Brooke hasn't aged in the conventional sense. Dr. Richard Walker of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, in Tampa, says Brooke's body is not developing as a coordinated unit, but as independent parts that are out of sync. She has never been diagnosed with any known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality that would help explain why.
In a recent paper for the journal "Mechanisms of Ageing and Development," Walker and his co-authors, who include Pakula and All Children's Hospital (St. Petersburg, Fla.) geneticist Maxine Sutcliffe chronicled a baffling range of inconsistencies in Brooke's aging process. She still has baby teeth at 16, for instance. And her bone age is estimated to be more like 10 years old.
"There've been very minimal changes in Brooke's brain," Walker said. "Various parts of her body, rather than all being at the same stage, seem to be disconnected."
Kinda messes with our perception of the passage of time, as far as what one may think would be the sort of irreversible impact this passage would have on the body. Brooke's seemingly unaffected...
In her first six years, Brooke went through a series of medical emergencies from which she recovered, often without explanation. She survived surgery for seven perforated stomach ulcers. She suffered a brain seizure followed by what was diagnosed as a stroke that weeks later left no apparent damage.
At 4, she fell into a lethargy that caused her to sleep for 14 days. Then, doctors diagnosed a brain tumor, and the Greenbergs bought a casket for her.
"We were preparing for our child to die," Howard Greenberg said. "We were saying goodbye. And, then, we got a call that there was some change; that Brooke had opened her eyes and she was fine. There was no tumor. She overcomes every obstacle that is thrown her way."
...The visual evidence of that unpredictable future is always there in the family pictures -- photographs in which everyone but Brooke is aging.
In the long term, the idea that the aging process might somehow be manipulated raises serious questions about what human beings might do with that knowledge.
"Clearly, that's the science fiction aspect of it," said Walker, describing the social and ethical dilemmas that would arise. "We can't have continued reproduction and people who don't age."
One possible reason to slow the aging process, Walker suggested, would be to allow astronauts to travel in space for long periods of time. "But right now, it's only conjecture," he said.