Due to the subject matter of this article, it should be noted that links and video in this article will include material that is not safe for work (NSFW.)
Foregen is a company working to regenerate the foreskin for circumcised males. The company’s website states two reasons for doing this:
- To reverse the harm done by circumcision.
- To bring back the sexual sensitivity, normal function, bodily completeness and psychological well-being of the healthy adult male that were damaged by circumcision, allowing the once-circumcised man to function normally in sexual intercourse (and in daily life) as nature intended.
Foreskin regeneration differs from current therapies, which include manual restoration, latex prosthetics, and skin grafting, in that it would regrow the tissue removed by circumcision rather than just replacing some of its function.
The tissue of the foreskin differs from the rest of the skin on the penis, containing a high concentration of fine-touch receptors called Meissner’s or tactile corpuscles which are specialized to recognize light touch. These sensors are also plentiful in the palm of your hand, the bottom of your foot, and on your fingertips. The main types of nerve endings in the skin recognize pressure and pain. You can feel the difference in sensitivity by comparing the sensation of gently running a fingernail across the back of your hand to that of running it across your palm. While existing therapies can replace the foreskin’s protective coverage of the glans, they cannot restore those receptors or the lubricating mucous membrane.
How is regeneration achieved? Normally when the skin is injured, it heals by forming scar tissue. While this protects the body from blood loss, it prevents further growth. However, researchers into tissue regeneration have discovered a way to switch off scarring, and allow new tissue growth to take place.
The DNA structure in every cell in the body contains a blueprint for the whole body, not just information about the cell itself. Tissue regeneration is initiated by seeding an extracellular matrix of the tissue scientists wish to regenerate with undifferentiated stem cells (cells which do not yet have a specialized function.) A more detailed explanation of this process is available on Foregen’s website. The company has already seen success with animal trials using bovine tissue.
Eric Cunningham, a biomedical engineering student working with Foregen, stated that the company is about to enter human trials on decellularization. They will also begin testing growth of human tissue on pigs, used because the extracellular matrix in pigs is extremely similar to that of humans. This testing is necessary to perfect the method of moving the tissue from donor to decellularized state to recellularized state to patient before testing foreskin growth on humans. Both trials, taking place in central Italy, will use tissue from adult donors. “We will only work with adult tissue,” Eric explained. “We don’t believe in using tissue taken from infants.” The eventual goal is to be able to manufacture the tissue without the need for donor tissue.
Based on current progress, human growth trials are projected for 2019.
In its beginning, Foregen has been a nonprofit organization whose efforts have been supported by crowdfunding. To facilitate progress on its project, which could have applications beyond what is within the scope of the stated goal, the company is moving to a for-profit model. This coincides with a change in law (Title III of JOBS Act) which would allow non-accredited investors to invest in initiatives using equity crowdfunding. This has two benefits; it broadens the community from which Foregen can draw needed investors, and it extends the opportunity to invest in the company to the average citizen. That means individuals choosing to financially support the company’s cause would see some profit from their success.
Spokesman Eric Clopper gave a brief but detailed explanation of the problem presented by circumcision, the company’s goals, and the potential use of equity crowdfunding, while promoting the company to the World Stem Cell Summit in December of 2015.
There is also a documentary planned in conjunction with this initiative. Pigs Without Blankets, starring Alan Cummings, uses humor to stimulate discussion of a difficult topic.
The documentary will be made despite crowdfunding falling short.
Disclosure: Hannah Wallen is an intactivist who has previously written articles containing arguments against nontheraputic neonatal circumcision, and who has previously shared links to the fundraiser for the documentary Pigs Without Blankets in an effort to promote it. Featured (top) image was provided by request and is property of Foregen.