Foregen is a not-for-profit charitable association founded to promote regenerative medical therapies for adults suffering from genital injuries. We speak with founder Vincenzo Aiello to learn about the pioneering work of Foregen.
IntactNews: Why is there a need for Foregen?
Vincenzo Aiello: For many reasons. Because of my work, I travel a lot to the United States and when I found out that most of the American men are circumcised as newborns, I am talking of at least 120 million newborns, the first reaction I had was: “These people are crazy.”
But let me explain our point of view. Circumcision is a surgery, surgeries must be performed only when there is a valid medical reason, this means that all the circumcisions performed on newborns were not necessary. The United States is the only country in the world that circumcises many of its male infants for non-religious reasons and this is crazy.
Also, there are court cases where circumcised men are rewarded compensation, but the money makes these people more frustrated because it doesn't give them the results they want, the results of reconstruction surgeries are very poor. I think that the only way to compensate a person for an organ that was cut without his consent is to regenerate his organ.
Many other organs have been regenerated, and I don't think the foreskin is as sophisticated as the bladder or the trachea or other organs
IntactNews: Why not use traditional foreskin stretching methods?
Aiello: They don't regrow the nerves. When I first saw Ron Low's TLC Tugger [a popular foreskin restoration device], I thought it was a very smart device, it was very brilliant how he did every detail. So the first thing that I did was, I went to him and told him that I want to create this organization and I'd like to regrow the foreskin with stem cells. I think this is the future, and I told him: “Ron, I want you to work on this project, because I don't want Foregen to damage your business.” He said, “Thank you very much, thank you for asking, but I think your idea is a different price than mine, and so I can continue doing this, and I hope you succeed, and if you do succeed, I will find a new job. I appreciate the fact that without you even knowing me, you came to my home to ask me this."
I think that foreskin restoration can be considered only a possible first step, but regeneration must necessarily include nerve regrowth.
IntactNews: What are some of the challenges that Foregen has met since starting?
Aiello: I don't think that American men and doctors really want to regrow the foreskin, they do not even know what they are missing, this is the immense tragedy. So, this is the first challenge, make them aware of the loss. Circumcision has altered the species, we want to recreate a new man and recreate a new species.
The American people didn't know anything about Foregen. Some of the intactivists said, “Who's this guy coming from Italy, a country where there's no circumcision, promising something, asking for money and giving us hope? Maybe he just wants to cheat people.” That's what people really thought.
But then last year I went to the Berkeley conference [The Eleventh International Symposium on Circumcision, Genital Integrity, and Human Rights Genital Autonomy 2010], I had the opportunity to speak about Foregen. Also, Ron Low gave me the microphone for five minutes of his presentation to talk to the audience, and people changed their minds. They saw my face personally, and I could answer their questions, and they understood that this effort is genuine.
IntactNews: What are some of the challenges that Foregen still needs to answer?
Aiello: First of all, the registration in the U.S. as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization. We recently applied for this because it's very important to have more transparency and legitimacy. The next step, after we register, we'll go ahead with much stronger fundraising campaigns to promote our ideas and our projects and to talk to people to see if they can help us. We have to spread the message to find the funds to do the research.
We also want to talk about the economic aspects. There is a potential market, a huge market for such a therapy. There are going to be some big profits in the future for this procedure. But it's very important for us to control this, we are going to work with universities and businesses, and this is the only way to do things how we want. I say this only once, we don't only want a coverage of the glans [head of the penis], we want full regeneration with nerves.
IntactNews: How is Foregen going to raise the money?
Aiello: We'll apply for public grants, and pay for fundraising campaigns in order to spread the word and raise more money. We also accept donations through our website, http://www.foregen.org. I think one of the biggest problems is that people in the U.S. don't know us, so we need to advertise first. But when they will start to learn about Foregen, things will change, definitively.
IntactNews: What is the state of regenerative medicine today?
Aiello: We have a great doctor here in Rome who regrew the vagina, Dr. Cinzia Marchese, who studied at Harvard, and she regrew the internal vagina of 27 women. As we know, the internal vagina is inner mucosal tissue, and that's what we need to regrow. There is also another Italian doctor who regrew the trachea, and it's also now possible to create any organ, with the proper investment, to have these in a few years, because the technology is already available. It's important to work with two or three different technologies simultaneously to get things done. I have no doubts that the results can be achieved.
IntactNews: How is Foregen viewed by the regenerative medicine community?
Aiello: We have been pushing a lot, but the doctors don't really have the will to regenerate the foreskin, because they consider the foreskin as something useless. So it's been very difficult. But the technology is available.
So far we have received proposals from world-renowned research institutes, including one from the CHUV in Lausanne, Switzerland. But we have to raise the funds first.
Foregen was created in 2010 thanks to donor funds. Foregen operates in the United States and Europe. Its head office is in Rome, Italy, where it is a registered charity (Reg. No. 6482, Serie 1T, 2010). Foregen is headed by a board of charitable directors, with participants and donors across both continents and beyond. Visit Foregen's website to learn more: http://foregen.org