can test them for their putative affects on development and aging,” Dr. Walker said.
Dr. Walker is teamed up with geneticist Maxine Sutcliffe to find the one gene that keeps Brooke young.
“We started out with regular chromosome analysis then we moved to look at the ends of the chromosomes,” Maxine Sutcliffe, Ph.D, at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL said.
They found nothing. Then they went deeper, looking at the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes. In you and me, these telomeres shrink with age. The theory was Brooke's would not, but that theory was wrong.
"There’s nothing on this that makes me suspect something is wrong with Brooke,” Dr. Sutcliffe said.
But her appearance says differently. Dr. Walker says Brooke ages one year for every 20 years of life and parts of her body age at different rates.
“She's basically a mosaic. She’s not developing as a unit organism,” Dr. Walker said.
Her brain is the age equivalent of an infant, she still has all of her baby teeth. Her bone age is 10 years old and certain cellular markers equal her chronological age. Until now, scientists thought she was the one and only person alive to experience this.
“Recently I came across three people, two in the U.S and one in Australia that seem to be afflicted like Brooke,” Dr. Walker said.
A six-year-old girl, a 27-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man. The two males reveal what the future could hold for Brooke.
"The 27 year old looks like an 8 or 9 year old boy and the 40 year old man gives the impression of an adolescent,” Dr. Walker said.
Only the 40 year old has reached puberty. The 27 year old still has 12 baby teeth. As Dr. Walker begins his research on the three, he now believes he could be witnessing a new syndrome being born and says if he can find the anomaly in these four, it could change the future for others.
“Their misfortune, their mutation gives us a way to localize the genes that cause aging in us. That damage is a marker, a red flag saying ‘this is where we should look," Dr. Walker said.
If found, Dr. Walker hopes it could stop cancer from spreading, slow Alzheimer's and more.
“If we could stop the process of decay, then we would extend the productive years,” Dr. Walker said. “What if we had an Einstein that spent another hundred years as a young man?”
Unraveling the mystery of aging through a child who can’t grow up.
“And how apropos, to put the secret of this in a little child,” Howard Greenberg said.
Dr. Walker says even if they do find the gene in Brooke and the other three patients, it’s too late to help them. Their bodies are in such a state that doctors could not reverse what has happened to them.
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