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L.Srikumar Pai
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Seventeen-year-old locked in toddler's body could unlock key to ageing
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17 year old  Brooke Greenberg

A 17-year-old girl who is trapped in the body and mind of a toddler could help scientists unlock the key to ageing, according to scientists.

By Martin Evans

Brooke Greenberg, who will be old enough to vote next year, has failed to develop physically or mentally and remains just 30 inches tall with a mental age of a one-year-old.

Initially doctors were baffled and dubbed her unexplained condition, Syndrome X.

But now initial studies into her DNA have indicated that her failure to develop may be linked to defects in the genes responsible for the ageing process in the rest of mankind.

It is hoped by analysing Brooke’s DNA, scientists could gain a fresh insight into the process of ageing and even develop new therapies and treatments for diseases linked to old age.

A conference beginning in London this week, which will bring together some of the world’s leading age researchers, will discuss some of the findings from Brooke’s case.

Professor Richard Walker, of the University of South Florida School of Medicine, who has been leading the study, said it could help unlock some of the secrets of age and development.

He said: “We think that Brooke’s condition presents us with a unique opportunity to understand the process of ageing.

“We think that she has a mutation in the genes that control her ageing and development so that she appears to have been frozen in time.

“If we can compare her genome to the normal version then we might be able to find those genes and see exactly what they do and how to control them.”

Brooke was born in Reistertown near Baltimore in the United States and initially appeared to be a normal healthy baby.

However before the age of two she suffered a series on unexplained medical emergencies and it soon became clear to her parents Melanie and Howard that she was not developing as normal.

Doctors were unable to provide a medical explanation for her condition but believe the various parts body are out of sync and so are not developing in a co-ordinated manner.

Brooke is able to make gestures and recognise sounds, but she cannot speak.

Her bones are like those of a ten-year-old, but she still has her baby teeth.

Professor Walker said: “Our hypothesis is that she is suffering from damage in the gene or genes that co-ordinate the way the body develops and ages.

“If we can use her DNA to find that mutant gene then we can test it in laboratory animals to see if we can switch if off and slow down the ageing process at will.

“Just possibly it could give us an opportunity to answer the question of why we are mortal.”

Her father, said he wanted the genome research carried out in the hope it might help others.

He said: "Brooke is just a wonderful child. She is very pure. She still babbles just like a 6 month old baby but she still communicates and we always know just what she means."

At the Royal Society conference starting this week experts from around the world will discuss the findings from Brooke’s case in the hope it will eventually lead to new treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

It is also believed it could lead to treatments which will allow us to all live longer.

Scientists have already carried out research which has showed lifespan of many animals can be dramatically extended by making minute changes in single genes.


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