brooke greenberg
The Greenberg Family
Brooke, 16, and younger sister Carly, 13.

Unique Case of Teenage Toddler Leaves Doctors Puzzled

June 26, 2009 07:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Some curious cases of medical and scientific anomalies challenge our understanding of aging and the unrelenting passage of time, revisiting the centuries-long dream of extending natural life.

Brooke Greenberg’s ‘fountain of youth’

ABC News recently reported on the strange case of Brooke Greenberg, a young girl who “hasn’t aged in the conventional sense”: At age 16, Brooke is still “the size of an infant, with the mental capacity of a toddler.” Scientists and doctors worldwide are baffled by this rare example of seemingly everlasting youth.

According to Lawrence Pakula, Brooke’s doctor and a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Brooke’s case is unlike any previous documented cases of children who fail to grow or develop. Multiple studies have not been able to reveal any “genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality” that would provide an explanation for Brooke’s condition.

Dr. Richard Walker of the University of South Florida College of Medicine explained that Brooke’s body is not developing as a synchronized unit, but rather as a collection of individual parts. “Various parts of her body, rather than all being at the same stage, seem to be disconnected,” he told ABC News.

Although Dr. Walker asserts that the changes in Brooke’s brain have been minimal, her family notes that sometimes Brooke “rebels” like the teenager she biologically is, trapped in the body of a toddler.

Related Topic: For jellyfish and roundworms, age isn’t a problem

Another unique biological anomaly, the Turritopsis nutricula or “immortal jellyfish,” has the ability to reverse the aging process, scientists say. The Turritopsis nutricula can revert to its sexually immature juvenile polyp state after the adult mating process during times of stress, such as when food is scarce; this cycle can repeat indefinitely, making the jellyfish potentially immortal. Marine biologists and geneticists explain that the age reversal is achieved through a cell development process called transdifferentiation, during which cells change from one type into another, a process that usually occurs only during organ regeneration, but seems to be a normal part of the Turritopsis life cycle.

In 2007, scientists researching roundworms discovered an insulin-controlling gene that extends life in response to a restricted diet, opening a path to the development of human longevity drugs. Creatures such as mice, dogs and roundworms can live up to 40 percent longer on diets that border on starvation. By manipulating a gene that controls insulin pathways in roundworms, scientists hope to eventually create a human drug that provides the life-extending benefits of a calorie-restriction diet without the pain of living on the edge of starvation.

Related Topic: Will You Live to 100?

In addition to genes and good luck, lifestyle choices help to predict the lifespan of a person. Find out how relaxing, eating healthy and staying active could help you extend your life.

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