We Could Soon Know Truth About Elephant Man

Genome sequencing could reveal his true ailment
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Aug 20, 2012 9:12 AM CDT
Updated Aug 25, 2012 7:15 AM CDT
An image of Joseph Merrick.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – It's been more than a century since Joseph Merrick—the so-called Elephant Man—died at age 27, but researchers still can't definitively explain the huge growths on his body. Though he was nicknamed after the parasitic infection Elephantiasis, other scientists believe he may have suffered from the congenital disorder Proteus syndrome. Now, they're moving closer to an answer: Next month scientists plan to take DNA from his skeleton, housed at the Royal London Hospital, and attempt to sequence his genome, the Independent reports.

That could reveal any genetic issues that might explain his condition—but it'll be a bit of an uphill battle: His skeleton hasn't been preserved carefully, and was frequently bleached. The process will be "extremely demanding," says a researcher, noting that his team will need samples from both "normal bone" and "abnormal bone," and has to extract them without ruining the skeleton. The goal: Discover the man's ailment in an effort to help those who suffer from it today. (Read more 19th century stories.)

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