Gabby Williams is 8-year-old, but looks the same as she did she when she was born, she hasn’t aged. Doctors say it could reveal biological immortality.
And it’s not only her looks that are those of an infant, her needs are also affected, she still wears diapers and her mother has to change her, feed her, and cradle her.
Gabby, from Billings, Montana weighs only 11 pounds and shares a rare condition with only a handful of people around the world.
For the last two years a doctor has been trying to find the genetic answer to the aging process and has been studying Gabby and two other patients who suffer from the same condition.
A 29-year-old man in Florida has the body of a 10-year-old and a 31-year-old Brazilian woman is the size of a 2-year-old. Both don’t seem to age.
The TLC special 40-Year-Old Child: A New Case, which airs Monday, August 19, at 10 p.m. ET highlights the unusual cases and is a follow up to the 8-year-old’s story which was featured in a special last year.
Medical researcher, Richard F. Walker says, “In some people, something happens to them and the development process is retarded. The rate of change in the body slows and is negligible.”
Walker, who is retired from University of Florida Medical school, has spent his whole career studying the aging process and now works at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
He told ABCNews.com his focus is not the consequences, but what causes it. The people who suffer from “biological immortality” grow at a rate of one-fifth the speed normal people do and have a series of other problems, including deafness, inability to walk, eat or in some cases speak.
Mary Margaret Williams, 38, Gabby’s mom, says her daughter has changed very little since being born, she has gotten a little longer and now wears 3-6 month-old clothes.
The last time she weighed 11 pounds, one pound more than the previous doctor check-up and she’s gotten a few more haircuts, other than that she hasn’t changed much since the 2012 show.
Walker explains that physiological change or as he calls it “developmental inertia” is essential for human growth,
“Without that process we never develop. When we develop, all the pieces of our body come together and change and are coordinated. Otherwise, there would be chaos.”
But he adds, the body does not have an “off switch” for this development, as in the case of the biologically immortal 8-year-old.
According to Walker, we mature at age 20 and then continue to change. The first signs of aging come at 30 and start showing at 40.
In one of the girls Walker studied, he found damage to one of the genes that causes developmental inertia, which is significant. He also suspects the mutations are on the regulatory genes on the second female X chromosome.
“If we could identify the gene and then at young adulthood we could silence the expression of developmental inertia, find an off-switch, when you do that, there is perfect homeostasis and you are biologically immortal.”
With this statement, Walker doesn’t mean that people would never die, there are still accidents and disease, but he argues humans wouldn’t have the later years, people would remain physically active and able.
This is why he believes his study of the 8-year-old’s genetic make-up is important. “She fits the model model.” Walkers says.
Gabby’s mom wanted to know if any future children would have the chance of being born with the same condition, but Walker’s findings suggest is not a genetic problem, but a mutation, a fluke, a one-in-a-million chance. It is a relief, Williams, who has five other children, says.
At first, Williams didn’t want to become a guinea pig for Dr. Walker’s genetics studies because of her religion, but as they learned more about his work they realized his focus is on how to improve the aging process and find cures for devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
As for her biologically immortal child’s life expectancy, there is no certainty. At 8-years-old, she has already passed expectations and the family leaves her future in the hands of God.
[Image via TLC]