Brooke Greenberg mystified the medical profession for most of her 20 years of life. She died late last month. Now, scientists are hoping that ongoing study of her genes will reveal some secrets that might someday help slow or stop the aging process.

What made Brooke unique is that while she lived 20 years, she stopped developing physically and mentally at about the age of 4. She looked and behaved like a toddler her entire life.

Her condition was so rare that doctors came to call it simply Syndrome X. In addition to her non-aging state, she suffered from other chronic conditions such as seizures and long-lasting pneumonia. At one point she suffered a stroke, but reportedly suffered no long-term effects from it.

As readers may well know, physical and mental development issues are among those disabilities often covered by Social Security disability insurance, but it’s not known if any such benefits were ever sought for Brooke.

Brooke had not been expected to live past the age of 5, her father told the Baltimore Sun. But she continually beat the odds. He said that was part of her miraculous existence.

Doctors have already been working for years to decrypt the secrets encoded in Brooke’s genes. They started when she was 3 and she displayed the first signs of the various disabling conditions she endured. At first the goal was treatment, but eventually attention switched to the question of whether her genes might hold the key to countering aging.

That’s the goal that researchers continue to pursue using existing tissue samples from the woman. They say results of their work might lead to longer lives, and perhaps ease the challenge posed by brain damage caused by disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Source: HealthLand.Time.com, “What We Can Learn From the Girl Who Never Grew Up,” Alexandra Sifferlin, Oct. 30, 2013