There are certain people who never seem to age. The key to immortality may lie with these people. They keep their youthful and supple skin, they look years or decades in some cases younger than they are, and sometimes…they even barely grow.
One of these famous cases is Gabby Williams, who has the face and facial features of an infant. For Gabby, there are some drawbacks, as you might imagine — this girl from Billings, Montana, is 8 years old, but she only weighs 11 pounds, and her mother still has to feed and diaper her.
She and a handful of others around the world share a strange condition that acts to slow their rate of aging.
What is the key to immortality that slows the aging of people like Gabby?
Richard F. Walker is a retired medical researcher from the University of Florida Medical School. He now does his research at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Walker has been doing research for the past two years on Gabby and two other people. He has been attempting to locate the genetic off-switch he believes exists which has seemingly stopped the aging process of Gabby and the other people he’s been studying who have the same condition.
The two others Walker has been studying are both older in years, but they, like her, have both seemed to have had their genetic aging switch turned off. One of them is a 29-year-old Florida man who has the body of a 10-year-old, and the other is a 31-year-old Brazilian woman who is the size of a 2-year-old.
Gabby’s story and those of the two others has been made into a TV special on the TLC channel. It’s called: “40-Year-Old Child: A New Case,” and it will air on Monday, August 19, at 10:00 p.m. ET. Besides presenting new material, it is a follow-up on a special that aired last year on Gabby.
According to Walker:
In some people, something happens to them and the development process is retarded,” said. “The rate of change in the body slows and is negligible.”
He has also told ABC News that his “whole career has been focused on the aging process.”
The growth rate of the three individuals he’s been studying is one-fifth the speed of others. They do often have, unfortunately, a host of other medical problems, like deafness, and the inability to walk, eat, or speak.
That might be the fly in the ointment. Immortality might not be worth the cost, unless it can be achieved without having to experience some of the side-effects these three have endured.
Gabby’s mother recently expressed (on ABC News) excitement that her daughter had a small growth spurt, of sorts:
Gabrielle hasn’t changed since pretty much forever. She has gotten a little longer and we have jumped into putting her in size 3-6 month clothes instead of 0-3 months for the footies.
“Last time we weighed her she was up a pound to 11 pounds and she’s gotten a few more haircuts. Other than that, she hasn’t changed much since the  show.”
According to Walker, physiological change –which he calls “developmental intertia” — is necessary for human growth. He believes that htere is a gene in our DNA which is responsible for this developmental inertia.
At some points as we age, for instance, during our 30s and 40s, Walker says that “There is a progressive erosion of internal order as a result of developmental inertia.”
In other words, our bodies begin to break down with the progressing years, our eyesight and hearing may get worse, and our hair a bit grayer. Our immune systems may become more susceptible to certain diseases.
Walker may have found the key to immortality. He has investigated and examined the particular genes in the people he’s studied and in one of the girls he discovered significant damage to one of the genes that is responsible for developmental inertia. That damage is perhaps why the girl has appeared to never age.
Walker thinks that the damage or mutations might be on the regulatory genes on the second female X chromosome. As he told ABC News:
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.”
Even if this off-switch is found and scientists figure out a way to halt our aging process, of course we still wouldn’t be invincible. We could be killed by accidents and diseases, or by animals like sharks.
Still, it could be that Richard Walker has discovered the key to immortality, and that it lies within the three people he’s studied who seem to never age.
Written by: Douglas Cobb