Science of Regeneration
foregen was brought into existence by a desire on the part of its founders to harness and make use of the amazing advances that regenerative medicine has made over the last ten years. Under certain circumstances, dermal replacement techniques can now restore original tissue to those who have lost it.
Below is a brief explanation in layman’s terms of the process of regeneration, and, for reasons of space and practicality, is not a scientifically complete one. For more complete information on the science of regeneration, follow the links that are embedded throughout this page.
Regeneration was recently featured on “60 Minutes” – click here to watch.
What is regeneration?
Regeneration is the ability of the body to regrow lost tissue when it is lost by trauma, disease, or other misadventure. The most famous example of this is the salamander, which can reproduce whole arms, legs, tails, and other body parts within days following their amputation. Salamanders are, however, not the only creatures with such powers – humans have it naturally as well (at least for a time) while developing in the womb. If a developing baby loses a finger or another of its extremities, it simply grows it back, without forming scar tissue. Indeed, very young neo-natal babies can sometimes do the same if injured shortly after being born. The human kidney, moreover, can also regenerate itself naturally where parts of it are cut off.
Aside from our kidneys, why can’t humans regenerate as adults?
While we don’t know fully why we cannot regenerate after birth, there are theories that might go some way to explaining this.
One theory is that stopping the regenerative process was critical to allow a much more powerful survival aid to take its place: scarring. A scar allows a wound to seal quickly, thus preventing death from loss of blood or infection. In evolutionary terms, the ability to scar helped our ancestors survive. Put simply, for primitive man there was little benefit in having a body that regenerated an amputated arm (which takes months) if, in the meantime, he bled to death. Survival by scarring was, therefore, a critical step forward in evolutionary terms, not just for man but for all mammals.
Scarring was not without a cost, however. First, scar tissue stops any new regrowth by regeneration; and secondly, scar tissue is inherently different from the normal tissue that once was there (as anyone with a scar can see), both in appearance and in function. It stops us from dying when wounded, but is useful for little else functionally.
In that case, how can we regenerate now that we’re adults?
That is the question to which biomedical research has devoted itself for many years. Fortunately, we now have some answers. The first is the discovery that the unique DNA structure present in every individual cell of our body represents (among other things) a blueprint or map of our whole body, not just the part relevant to each cell. This blueprint organizes the body’s growth in the womb by telling cells “what comes next” in the growth process. This body map was created in the very first cell we had and remains constant throughout our lives, unaltered even if our body becomes wounded, damaged, or amputated in some way. As such, when we are wounded, our body still has a record of what should have been there – a record that regenerative medicine uses to have the body remake itself.
The second key is learning how to stop scarring from happening. When we are wounded, our body automatically instructs the cells at the wound site to form scar tissue. As stated above, this function was of importance to evolution but marked the end of natural regeneration in our body. Regenerative medical techniques have shown that it is possible to “turn off” that instruction from the brain and instead to send a new instruction to wound site cells – to regrow what was taken away, using the blueprint present in our DNA, just as if the body were still in the womb.
What happens at a wound site when regeneration takes place?
A critical component in regeneration is the so-called “extra-cellular matrix” present throughout our body – a substance often poorly understood in the past but known to be important in the binding together of all the cells of our body to make them function as one organism. Extra-cellular matrix cells have been found to cause regrowth and healing of tissue.
In terms of injury repair and tissue engineering, the extracellular matrix serves two main purposes; first, it prevents the immune system from triggering and responding with inflammation and scar tissue. Next, it facilitates the surrounding cells to repair the tissue instead of forming scar tissue. The extra-cellular matrix thus provides the building blocks and mechanism for tissue regeneration to occur.
Some forms of extra-cellular matrix have proven to be more potent in stimulating regeneration than others. The extra-cellular matrix taken from a porcine stomach lining is often used as the best and most effective way to trigger regrowth on the human being.
So does the body actually regrow itself?
Happily, yes! Tests of regenerative medical technology have seen amazing results in patients who would otherwise have formed ugly scar tissue and no regrowth of the tissue lost.
There are many institutes who have launched successfully trials of the regeneration of human body parts – take a look at the links below.
Regenerative medicine has been able, among other things, to regenerate:
- The skin of a hand
- The last joint of a finger
- The lining of an oesophagus
- New kidneys
- Heart valves, bladders and more
- Penises (in animals)
- Vaginas (inner mucosal tissue)
What is important is that the regeneration that takes place is of the original tissue that was there. In the example given above, the finger regrown by regenerative medicine bore the same fingerprint as the one lost, demonstrating that it was formed from the same DNA instructions as that formed originally in the patient’s mother’s womb.
Another means of bringing about regeneration practically has been through the use of special biodegradable scaffolds, which replicate the size and shape of the organ lost. Over the scaffold are “sprayed” the patient’s own cells, prepared beforehand, and by the use of regenerative techniques the cells thus prepared treat the scaffold as part of the body and form new tissue over it. In time the scaffold degrades naturally, leaving real tissue behind that functions as the original tissue and which the body recognizes as its own. See this informative article to see more on how this works.
So can we regenerate anything we want?
No, sadly we can’t. Regenerative medical technology cannot yet regenerate entire limbs or a brain. However, it has been able to regenerate many parts of the body – and what it has definitely been able to do is regenerate skin. This is good news for those suffering from genital injuries such as circumcision, since skin is precisely what a circumcised man needs back.
Will the new tissue have full function?
Depending on the intended function of the new tissue, yes. The new tissue reintegrates itself into the body, which recognizes the tissue as its own and does not reject it via the immune system as it would for grafted skin or transplanted organs. Those who have undergone dermal regeneration – for example Lou Spievack, whose finger was amputated at the last joint – report that the feeling in their regenerated skin is as it was before. The nerve connections severed by the trauma are thus “reconnected” to the body with the new tissue.
What about the scarring that would have been there?
Regenerative medicine functions without scarring. The benefit of this, especially to those who have suffered from disfiguring scarring in prior trauma, is that scarring present on their bodies can be removed by regenerative medicine. Here are some examples of the removal of scar tissue that has been accomplished by regenerative techniques – in one case on a man’s head where no hair could previously grow.
Has anyone tried regenerative techniques on foreskin tissue?
Yes and no. No, in the sense that no clinical trial has ever been done with the purpose of restoring a foreskin to a circumcised man. But yes, foreskin fibroblasts, that is, small samples of foreskin tissue, have been successfully used in many medical experiments to generate new skin (it should, however, be stated that some of these experiments were, in foregen’s view, unethical as they involved foreskins taken non-consensually from healthy infants circumcised without their consent – foregen is not, and will never be, involved with such experimentation).
Foreskin has proved exceptionally fruitful as a regenerative agent. All of which makes the likelihood of real foreskin regeneration “in vivo” – i.e., on a living male – all the better.
So when is someone going to try to regenerate a foreskin?
Very soon, we hope! As the above shows, we have the ability to regenerate skin. The skin regenerated will be real, be ours, and be the original tissue we lost. All we are in need of is a clinical trial. And that is why foregen is here – to facilitate one.
By helping foregen, you bring foreskin regeneration one step closer to becoming a reality.