Friday, October 28, 2011
Fountain of Foreskins
According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 30% of world males are circumcised, 70% of whom are Muslim.
After reports released by UNAIDS (2007) and Centre for Disease Control (CDC; 2007) indicated that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission during penetrative sex, there have been a lot of excitement about the practice, especially among those communities who traditionally shunned it.
However so much attention is directed to the process of circumcision, the US Government donated Kshs 960 million towards the Ministry of Health’s five year nationwide free circumcision strategy for prevention of HIV/AIDS infection, that nobody seem to care what happens to its ultimate by product; foreskin.
Millions of males are circumcised around the globe every year which raises one rarely unasked question, where do all the foreskins go to?
Investigation by sagepage-uncolonized revealed that when men and boys lose this small ring of flesh, the world gains in many ways, or so it seems. While in some parts of Africa the foreskin is dipped in brandy and eaten either by the patient or circumciser, the most common method of disposal in other parts of third world where the practice is popular is feeding them to animals or burying.
However, in the west, where circumcision is a hot debate with many arguing that it’s an unnecessary and painful process, the foreskin trade is a booming business. Besides being an important ingredient for numerous consumer skincare products and beta interferon-based drugs the prepuce is used in the production of fibroblasts, skin cells used in regenerating new skin.
Fibroblasts cells are the agents behind the formation of elastin, a protein that allows the skin to snap back to its original shape like a rubber band after being pulled or stretched, and hyaluronic acid which locks moisture to keep the skin supple and plump.
Fibroblasts are used in all kinds of medical procedures from eyelid replacement, growing skin for burn victims and those with diabetic ulcers to making creams and collagens in the cosmetic industry. Using the process of culturing one foreskin, which contains millions of fibroblast cells, can be used for decades to produce miles of new skin.
In fact research shows that one foreskin contains enough of this genetic material to grow 250,000 square feet of skin! Hence one of these seemingly insignificant pieces of male genital flesh can generate thousands of dollars in revenue over a period of time.
There is a preference for infantile foreskins because, according to The Caltech Undergraduate Research Journal, they have more potential for cell division and less incidences of tissue rejection since they have not fully developed their identifying proteins. At birth the inner lining of the foreskin (preputial epithelium) is usually fused with the glans which makes the procedure of performing the cut among infants even more precarious.
Although modernity have developed contraptions like Gomco, Plastibell and Mogen clamps meant for reducing the risks and pain, opponents of the practice among new borns argue that besides exposing the baby to unbearable pain and possible permanent tissue damage its also a violation of the young ones human rights.
But despite the numerous campaigns to stop or ban infant circumcision the practice remains a norm in many parts of the world which ensures that baby foreskin, the most valuable raw material in the foreskin industry, remains in constant supply. In Where is My Foreskin? The case Against Circumcision Paul Fleiss says that “Parents should be wary of anyone who tries to cut their child’s foreskin since the marketing of purloined baby foreskins is a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry”
And he has a point since Dermagraft-TC, a product grown from cells in infant foreskins and used as a temporary wound covering for burn patients, sells for about $3,000 per square feet. Patients with major burns require several of these during recuperation.
American profit-oriented tissue engineering corporations like Organogenesis, Advanced Tissues Sciences (ATS), BioSurface Technology, Genzym and Ortec International received the approval of US Government’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a few years back to trade in foreskin based products like GraftskinTM (Organogenesis).
Besides developing off-the-shelf cultured skin graft products which exhibits reduced complications from blistering or scarring the prepuce has also been used, albeit sparsely, in reconstructive surgery of the inner lining of the mouth.
Intercytex, a tissue generation company based in Cambridge UK, raised the foreskin utility business several notches higher by developing an injection based drug called Valveta. Dubbed by one report as “fountain of youth in baby foreskins” Valveta is a foreskin-derived skin treatment that rejuvenates and smoothens skin withered by age, wrinkles or damaged by scarring from acne, burns and surgical incisions. Each vial of Velveta, enough for treating four square centimeters of skin-almost the size of a postage stamp, consists of about twenty million live fibroblasts, cells that produce the skin-firming protein called collagen which becomes increasingly scarce with age.
Going for about $1000 per vial Velveta is not approved for use anywhere else outside the UK where it was introduced in June 2007.
But the most intriguing story is the quest by medieval European churches and monasteries for the foreskin of baby Jesus. Many Christian artists of the time were so carried away by the issue that they created numerous images depicting the actual circumcision of Jesus both in paint and sculpture.
Churches, museums, crusaders and kings sought to have and hold the actual foreskin. The Circumcision of Jesus Christ is a recent study by a group of theologians and researchers on what happened to Jesus’ foreskin during and after the biblical times. The study claims that one St Catherine of Sienna wore the foreskin as a ring on her finger to symbolize her marriage to Christ while a nun named Agnes Blannbekin is reputed to have a life time of mourning the “loss of blood and pain which the redeemer suffered during the circumcision”.