Fortunes from foreskin According to World Health Organisation estimates, 30 per cent of the world males are circumcised 70 per cent of them being Muslim. After reports released by UNAids and the Centre for Disease Control in 2007 that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV/Aids transmission and infection, there has been a growing campaign to promote the procedure, especially among communities that customarily shunned it. But as the pro-circumcision campaign gains momentum and millions of males are circumcised around the globe annually, the one question that is rarely asked, where do all the foreskins go? Each vial of Velveta, enough for treating an area of skin almost the size of a postage stamp, consists of about 20 million live fibroblasts, cells that produce the skin-firming protein called collagen, which becomes increasingly scarce with age. Going for about $1,000 per vial, Velveta is not approved for use 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 got 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. A recent joint research by a group of theologians and urologists called The Circumcision of Jesus Christ focuses primarily on what happened to Jesus foreskin during and after the biblical times. Among the many theologians that devoted their lives to the relic, two remain prominent: One St Catherine of Sienna is said to have wore the foreskin as a ring on her finger to symbolise 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. Infact, when men and boys lose that small ring of flesh in circumcision, the world gains. These gains range from the bizzare to the purely scientific. Apparently, in some parts of Africa, the foreskin is dipped in brandy and eaten either by the patient or circumciser. (Duuuuuuh) But the most common method of disposal in the developing world where the practice is popular is burying or feeding it to animals. In the West, where circumcision is being challenged as being an unnecessary and painful process, the foreskin trade is booming. Besides being an important ingredient of 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 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 and growing skin for burn victims and patients with diabetic ulcers, to making creams and collagens for the cosmetic industry. Using the culturing method, 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 a lower incidence 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 glands, which makes the procedure of performing the cut among infantsprecarious. Although products such as Gomco, Plastibell and Mogen clamps and rings have been developed to reduce the risk and pain of circumcision in infants, critics argue that besides exposing the baby to pain and possible permanent tissue damage, the procedure is a also a violation of their human rights. But despite the numerous campaigns to stop or ban infant circumcision, the practice remains a norm in many parts of the world ensuring 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 writes, Parents should be wary of anyone who tries to cut their childs 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 found in infant foreskins and used as a temporary wound covering for burn patients, sells for about $3,000 per square foot. Patients with major burns require several square feet. American profit-oriented tissue engineering corporations like Organogenesis, Advanced Tissues Sciences, BioSurface Technology, Genzym and Ortec International received the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration a few years ago to trade in foreskin-based products like GraftskinTM (Organogenesis). Besides developing off-the-shelf cultured skin graft products that exhibit 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, wrinkled or damaged by scarring from acne, burns and surgical incisions.