Most kids with growth disorders respond to treatments with hormones and other drugs, Pakula said, but those haven't worked for Brooke. That and other details in her medical history suggest that genetic mutations are behind her condition. Walker is now looking for the mutations that have interrupted Brooke's development in such uneven ways.
Finding the source of damage, he hopes, might lead researchers to the master genes that control development. By controlling those genes in early adulthood, instead of in infancy like Brooke, scientists might then be able to preserve a 25-year-old's vitality in people long past retirement age.
"If I am right, we would cease to experience biological aging," Walker said. "We could still die. We just wouldn't get old. The diseases of aging would be avoided. Life span could be extended perhaps more than thousands of years."
"I know this sounds bizarre," he added. "This is science-fictional, but in fact, it's real."
Scientists are indeed making exciting advances in aging research, with insights into calorie restriction, free radicals and other factors, said Jerry Shay, a cell biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. But he's not convinced that Brooke's case holds to he key that will unlock all the secrets of old age.