A company called Foregen has unveiled a new regenerative medicine that can regrow circumcised men’s foreskins, much like a salamander can regrow a severed limb.
“The premise behind Foregen is that if we are regenerating entire body parts from more complex body parts, why not apply this to the only body part that hundreds of millions of boys are missing,” says Foregen spokesperson Eric Clopper.
There are approximately 660 million circumcised men worldwide. The United States is the country with the most circumcised men, 116 million, outnumbering African and Middle Eastern countries, according to the World Health Organization. The United States is the only developed country where male infant circumcision is the standard rather than something done out of religious ceremony.
According to its official website, Foregen is “a non-profit organization founded to research and implement regenerative medical therapies for circumcised males.” It’s primary goal is to “help heal the physical and psychological damage that is inherent to circumcision” by “promoting genital integrity through regenerative medicine.”
“The foreskin is not an optional extra for a man’s body, or an accident,” the company claims. “It is an integral, functioning, important component of a man’s penis. An eye does not function properly without an eyelid–and nor does a penis without its foreskin.”
“Our goal is to advance onto human clinical trials as soon as it is safe to do so,” the company says. The time frame? “Very soon, we hope!”
When I asked Aiello about the exact details of the procedure, he said he couldn’t tell me because he wanted to protect his future patent, but I got the feeling that he still had some conceptual track to lay. After all, Aiello is a mosaic artist, not a scientist. That said, plenty of startup founders know nothing about the technology that powers their products when they go into VC meetings. Currently, he is working on a sculpture project that he described as an anatomical depiction of the adult foreskin, which he expects to be highly controversial.
The Foregen team admits that “the main obstacle in achieving foreskin regeneration is aligning the overwhelming demand for a cure for circumcision with the correct scientific personnel.” Aiello told me the biomedical researchers who have agreed to work with Foregen so far have done so on the condition that he doesn’t name them. “I think they are a little bit scared for many reasons. They don’t want to be remembered in history for regenerating the foreskin. It’s basically a taboo.”
Aiello estimates that Foregen, a nonprofit registered in the US and Italy, has raised about $100,000 to date from private donors, mainly Americans, and intends to crowdfund the rest. But this is a negligible amount compared to what will be needed to set up a clinic if and when the procedure makes it through clinical trials. “We’d like to do everything in four years, but we don’t know if this will be possible because the bureaucracy makes the entire process very slow,” he says.
Regardless of whether or not Foregen meets their quotas, the main variable that will impact the prevalence of infant circumcision in the United States and beyond in coming years is the culture. If present trends are any indication, that culture is shifting in favor of foreskins. What’s needed now to confirm that this is indeed the most beneficial path—health-wise, ethically, and sexually—is unbiased research collected to this end that could formally influence the recommendations of respected medical bodies and perhaps even local law.
When I asked Earp how to achieve this, he shrugged. “It would be great if there was some dispassionate researcher somewhere who was just curious about the effects of circumcision.”