ONTD Political

Baby foreskins & a German skin factory could put an end to animal testing for cosmetics

5:58 pm - 12/23/2011
A research organization is growing human skin in the hope of using it to trial cosmetics and medicines, reducing the need for animal testing. The synthetic skin is made using cells from infant foreskins.

The idea of a "skin factory" may sound sinister, but that is exactly what scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart have created. Their so-called Hautfabrik grows tiny swatches of skin - not for skin grafts, but for testing consumer products.

The renowned institute is presenting their ground-breaking invention as an affordable and sustainable alternative to animal testing, which many consider unnecessarily cruel.

The skin factory is a machine measuring seven metres long, three metres high and three metres deep, sealed and heated to 37 degrees Celsius – the same temperature as inside people.

The machine is fitted with 500 boards, each with 24 tissue cultures growing on it in little tube formations. In each tube, extremely thin skin samples grow from cells, which robotic hands have painstakingly extracted from foreskins donated to the project. Scientists use enzymes to detach the very top layer of cells from the skin, along with connective tissue and pigment cells.

The foreskin used for the process is only taken from boys up to the age of four. “The older skin is, the worse the cells function,” explained Andreas Traube, an engineer at the institute's department of production technology and automation.

“It is also important that the cells we use are coming from a uniform source," said Traube. "This avoids discrepancies in the production of the new skin."

The equipment developed by the Fraunhofer team can extract between three to 10 million cells from a single foreskin. In the incubator these cells then multiply hundreds of times.

The brand new skin cells are mixed with collagen and connective tissue, which then becomes ‘proper’ skin, measuring up to five millimetres in thickness.
The whole process can take up to six weeks, but according to Traube, “We can’t use the machine to speed up the process; biology needs time to take its course.”

In a single month, the machine can produce around 5,000 skin samples. For now, these delicate creations remain untouched as the process is still being authorized by European authorities, who are examining the growths to see whether they are suitable to be used in testing.

But the process has been given the nod of approval by some key members of the Association of Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies (VFA).

“I think the idea is a good one,” said Rolf Hömke, VFA spokesman. “I believe cells from artificially cultivated skin are indeed comparable with real skin.”

“I do think it might take a few years to get up and running though,” warned Hömke. “There are complicated international safety standards, these procedures can’t just be changed overnight.”

At the moment only very small skin samples are being created. “It’s logical that we’d want to take the operation to a bigger scale,” said Traube.

He added that possible future applications for products from the Hautfabrik could be research into cancer, pigmentation diseases, allergic reactions and fungal infections.

The next step for the company is a little smaller though, as their sights are set on synthesizing a human cornea.

source: The Local
mirhanda 24th-Dec-2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
Wow, I did not know that! My stepson was diagnosed with it as a young boy (before I was ever in the picture, btw) and had to be circumcised for that. I'll bet my husband did not know that was a bogus diagnosis!
aiffe 24th-Dec-2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
Wow. Phimosis is the inability of the foreskin to be retracted, so technically all prepubescent boys have phimosis. It only becomes a medical problem if it's still like that after puberty.

Those doctors are slick, eh?
sesmo 25th-Dec-2011 06:26 am (UTC)
Or, you know, it was pathological phimosis which can have severe pain and inability to urinate properly. Suggesting that doctors were deliberately misdiagnosing because they enjoy circumcising unnecessarily is really kind of mind boggling.
aiffe 25th-Dec-2011 09:24 am (UTC)
From the Wikipedia article (warning, NSFW image):

In the neonatal period, it is rare for the foreskin to be naturally retractable; Huntley et al. state that "non-retractability can be considered normal for males up to and including adolescence."[2] Rickwood, as well as other authors, has suggested that true phimosis is over-diagnosed due to failure to distinguish between normal developmental non-retractability and a pathological condition (a condition deemed a problem).[3] [...] Some pediatric urologists have argued that many physicians continue to have trouble distinguishing developmental non-retractility from pathological phimosis.[3][19][20]


Pathological phimosis (as opposed to the natural non-retractability of the foreskin in childhood) is rare and the causes are varied. Some cases may arise from balanitis (inflammation of the glans penis), perhaps due in turn to inappropriate efforts to retract an infant's foreskin. Other cases of non-retractile foreskin may be caused by preputial stenosis or narrowness that prevents retraction, by fusion of the foreskin with the glans penis in children, or by frenulum breve, which prevents retraction. In some cases a cause may not be clear, or it may be difficult to distinguish physiological phimosis from pathological if an infant appears to be in pain with urination or has obvious ballooning of the foreskin with urination or apparent discomfort. However, even ballooning does not always indicate urinary obstruction.[21]


Application of topical steroid cream, such as betamethasone, for 4–6 weeks to the narrow part of the foreskin is relatively simple, less expensive than surgical treatments and highly effective.[20][26][27] It has replaced circumcision as the preferred treatment method for some physicians in the British National Health Service.[28][29]
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