An 8-year-old girl from Billings, Mont., has the face and skin of a newborn baby due to a mysterious condition that causes her to age at a nearly imperceptible rate.
Gabby Williams, 8, is one of a small group of people throughout the world who possess a condition that seems to slow the aging process, ABC News reports. Williams retains the facial features and skin of a newborn baby, and has to be fed and placed in diapers on a daily basis.
“Gabrielle hasn’t changed since pretty much forever,” her mother, Mary Margret Williams, told ABC News. “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.”
Williams’ slow rate of aging is not without precedent. According to a new TLC television special entitled “40-Year-Old Child: A New Case,” a 31-year-old woman in Brazil has the body of a 2-year-old, while a 29-year-old man in Florida appears to be a 10-year-old. The special, which airs on Monday, Aug. 19, at 10 p.m. EDT, will attempt to identify the link between Williams and the two other cases of those who never age.
Richard F. Walker, a doctor, has spent the last two years attempting to isolate the “genetic off-switch” that prevents Williams and the others from aging, ABC News reports. Doctors believe that understanding their conditions could result in a medical understanding of how to stop the aging process and achieve “biological immortality.”
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In an interview with ABC News, Walker explained that human development comes about as a result of a process called “developmental inertia,” which affects physiological change as a person ages. “Without that process we never develop,” he told ABC News. “When we develop, all the pieces of our body come together and change and are coordinated. Otherwise, there would be chaos.”
According to Walker, the human body does not normally have a “stop switch” for the aging process. However, one of the girls that Walker has studied presented damage to the gene that causes “developmental inertia,” which Walker believes to be significant. In addition, he believes that such mutations occur on the regulatory genes of 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,” Walker told ABC News. This “biological immortality” would not keep a person alive forever, but it would counteract the normal effects of aging. “You wouldn’t have the later years—you’d remain physically and functionally able.”
Walker believes that the fact that Williams never ages could hold the key to this biological immortality. “She fits the model,” Walker told ABC News.
Despite the implications of Walker’s work, the Williams family was slow to participate. “There was some concern,” Mary Margret Williams told ABC News. “We are good Catholics, God-fearing people and we believe we are meant to get old—the process of life—and meant to die.”
However, Walker eventually managed to convince the Williams family that his work could benefit people suffering from the debilitations of old age—such as Alzheimer’s disease. “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.”
To learn more about Gabby Williams, the 8-year-old girl that never ages, and Dr. Walker’s research, tune into TLC’s special “40-Year-Old Child: A New Case.” It airs on Monday, Aug. 19, at 10 p.m. EDT.