Scientists are hoping to gain new insights into the mysteries of ageing by sequencing the genome of a 17-year-old girl who has the body and behaviour of a tiny toddler.

Brooke Greenberg is old enough to drive a car and next year will be old enough to vote — but at 16lb in weight and just 30in tall, she is still the size of a one-year-old.

Brooke Greenberg, aged 16, with sister Carly who was then 13

Brooke, who lives with her parents Howard and Melanie Greenberg and her three sisters in Reisterstown, a Baltimore suburb, is frozen in time. She looks and acts as if she were a small toddler — for 17 years her family has changed her nappies, rocked her to sleep and given her cuddles.

Brooke has shown some development, including crawling, smiling and giggling when tickled but she has never learnt to speak and still has her infant teeth.

But she has also suffered a succession of life-threatening health problems, including strokes, seizures, ulcers and breathing difficulties — almost as if she were growing old despite not growing up.

Until recently she had been regarded as a medical oddity but a preliminary study of her DNA has suggested her failure to grow could be linked to defects in the genes that make the rest of humanity grow old.

If confirmed, the research could give scientists a fresh understanding of ageing and even suggest new therapies for diseases linked to old age.

“We think that Brooke’s condition presents us with a unique opportunity to understand the process of ageing,” said Richard Walker, a professor at the University of South Florida School of Medicine, who is leading the research team.

“We think that she has a mutation in the genes that control her ageing and development so that she appears to have been frozen in time.

“If we can compare her genome to the normal version then we might be able to find those genes and see exactly what they do and how to control them.”

“Our hypothesis is that she is suffering from damage in the gene or genes that co-ordinate the way the body develops and ages,” he said.

“If we can use her DNA to find that mutant gene then we can test it in laboratory animals to see if we can switch if off and slow down the ageing process at will.

“Just possibly it could give us an opportunity to answer the question of why we are mortal.”

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