The Disease That Turns Muscles Into Bones

Behind a glass enclosure at the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians in Philadelphia is a terrifying exhibit—two human skeletons. Their bones appear to have melted and fused together. One of the skeletons has its back covered by sheets of bone, locking the spine to the skull, and the skull to the jaw. Additional ribbons of bone join the spine to the limbs, and immobilize the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and jaw. The upper arms are welded to the ribcage, and the pelvis is fused to the thigs bones. Thin stalagmites of bone launch outward from everywhere.

The deceased owners of these skeletons suffered from an extremely rare and debilitating condition called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), or Münchmeyer disease. Victims suffering from FOP have their muscles, tendons, and ligaments gradually turned to bone, until the sufferer becomes rigid and unable to move.

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fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva

Anna Dhody, Mutter Museum curator, and Dr. Fred Kaplan, the world's preeminent FOP researcher, look at Carol Harry’s skeleton at the museum. Photo: Jessica Griffin/ The Philadelphia Inquirer


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