Scientists are fascinated by Brooke’s case. Although there are other children who fail to grow or develop in some way, Brooke's case may be unique.Brooke hasn't aged in the conventional sense -- her 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.
While there have been cases before of children developing slowly, Brooke’s situation is unique in that her body appears to be barely aging at all, and the parts that are do so at different rates. While she weighs just 16 pounds and still has baby teeth at the age of 16, her bone age is that of a 10-year-old and her brain age has not changed much since she was a toddler.
Also remarkable is Brooke’s uncanny ability to suddenly recover completely from life-threatening illnesses including a brain seizure, a stroke, and a brain tumor, with no damage left behind whatsoever.
It seems Brooke may indeed hold the key to “eternal youth,” but so far her physicians, who have studied samples of Brooke’s cells and DNA, have found no known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality. They are now looking for a genetic mutation that has never been seen before, in hopes they could isolate it and gather clues into what makes us age … or not age.
One of Brooke’s physicians, Dr. Richard Walker of the University of South Florida College of Medicine told ABC News:
"Without being sensational, I'd say this is an opportunity for us to answer the question, why we're mortal, or at least to test it. And if we're wrong, we can discard it. But if we're right, we've got the golden ring."
If Walker can identify the gene or set of genes, he plans to study them to determine whether they can be switched on and off, and essentially control the rate at which we age.
Exciting Developments in the World of Anti-Aging Research
Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, who is one of the leading anti-aging researchers in the world, believes it is typically neglect, not intentional malice, that results in your life ending prematurely.
If this sounds intriguing to you, you might want to set aside 30 minutes to watch this video interview with de Grey, as he shares his fascinating insights into what the world’s top scientists and anti-aging pioneers are thinking on this subject.
As radical as it sounds, Dr. de Grey believes immortality can be achievable, or at the very least he believes humans could live for several centuries, if only the aging process was approached as an “engineering problem.”
According to de Grey, the following seven causes are responsible for physical aging, and are the basis of his “engineering approach” solutions:
- Cell loss
- Death-resistant cells (that overstay their welcome)
- Nuclear DNA mutations
- Mitochondrial DNA mutations
- Intracellular junk
- Extracellular junk
- Extracellular crosslinks (which link together molecules that should be kept separated)
Essentially, de Grey’s hypothesis states that if you can keep these seven deadly cell-damaging processes below the threshold of pathology -- the state where processes start to break cells down until your body dies from the cumulative damage -- you will be able to extend your life, perhaps indefinitely.
Are Adult Stem Cells the “Fountain of Youth”?
Adult stem cells (as opposed to embryonic stem cells, which are at the heart of the stem cell controversy) are emerging as another exciting part of the future of medicine, especially anti-aging medicine.
As you age, your stem cells diminish in quality and quantity, so just when you require strong stem cells the most, you’re becoming deficient. Hence your organs and tissues eventually wear out and need to be restored or replaced.
What makes stem cells so special is their potential to develop into many different cell types. When a stem cell divides, it either becomes another type of cell, such as a muscle cell or brain cell, or it remains a stem cell. Further, these cells act as an internal repair system in many types of tissues, dividing a seemingly infinite number of times to replenish other cells.
Considering that every year 50,000 people die waiting for organ transplants, and every day 100,000 die from aging-related diseases and conditions, it would be nothing short of miraculous if we could replace virtually every organ in patients’ bodies with young pristine organs as they age.
Recently, steps toward achieving this goal have advanced greatly. For instance:
- An advanced tuberculosis patient successfully received a trachea transplant, using her own stem cells.
- Researchers from four European universities took a trachea from a deceased donor, removed its cells, leaving the extracellular structure, and re-seeded it with stem cells from her bone marrow and elsewhere.
- Scientists have brought a dead rat’s heart back to life by rebuilding it from a matrix, or a bare framework of tissue filled with young rat stem cells. They stripped the dead heart of its cells and used the remaining frame as the foundation for the new heart.
This is headed in the direction of providing a new source of "reconditioned" organs for transplant operations. After a week of being cultured in the laboratory, the cells started to beat in rhythm, and a few days later, the reconditioned heart actually began to pump blood.
In addition to eventually helping restore internal organs, immune systems and more, adult stem cell therapies hold the promise of restoring old skin.
How Long Can Humans Ultimately Live?
From a strictly biological standpoint, the maximum lifespan of human beings seems to be set at around 120 years. However, I do believe it might be possible to extend your lifespan beyond this with regenerative technologies like those that Dr. de Grey discusses, along with emerging adult stem cell therapies.