Friday, July 18, 2014

Ageing: The girls who never grow older

(Getty Images) 

A handful of girls seem to defy one of the biggest certainties in life: ageing. Virginia Hughes reports on the families wrestling with a condition they can’t explain, and the scientist who believes that these children could hold the key to immortality. 

Richard Walker has been trying to conquer ageing since he was a 26-year-old free-loving hippie. It was the 1960s, an era marked by youth: Vietnam War protests, psychedelic drugs, sexual revolutions. The young Walker relished the culture of exultation, of joie de vivre, and yet was also acutely aware of its passing. He was haunted by the knowledge that ageing would eventually steal away his vitality – that with each passing day his body was slightly less robust, slightly more decayed. One evening he went for a drive in his convertible and vowed that by his 40th birthday, he would find a cure for ageing.

Walker became a scientist to understand why he was mortal. “Certainly it wasn’t due to original sin and punishment by God, as I was taught by nuns in catechism,” he says. “No, it was the result of a biological process, and therefore is controlled by a mechanism that we can understand.”

Scientists have published several hundred theories of ageing, and have tied it to a wide variety of biological processes. But no one yet understands how to integrate all of this disparate information.

Walker, now 74, believes that the key to ending ageing may lie in a rare disease that doesn’t even have a real name, “Syndrome X”. He has identified four girls with this condition, marked by what seems to be a permanent state of infancy, a dramatic developmental arrest. He suspects that the disease is caused by a glitch somewhere in the girls’ DNA. His quest for immortality depends on finding it.

For the rest of the story: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140520-the-girls-who-never-age

No comments:

Post a Comment