LONDON — An exact replica of the Elephant Man’s skeleton went on public show on in London on Wednesday, 112 years since Joseph Merrick’s death.
The skeleton, created from digital 3D scans of the disfigured man’s remains, is on display at the museum of the Royal London Hospital in East London.
Merrick was cared for until the end of his life at the hospital. His bones were kept at the hospital’s medical school in the hope that they might aid teaching or medical research.
The new replica will join an existing display on Merrick which includes his hat and mask, photos, and an intricate paper model of a church he made while living at the hospital.
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Scientists are planning to extract and test DNA from Merrick’s bones, which are now held in the private pathology collection at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London.
Experts believe Merrick’s condition was an extremely rare disorder known as Proteus syndrome, in which bones, skin and other tissue grow excessively.
Recent research in the United States, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, identified a genetic cause of Proteus.
Researchers at Queen Mary in London are now planning to confirm that Merrick’s condition was caused by Proteus syndrome, and are working with colleagues at the National Institutes of Health, USA to test DNA extracted from the remains.
Professor Richard Trembath, Vice Principal for Health at Queen Mary, University of London said: “During Joseph Merrick’s life little was understood about his condition and how he could be helped. Current research on the genetic causes of disease mean we can now understand and ultimately treat those living with rare diseases.
“We hope those who come to visit the museum will see the replica skeleton and gain some understanding of how hard it must have been for Joseph Merrick to walk, talk and lead a normal life.”