A girl who doesn't age may provide answers to staying young

The key to aging, or more importantly, the key to stop aging, may be found in a special 17-year-old, but what does she have that the rest of us don't? Why are scientists around the world fascinated by her?

Brooke Greenberg is a medical mystery. A teen who weights 16 pounds and is 30 inches tall. A person whose body isn't what it seems.

"The only thing that grows on Brooke is her hair,” said Brooke’s father, Howard, “and believe it or not her fingernails."

Family photos reveal her story. As an infant, there were no signs anything was wrong. Even her parents didn't know, but as her younger sister grew, Brooke did not.

Then at age 4 tragedy struck: a stroke, a brain tumor. 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?

Dr. Richard Walker of the University of South Florida explained, “She is changing and she's changing slowly."

Dr. Walker has dedicated his life’s work to unravel the mystery of aging. 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,” explained Maxine Sutcliffe of the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Then we looked at the ends of the chromosomes."

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. However, she is not alone.

"Recently I came across three people,” said Dr. Walker.

These individuals include a 6-ear-old girl, a 27-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man. The two males reveal what the future could hold for Brooke.

"If we could stop the process of decay slow as it is, then we would extend our productive years,” said Dr. Walker.

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.


The Science of Aging: The science that deals with the aging process is called gerontology. As we age, our bodies change in many ways that affect the function of both individual cells and organ systems. The aging process depends on a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Overall, genetic factors seem to be more powerful than environmental factors in determining the large differences among people in aging and lifespan. In humans and other animals, cellular senescence, which is the process of aging, has been attributed to the shortening of telomeres (region of repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration) with each cell cycle; when telomeres become too short, the cells die. The length of telomeres
is therefore the "molecular clock". (Source: National Institute of Aging)

Aging Gone Wrong: What if suddenly you stopped aging? In this case, Brooke Greenberg looks like a little girl but she is actually 17 years old. She weights only 16 pounds and is 30 inches tall. She is one of 4 people ever diagnosed with this disease. Medical experts believe she suffers from some kind of genetic mutation that shapes the way she ages, leaving her with the perpetual appearance of a baby. The exact cause of the phenomenon has not been pinpointed. According to doctors, development and aging are at opposite poles of the life continuum, but the same genes control them. In young childhood, these genes initiate structure and function and coordinate change. Essentially, Brooke's aging and development genes have been turned off. The Future: Doctors are still searching for the mutation. Once they find it, they are going to attempt insertion into experimental animals to see if they can extend their lifespan. Unfortunately in Brooke's case - it's too late to help her. Her body is in such state that doctors cannot reverse what has taken place. Still, according to those experts, Brooke breeds hope for others: "If we could identify the locus of her mutation, it gives me and my colleagues the opportunity to manipulate these genes and see if we can sustain youthful vitality, anatomy and physiology for unusually long periods of time," says Richard Walker, Ph.D., an neuroendocrinologist of aging who's now retired from the University of South Florida School of Medicine. "These genes are elusive and hard to find. With her mutation, we might be able to do that."

For More Information, Contact:
University of South Florida College of Medicine
Health Media Relations and Communications Office
12901 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
MDC 47
Tampa, FL 33612
Phone : 813-974-3300

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