Aging Backward... Real life Benjamin Button?


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            As many of you may have seen, two men in Great Britain are starting to make international headlines. Brothers Matthew and Michael Clark were diagnosed with leukodystrophy, which is a disorder in which one of the symptoms include "aging backward". What that means in reality is that in Matthew (39) and Michael's (42) case, they are grown men acting as if they are infants. They previously held jobs and were normal functioning people, but slowly declined and now live with their elderly parents. As their mother says, "I was up with them 7 different times last night." They think like toddlers, eat like toddlers, and are infatuated by cartoons and trains. Yet, they are grown men slowly losing control of their motor skills, and their social skills almost completely gone. According to Dr. Kitner (President of the United Leukodystrophy Foundation), people stricken by the disease have an imperfect development of myelin sheath in their brain. The myelin then affects (negatively) the white matter in the brain, which is key to development as a whole. Why exactly this extremely rare genetic disorder leads to grown adults suddenly acting like children is not yet clear. Dr. Kitner also mentions the sadness of the disease in that it is in fact ternminal, and people like Matthew and Michael will never be able to live a full, happy life. In this sense, scientists have drawn correlation to MS (Multiple Sclerosis). However, the difference is that people stricken with MS have an immune deficiency in which their own immune system attacks the myelin. According to the ULF (United Leukodystrophy Foundation) there are over 40 types of the disease, though the most severe cases include the aging backward. As of now, there is little information available, and no cure in sight. The ULF is one of the only teams working for a solution, sadly its lack of knowledge is a testament to its obscurity. 

aging backward pic.jpg

With a topic like this, I have a couple questions. If the disease is genetic and the malfunction takes place in the brain, why does it take about 40 years to "kick-in"? Also, at what point do people with leukodystrophy realize that something might be wrong with them, or are they completely naïve to what is going on? Lastly, the disease is said to be terminal, so what exactly does that mean in this sense? How far backwards will Michael and Matthew really age? 

4 Comments

After reading your article I got to wonder if Michael and Matthew recognized these changing in their life. Did it happen gradually thus they did not even know? For example, for some of Alzheimer patients, they retrieve those memories back in short time. Progeria is a syndrome that occurs in early ages where an infant ages rapidly. They live about til their mid teenage. No treatment have been found for Progeria too. I want to know what kind of factors end up resulting these rare syndromes?
(sources:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progeria)

I've never heard about this disease. It's fascinating. Knowing that humans can regress at an earlier stage in life back to a mentality of a toddler strikes me as unbelievable. Do you know how common Leukodystrophy is? Suspecting that this story you mention has just come out and has caused a lot of commotion, I'm assuming it's not at all common. Looking more into the actual disease there are different forms of it; some occurring less often and other occurring as often as 1 in every 8000. According to this website it's uncommon but not that uncommon considering that 1 in every 40,000 to 160,000 has this disease. Is it because both brothers were able to be born with this disease. A good question to ponder is also if it can be detected at an earlier stage in life and if it could be prevented.

I think it is astonishing that there is actually a disease that causes reverse aging. I thought Benjamin Button was a pretty far fetched movie, and I am shocked to learn about Matthew and Michael. Though they aren't showing the physical signs of backward aging, is is still crazy that their minds are growing in reverse. I read an article about the two brothers on Yahoo, and I thought on of the interesting things is said was about their "rare lucid moments, struggling to understand why their lives have changed so dramatically." I think it is crazy how their minds have grown so far backwards that they can't even understand what has happened to them. I always pictured reverse aging as a physical process, but I never really thought about what it would be like to grow older in appearance while at the same time growing backward in mental capacity.

Source: http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/real-benjamin-buttons-brothers-matthew-michael-clark-aging-193400085.html

I think when they say that it is terminal, that can mean a couple of different things. One can be that it is terminal because the men are so mentally unaware, they are unable to care for themselves at all. Obviously, as time progresses, their condition will get worse and worse. By the time these men are of old age, they will probably not be able to go to the bathroom on their own or maybe even walk. The fact that it is classified as a terminal illness could be classified to the fact that it will leave these men more prone to accidents that would take their life.

The disease could also be considered terminal because of the toll it takes on the brain's myelin sheath. A breakdown or degeneration of the myelin sheath, like you said, can lead to things like MS. The Myelin Repair Foundation is one such organization that seeks to help fund scientists experimenting with this new method of treating MS. I'm not sure if this similar type of treatment would be effective in dealing with the disease described in your post.

http://www.myelinrepair.org/about/

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