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Woman's rare genetic disorder could hold the key to weight loss

"Skinny gene" found?
"Skinny gene" found? 03:41

AUSTIN, Texas -- Abby Solomon’s purse looks like a traveling pantry, full of sugary snacks.

“My life basically revolves around food,” she said.

And yet for all she eats, she’s in a constant battle with starvation. 

Abby Solomon CBS News

Abby was born with a rare genetic disorder called neonatal progeroid syndrome. The mutation mangles noses and makes Abby look prematurely old.

It also prevents her body from making enough asprosin, a hormone that stimulates appetite.

She’s not hungry but still needs to eat all the time. The food feeds her brain just enough glucose to keep her from passing out.

But after a few bites, she feels full. Abby consumes half the amount of normal calories for a woman her age; and at 5 feet 10 inches, weighs just 99 pounds.

She’s eating, but not gaining weight.

“I mean, it’s weird. I agree,” Abby said.

Dr. Atul Chopra doesn’t think it’s weird.  

“I think we are very fortunate that our paths crossed, mine and Abby’s,” Chopra said.

He thinks it could be an exciting breakthrough in the fight against obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Atul Chopra CBS News

A geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Chopra analyzed Abby’s DNA and replicated her condition in lab mice.

He’s now developing an antibody designed to shut down aprosin’s effect on the body.

“That would be the hope here, that … we can inject diabetic obese humans with an antibody against asprosin. And if it works anything like how it works in mice, then I think we have a game changer,” Chopra said.

It certainly would be for Thomeshia Jones. 

“I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror,” she said.

At 17 years old, she weighs 380 pounds.

“I was getting picked on every day. Like, non-stop, every day,” she said.

Thomeshia Jones, left  CBS News

While Thomeshia is learning better eating habits at Texas Children’s Hospital teenage obesity program, she is desperate.

Next month, she will have bariatric surgery, which is something she would “definitely” avoid if she could.

“Just the thought of surgery is scary. So if there’s a way I can go about it without surgery, I’m willing to do that,” she said.

Which is just what Abby Solomon’s DNA may soon offer in the battle against obesity and diabetes.

“That’s so cool,” Abby said. “I guess that’s what I was put here to do. And that’s why I was born this way.”

Finally, Abby’s appetite is voracious; Hungry to help.

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