The Learning Channel’s ’40-Year-Old Child: A New Case’ special will look into what Gabby Williams, the 8-year-old with the body of an infant, and others with mysterious conditions that drastically slow their aging process have in common.
BY VICTORIA TAYLOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Friday, August 16, 2013, 5:39 PM
Gabby Williams may not look it, but she is 8-years-old. She has a mysterious condition that has caused her to virtually stop aging.
Eight-year-old Gabby Williams weighs only 11 pounds. The tiny girl from Billings, Mont., still looks like an infant and needs to be cared for as if she is a newborn, with her mother and father changing her diapers and feeding her multiple times a day.
Her mother, Mary Margret Williams, told ABCNews.com that Gabby hasn’t changed much over the years. In fact, her skin still feels like a baby’s and her hair is still fine-textured.
“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,” she said.
Gabby is one of only a few people with a baffling condition that seems to prevent them from aging. It’s so rare that scientists have yet to coin an official name for it.
TLC shared Gabby’s story back in 2011 in a special called “My 40-Year-Old Child.” The hour-long documentary also profiled 40-year-old Nicky Freeman, an Australian man with the appearance of a 10-year-old.
Scientists have since discovered two more people with similar cases of the mysterious syndrome: a 29-year-old Florida man with the appearance of a 10-year-old, and a 31-year-old Brazilian woman who still looks like a toddler.
The show chronicles medical researcher Richard Walker’s search for clues as to why these individuals don’t age and what they have in common.
Perhaps these amazing people even hold the secret to eternal youth. Walker explained that “developmental inertia,” or physiological change, is vital for human growth.
“Without that process we never develop,” he told ABCNews.com. “When we develop, all the pieces of our body come together and change and are coordinated. Otherwise, there would be chaos.”
However, the body continues to change once it reaches maturity, and there is no way to stop the process. Walker said he believes he found one of the genes responsible for developmental inertia. He also said the mutations are on the regulatory genes on the second female X chromosome.Gabby’s condition is so rare that scientists haven’t given it a name. However, they have discovered a handful of similar cases around the globe.
Gabby’s condition is so rare that scientists haven’t given it a name. However, they have discovered a handful of similar cases around the globe.
“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,” Walker said.
By “biologically immortal” he means people would still die from disease and in accidents, but they wouldn’t experience the normal effects of aging.
“You wouldn’t have the later years,” Walker said, “you’d remain physically and functionally able.”
That this is why his study of Gabby’s genetic code is important, Walker told ABCNews.com. Gabby’s parents admitted they were concerned at first that Walker was using their child to find the fountain of youth for vanity purposes, but he explained the research focused on helping people who struggle with the hardships that come with old age.
“Alzheimer’s is one of the scariest diseases out there,” Gabby’s mom Mary Margret said. “If what Gabrielle holds inside of her would find a cure — for sure we would be a part of the research project. We have faith that Dr. Walker and the scientific community do find something focused more on the disease of aging, rather than making you 35 for the rest of your life.”