Gabby Williams is twelve years old but has the skin of a newborn and only weighs 11 lbs. An ultra-rare genetic condition, for which doctors have no discernible explanation, keeps Williams from physically aging and has her parents caring for her nearly the same as the day she was born.
Williams shares her rare condition with only a handful of people around the world, including a 32-year-old man from Florida who has the body of a 11-year-old, and a 34-year-old Brazilian woman who appears no older than three. While the medical community hasn’t yet established a cause for Williams’ or the others‘ conditions, research into the genetic disorder has promising implications for overcoming the inertia of aging.
»In some people, something happens to them and the development process is retarded,« said medical researcher Richard F. Walker. »The rate of change in the body slows and is negligible.«
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
Walker has been researching Williams’ condition for the few years. He reports having spent his entire career studying the causes of aging. The patients he deals with live with other conditions such as deafness and the inability to walk, eat, or even speak. But most notably, they all age at around one-fifth the rate of a normal person.
Williams’ case is particularly noteworthy given her feature spot in the 2012 TLC documentary, “My 40-Year-Old Child.” Since the show aired, Williams’ parents told News, their daughter has stayed relatively the same. »Gabrielle hasn‘t changed since pretty much forever,« said her mother,
FINDING THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Walker attributes Williams’ lack of aging to what he calls decreased “developmental inertia.” Her body’s normal physiological changes and maturation haven’t occurred because of the genetic condition. Normally when people age, their bodies mature until age 20 or so, and then begin to erode, or succumb to developmental inertia.
»If we could identify the gene and then at young adulthood we could silence the expression of developmental inertia, find an off-switch,” said Walker, adding that “when you do that, there is perfect homeostasis and you are biologically immortal.«
In Gabby Williams’ case, her chronological age has little bearing on her outcome, although doctors cannot say with confidence how long they think she will live.