Ancient DNA analysis unveils mystery of history's most horribly deformed man -- The Elephant Man

July 21, 2003

The Discovery Health Channel has united three distinguished medical researchers from three different continents in an attempt to put an end to the mystery of what really afflicted Joseph Merrick, notoriously known as the Elephant Man.

Through the analysis of ancient DNA, scientists will take viewers along on their journey to uncover the truth behind the legend in THE CURSE OF THE ELEPHANT MAN, premiering Wednesday, July 30 at 9 PM ET.

For the first time ever, scientists were incredibly successful in extracting DNA from Joseph Merrick's century-old hair and bone in their investigation of his condition. In addition, descendants of the Elephant Man's family, many who didn't even know they were related to him, were reunited.



While it was considered that Merrick may have suffered from either type 1 neurofibromatosis (NF 1) or Proteus Syndrome, the DNA evidence did not conclusively prove that Merrick had either on its own or the two together. Based on published clinical features, cancer geneticists and other clinical geneticists believe that Merrick had at least Proteus syndrome. Moreover, because NF 1 is more common, some in the program suggest another intriguing possibility - that the Elephant Man was tragically cursed with both debilitating diseases. The program gives viewers a sensitive and poignant inside look at these diseases and offers a strand of hope for people today who suffer from similar deformities and debilitations.

Most interestingly, THE CURSE OF THE ELEPHANT MAN will reveal images of what Merrick would have looked like had he not been burdened by his deformities. These images were developed with the use of relatives' facial templates and high-quality imaging equipment.

THE CURSE OF THE ELEPHANT MAN recounts the terrible true story of history's most deformed man. It shows viewers how his genetic material was gathered and identified and helps them better understand why Merrick became known to the world as the Elephant Man. The Scientists:About Joseph Merrick:

Merrick, born in 1862 in the English city of Leicester, showed signs of deformity at the early age of five. By the time he reached his teenage years, Merrick was completely deformed and had been rejected by his community and even his own parents. For several years, Merrick joined a traveling circus. He became widely known for his role as a fairground freak until he met a surgeon who arranged his admission in the Royal London Hospital, where he ultimately died at the age of 27.

THE CURSE OF THE ELEPHANT MAN is produced for the Discovery Health Channel by NHNZ. Andrew Waterworth is the executive producer for NHNZ. Executive producer for the Discovery Health Channel is Mark Poertner. Executive in charge of production is Bob Reid.
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