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Medicine Science

Doctors Baffled, Intrigued By Girl Who Doesn't Age 599

Posted by kdawson
from the fountain-of-youth-or-maybe-it's-a-cataract dept.
phyrebyrd writes "Brooke Greenberg is the size of an infant, with the mental capacity of a toddler. She turned 16 in January. Brooke hasn't aged in the conventional sense. 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 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. Brooke's hair and her nails are the only two things that grow, Howard said. 'She has pajamas and outfits that are 10 or 12 years old,' he said."
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Doctors Baffled, Intrigued By Girl Who Doesn't Age

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  • by cml4524 (1520403) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:34AM (#28482191)

    It just struck me reading that... it must really, REALLY suck being the first person to ever have a particular disease.

    • by BrightSpark (1578977) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:36AM (#28482245)
      Oh, grow up!
    • by vertinox (846076) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:02AM (#28482833)

      It just struck me reading that... it must really, REALLY suck being the first person to ever have a particular disease.

      What if we have it backwards?

      What if she is the first person not to have the disease we all have and that she is aging but really really slow?

      So in 100 years she will have the body of an 18 year old?!

      I mean if you think about it, old age is a disease.

      • by Fallingcow (213461) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:11AM (#28483009) Homepage

        Meh, she'd still accumulate cellular damage and die of cancer eventually. Heart disease would also still be a possibility.

        She'd probably die at 85 of pancreatic cancer or something, but look good doing it.

      • by marcello_dl (667940) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:19AM (#28483171) Homepage Journal

        Old age is a feature, not a bug. With less turn-over it would be difficult to life as a whole to adapt to changing environment. It has drawbacks as knowledge lost by the dead individual. Advanced life forms overcome that with culture.

        Earlier simpler life forms probably lacked the aging feature, and were superseded by others who had it.

        • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:34AM (#28483455) Journal
          Another way of looking at aging is that the evolutionary race is to have children, as many as possible, as quickly as possible. Animals who sacrifice their long-term prospects in favor of getting to reproductive age more quickly, are likely to be highly competitive. There are a lot of biologists who claim there isn't any reason humans can't live as long as Galapagos Tortoises (who seem to live 200 or 300 years) but our environment doesn't select for old age. Anything you do after you've had some kids is just noise, as far as evolution is concerned. (Until, as you say, you develop culture and/or spend time caring for relatives' children, which tends to propagate your genes in a more diffuse manner.)
          • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:54AM (#28483789) Journal
            One wonders (idly, not in a "hey guys! get me my social engineering rifle" kind of way) how quickly one could raise human lifespans to that level by creating an environment that does...
            • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:17PM (#28485141) Journal
              If I had a social engineering rifle, I'd be going through a lot of ammo...
              But I think we *have* created an environment that does, by building such intricate communities and engaging so heavily in health care and stuff. There are very, very, very few animals that have longer average lifespans than humans. (Sharks, tortoises, and possibly some parrots, are the only ones that come to mind, and I *believe* those are mostly because those are animals that have little predation in their natural environments, so they have less need to reproduce as quickly as possible.)
              One thing about evolution that isn't well-understood by the world at large, is that it has to work with what it currently has. Humans aren't likely to develop the ability to see electric fields any time soon, because there's no existing framework. We have trillions of generations of ancestors focussed on reproducing quickly because they lived in environments where that was favored. It's difficult to find a path that diverges from such a strong existing trend: there's very little to work with.
              Plus, there are a number of different aging mechanisms. It's a weakest-link-of-the-chain sort of situation. The mechanisms tend to all equilibrate at one general area, as a result of neutral genetic drift (if one aging mechanism tends to kill people at 90 and another at 140, the one at 140 has nothing pushing it to stay there so it can drift down to 90 without affecting anything; over time it will probably tend to do this. Repeat with a half-dozen mechanisms that seem to be indicated in aging.)

              Which is all a very long way of saying that I'm guessing we're in an ecological niche that does select for longer lifespans, and we're seeing the results of it, but our genes don't give evolution a lot of material to work with so we might not get much more than we currently have.
        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:38AM (#28483525) Journal
          Many of those "earlier simpler life forms" are still around and doing fine. Bacteria, most notably.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by naasking (94116)

          Old age is a feature, not a bug. With less turn-over it would be difficult to life as a whole to adapt to changing environment.

          Not necessarily. Older organisms and younger organisms must still compete for the same resources and prove their fitness to survive.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by bitt3n (941736)

          Old age is a feature, not a bug. With less turn-over it would be difficult to life as a whole to adapt to changing environment. It has drawbacks as knowledge lost by the dead individual. Advanced life forms overcome that with culture.

          Earlier simpler life forms probably lacked the aging feature, and were superseded by others who had it.

          The question of what causes age has been answered satisfactorily for some time. The cause is the fact that selective pressure decreases with age on account of mishaps associated with being alive. For example, after 10 years, a fly not subject to old age will have a far greater chance of being eaten by a spider than a 10-day old fly, so whatever genes allowed the former to live that long are most likely already lost.

          By contrast, your off-the-cuff theory is hard to support. What of sharks, or other organisms

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:21AM (#28483195)

        What if we have it backwards?

        What if she is the first person not to have the disease we all have and that she is aging but really really slow?

        It's like I've been saying- you kids are going _way_ too fast!

        Now, get off my lawn!

      • by sorak (246725) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:21AM (#28483203)

        It just struck me reading that... it must really, REALLY suck being the first person to ever have a particular disease.

        What if we have it backwards?

        What if she is the first person not to have the disease we all have and that she is aging but really really slow?

        So in 100 years she will have the body of an 18 year old?!

        If she currently has the intellect of a four year old, then I am not too optimistic about her ever living a normal life.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by TheEmpyrean (788742)
          She can still be a technical or political blogger or head of the Democratic party and no one would be able to tell the difference. But still true, hardly a 'normal' life.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153)

        A disease, by definition, is something abnormal. Since all living things age and die, she IS abnormal. Saying that all living things are diseased and she's the only normal one would just be silly.

        Of course, the other problem is that she probably IS aging. There's not enough info in the article, and I haven't been able to find any details online, but the story does suggest that parts of her body are aging and developing at different paces. Also, they say that there's nothing unusual about her chromosomes

        • by Egdiroh (1086111) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:58AM (#28483855)
          All living things don't age. There are lots of organisms that don't have distinct progeny, and that have in effect been alive for a long long time.
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday June 26, 2009 @04:05PM (#28487481)

        What if she is the first person not to have the disease we all have and that she is aging but really really slow?

        That is an interesting thought. There's actually some molecular evidence that aging, on a cellular level, is a result of a specific mechanism, not just a general and inevitable accumulation of damage.

        This paper [nih.gov] is... well one I haven't actually read. But I did see a seminar by the author. He suggested that accumulation of a specific protein fragment was causing aging. It was found in one of those premature aging diseases (Hutchinson-Gilford progeria specifically) with increased abundance, but they do find it accumulates as people get older, changing some cell mechanisms. The theory was that the full length protein, which has important normal functions, was cut in a specific way with low frequency, but over time the fragments build up and interfere with different processes, the effects of which seem to mimic aging.

        Of course, it's not definitive that this is how you age, and there are several other mechanisms which might be causing aging in specific ways, but the implications of the theories are interesting: it might be possible to block those pathways to stop aging.

        Unfortunately for this specific girl, I don't see anything to indicate she's not aging, I think it's probably she's just not actually growing. Growing and aging do appear independant, as progeria [wikipedia.org] patients appear to age more rapidly but don't grow rapidly. It is possible that whatever is keeping her from growing will also prevent her from aging, but I don't see any reason to expect that.

    • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:28AM (#28483353)
      I went to HS with a girl who's older brother was the first ever case of a genetic disorder.

      I can't remember their family name but it was named after her older brother, and she had it too. AFAIK, she and her brother are the only 2 documented cases of the disorder. They both had severe scoliosis, a lot of pain, some immune system disorders, and their abdomens were very short when compaired to the rest of their bodies (due to the scoliosis of the spine I assume). Having a disease named after their family was definitely not any sort of consolation either. She graduated first in her class, so it probably won't interfere with the rest of her life. She'll probably just have to explain about it to everyone she meets, and have some medical complications as she gets older and decides whether or not to have kids.
  • by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated AT ema DOT il> on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:36AM (#28482255) Journal
    She must've drank from it by mistake. This is why Moms should be attentive of their children!

    Seriously, age is a really interesting field to me, especially cognitive age. I really like how there are stages in raising a child that, if followed honestly, usually lead to children becoming very capable, healthy adults. What's even more interesting is what happens to a child should the development of any of those stages be tampered with.
  • by Blixinator (1585261) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:37AM (#28482277)
    GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon general, women should not drink from the fountain of youth during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.
  • by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:38AM (#28482293) Journal

    And it appears that, at 16, she still has the brains and skill set of an infant ... this is going to sound cruel, but without any more details, it sounds like a good argument for post-birth abortion. I mean, what's the point? At least "The Strange Case of Benjamin Button" had SOME growth of character.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by erroneus (253617)

      I was thinking the same thing but this is a bit different.

      I was actually expecting to hear someone say something like "Call me when she's 18..." While some might say that's horrible or gross or whatever, I have to say that it is some kind of irony considering the generally arbitrary rules and laws we have regarding age and eligibility.

    • Note to mods: troll does not equal "i disagree". Frankly I disagree with Tom. I think his point of view is very childish and has a large lack of empathy, or even the rudiments of human compassion. However, his point of view is not trollish.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tomhudson (43916)

        The family's situation is totally screwed up. If nothing changes, at least one of the kids is going to be stuck baby-sitting for the rest of their lives, putting their own life on hold, after the parents kick the bucket. This isn't fair to them. Worse - what if the genetic defect is 50/50, and the kids are carriers?

        This is not a blessing - it's a horror show. Imagine dying of old age and never having become self-aware ... you can imagine it because your ARE self-aware. Emily never will be. That's the

  • Wow...great stuff (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scuba_steve_1 (849912) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:40AM (#28482349)
    Wow...that is absolutely amazing...and she is so fortunate to have a family that sees the situation so positively...and who supports related research by the scientific community to see if there is a potential broader benefit here. Frankly, it must be tough for them at times, but I am sure that my wife would *love* it if our little girl never grew up. Thank goodness her sisters are supportive, because they will most likely need to take care of her in the future after her parents advance in age. Great stuff.
  • Reaching adulthood and then preserving the body of a 20-year-old forever is one thing. This is quite something else.

    It is not so much failure to age, as failure to grow/mature. It remains to be seen whether her abnormality will grant longer life span in practice.

    • Mod parent up (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Aging is the result of accumulated bio-chemical damage and degeneration. While failure to grow does have some beneficial effect from on biological aging--e.g. both calorie restriction and growth-hormone deficiency appear to enhance lifespan, at least in mice--it is quite likely that this girl's condition was simply misreported.

  • Similar story (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:54AM (#28482657) Homepage Journal

    Years ago I read about this girl who was 19 and had never entered puberty (she had developed normally otherwise). Turns out there was a tumor blocking her pituitary gland. I'm sure they've done hundreds of tests so it can't be something like that but I was just reminded of that story.

  • by RobVB (1566105) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:00AM (#28482805)
    High school girls stay the same age as well. Giggity giggity.
  • Doctors recommended growth hormone therapy early in Brooke's life, but the treatment produced no results.

    Howard Greenberg recalled the follow-up visit to the endocrinologist. "We took her back in six months, and the doctor looked at us and said, 'Why didn't you give Brooke the growth hormones?' And I said, 'We gave Brooke the growth hormones. We gave her everything you told us to do.' And Brooke didn't put on a pound, an ounce; she didn't grow an inch."

    not that i know a damn thing about endocrinology, but i would speculate that this failed therapy suggest that, as we all have receptors for various hormones, her body has no such receptors for HGH. if someone is born genetically male, but has no male secondary characteristics, then either:
    1. his body produces no testosterone,
    2. his body produces testosterone, but his body doesn't react to it

    i would say that this girl, uh, young woman, has an incredibly rare, unique mutation: insensitivity to human growth hormone. it would explain all of her symptoms

  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by LizardKing (5245) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:14AM (#28483043)

    She has pajamas and outfits that are 10 or 12 years old,' he said.

    That's nothing, I work in an office with some programmers who haven't changed their outfits in over twenty years.

  • HGH Receptors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpottedKuh (855161) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:15AM (#28483071)

    Doctors recommended growth hormone therapy early in Brooke's life, but the treatment produced no results. Howard Greenberg recalled the follow-up visit to the endocrinologist. "We took her back in six months, and the doctor looked at us and said, 'Why didn't you give Brooke the growth hormones?' And I said, 'We gave Brooke the growth hormones. We gave her everything you told us to do.' And Brooke didn't put on a pound, an ounce; she didn't grow an inch."

    So clearly an HGH deficiency isn't the (only) issue, it's that her HGH receptors don't respond to the hormone. But, to the best of my knowledge, that wouldn't account for a lack of mental development. This sounds like a combination of many factors coming together.

    I'll have to take a look to see if there's anything written from a medical perspective (e.g., a journal paper) on this case. It could be interesting to hear what the doctors have to say, as opposed to what ABC News reports the poor mother has to say (projecting her wishes onto her daughter: thinking she's a rebellious teenager when really she's just an infant).

  • Another case (Score:5, Interesting)

    by polymeris (902231) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:28AM (#28483343)
    There is this girl/woman in Brazil, Maria Aldenete, who has similar syntoms. I couldn't find any info in English on her... She's 30 years old or so.
  • Relativity (Score:5, Funny)

    by trevdak (797540) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:29AM (#28483375) Homepage
    Has anyone considered that she might just be moving very close to the speed of light?
  • by Yert (25874) <.mmgarland3. .at. .gmail.com.> on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:39AM (#28483541)

    I have an aunt who was in her third trimester when she was in a car accident, and Dolly was born soon after with no apparent damage... except she never grew up. Dolly passed away a few years ago, at the age of 33, and weighed about 80 pounds - she did grow "up", but much slower than normal - she was 20 before she weighed 40 pounds, and never spoke a single intelligible word. She never matured mentally beyond around 6 months, and was always in a crib at all the family gatherings. Thankfully, I never had to change her diaper.

    There are some differences, as Dolly did seem to physically mature, just very slowly - but the doctors didn't seem to think it was that phenomenal, just brain damage from the accident. She did have the same odd development that Megan's eyes have - the wandering eye, so to speak. (As opposed to my wandering eye, which is entirely a different sort of affliction.) :)

  • perhaps a large conglomerate could claim intellectual property on this mutation, and mass produce cute little baby pets that never grow up and become surly teenagers. perhaps you could even clone yourself, and have a little pet baby you to waddle around in diapers and make cute cooing noises. when the novelty wears off and they become a hassle, just leave them by the side of the road, like people always do with golden retriever puppies at the end of the summer and such*

    *this post brought to you in an attempt to offend every shred of ethics you have

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:18PM (#28484155) Journal

    In a couple of years, when she turns 18, would nudes of her be child porn? Eh?

    (listens for the sounds of heads exploding)

  • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:32PM (#28484389)

    Damn, she's going to be at a tremendous disadvantage come the Gathering.

  • by Mr. Picklesworth (931427) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:38PM (#28484479) Homepage

    Perhaps this type of illness will provide a concrete enough example that governments should stop regulating personal privileges based on the clock age of a person.

  • by hesiod (111176) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:13PM (#28485071)

    ...he's looking for a little recognition. Seriously, has no one ever read, watched, or heard of Der Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)?

    It's about a little boy who decides not to grow up and his body doesn't age. IT WON THE FREAKING NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE!!!

    Geez, you people.

  • Peter Pan (Score:3, Funny)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:59PM (#28485795)
    A child who never grows up. Haven't we had enough stories about Michael Jackson?

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