Foreskin Of Youth
Making skin grafts from baby penises

Adoctor and nurse huddle over your restrained, shrieking infant, working diligently. As the crying becomes unbearable, the nurse whisks away the discarded skin that once wrapped your newborn's teeny penis. But where does that foreskin go? Well, if they suckered you into an "informed consent" document, it goes to make Apligraf, a bio-engineered skin construct manufactured by Organogenesis.

See also...
... by Ryan McLaughlin
... in the Scope section
... from October 18, 1999

The latest wonder in medical technology, Organogenesis's Apligraf is the first and only human skin construct with FDA approval. Currently, it is approved for treating hard-healing wounds like persistent leg ulcers, but Organogenesis and competitors Advanced Tissue Sciences, BioSurface Technologies, Genzyme, and Ortec International utilize foreskins to research the treatment of burns, bed sores, and other skin injuries. Cosmetic researchers want to switch to skin constructs for some of their testing -- no more spraying shaved rabbits in the eyes with cologne. Still, closing wounds is what skin constructs do best.

No one's sure how these constructs work, but the statistics are incredible. Made of newborn penis-wraps (neonatal foreskin) and cow fat (bovine collagen), Apligraf placed over pernicious wounds magically heals the treated area. Almost 50 percent more wounds heal with Apligraf than with compression alone -- all because you wanted his wanker to look like his daddy's.

Theories abound as to why newborn foreskins work so well. According to the most accepted theory, newborn skin cells can morph into any kind of skin cell, whereas adult skin cells perform a specific function. This is one of the reasons that skin grafting is problematic: You wouldn't want skin from your ass grafted onto your face. Also, neonatal tissue hasn't yet developed the immunity proteins that cause rejection with adult human skin.

Human skin constructs certainly put a spin on the circumcision debate. Previously, parents had only weak evidence of the health benefits of circumcision, such as a lower risk of infection. Now, circumcision really does have health benefits -- only it's not the little guy who's losing part of his pecker who benefits.

The number crunchers estimate the developed world's market for human-skin constructs is somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion for the treatment of burns alone; for the treatment of chronic wounds (diabetic ulcers, pressure sores, and venous ulcers), the market is roughly $10 billion. Procter & Gamble, Helene Curtis, and other similar companies bought about $1 million worth of Advanced Tissue's cultured dermis for pre-market testing in 1994. Advanced Tissue's flagship skin-construct, Dermagraft, sells for $3,000 per square foot, and they can produce 250,000 square feet of Dermagraft from one foreskin. Let me do the math for you. Your kid's schwantz plays a primary role in a $750,000,000 transaction. And you've gotta put him through college.

So what does little Johnny get for sacrificing part of his manhood? Simply, pain. Studies of cortisol levels in infants during circumcision suggest that the pain would make adults go comatose. In fact, some infants do slip into comas. The long-term effects are equally impressive. Researchers believe a circumcised adult male loses about 240 feet (73.2m) of nerves and over 1,000 nerve endings. The accepted extrapolation is that the more nerves you have on your dingler, the better intercourse feels.

Groups like the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM) liken the harvesting of foreskin tissue to harvesting organs. Tim Hammond, director of NOHARMM, suggests that biotech companies should pursue other alternatives to human foreskin. "The courts have ruled that you cannot take healthy tissue from an infant to benefit a third party," Hammond said. Apparently, nobody told Organogenesis or Janet Reno.

Large amounts of money are being made in an ethical vacuum, but whose palms are getting greased? Organogenesis, Novartis (the distributors of Apligraf), and Advanced Tissue Sciences were unresponsive to inquiries, and anti-circumcision activists claim the biotech companies won't talk to reporters about the money. John A. Erickson, owner of, an anti-circumcision Web site, received an anonymous email saying the going rate for infant foreskins at a large hospital in the greater San Diego area was $35 each -- and that ethical doctors deducted that amount from their circumcision fees.

Ryan McLaughlin is trying not to be eaten by a hippo.