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Medical mystery in Alberta could hold key to aging process: Maclean's

Could the fountain of youth be buried in our DNA?

A five-year-old Alberta girl is trapped in the body of an infant, and scientists think she may hold the key to the secrets of aging.

Mackenzee Wittke, 5, weighs 16 pounds and measures just under 30 inches. Doctors and specialists say that, physically and cognitively, she’s the age of a six-month-old baby.

Kate Lunau, the associate editor of Maclean’s Magazine, spent some time with the family and said the case is extremely rare.

“She wears baby onesies, she travels in a stroller [and] she still sits in an infant car seat,” Lunau said.

“What’s really mysterious here is that all the genetic and chromosomal tests that her doctors have done have come back normal, so no one can really say what is causing her condition.”

Wittke’s medical mystery caught the attention of aging specialist Dr. Richard Walker.

“We don’t really have a good understanding of why it is exactly that we grow older and what processes are sort of driving that, so [Dr. Walker] heard about Mackenzee’s case and he started to wonder if maybe there’s a genetic program inside of us that drives aging, and maybe in this little girl it happens to be broken,” Lunau said.

Wittke is now involved in a study with six other girls all suffering from a similar condition. Dr. Walker is sequencing their genomes and could have some results as early as next month.

“We’re on a path where we will absolutely gain control over aging,” he said, adding that “we could create a biological immortal.”

If he does figure it out, Dr. Walker could possibly pin-point the long-hypothesized aging switch, and then even figure out how to turn it on and off.

The latest edition of the magazine, featuring the cover story, hits newsstands on Thursday. You can also read the digital edition on tablet or iPhone.