Snail-slime moisturisers, nightingale-dropping facials – we’re willing to try anything in search of smoother skins and younger-looking complexions.
But just when you thought so-called “miracle ingredients” couldn’t get any stranger, Intercytex, a British biomedical company, adds a foreskin-derived skin treatment to the ever-expanding list of bizarre wrinkle busters.
It’s called Vavelta, and it’s a clear liquid which is injected into the problem areas of skins damaged by scars or wrinkles. The liquid contains skin cells called fibroblasts which have been cultured from the donated foreskins of circumcised babies.
You might assume that the controversial concoction is a marketing ploy designed to appeal to vanity. However, clinical trials reportedly found the product to be highly effective.
How does it work?
It’s legitimate to wonder how newborn foreskins could become an anti-aging weapon. The answer: they are rich in fibroblasts, the skin cells responsible for the production of collagen.
In order to extract these cells, the foreskins are cut into pieces measuring less than a square centimetre and then treated with enzymes. The fibroblasts are then cultured under sterile conditions and added to a cell storage medium. This production process is regulated by the UK’s Human Tissue Authority.
When the treatment is injected into damaged skins, the fibroblasts apparently repopulate the lower layers of the dermis with healthy new skin cells, thereby smoothing away scars and wrinkles.
What makes Vavelta unique is that it promises permanent results.
What preliminary studies reveal
Whilst the treatment may not work for everyone, and final clinical trials on burn scars have yet to be completed, the Phase I and II trials indicate that Vavelta has a high success rate and causes only minimal side effects. Some volunteers in the testing process described the results as “astonishing”.
Professor Nicholas Lowe, who conducted the Phase I trial at the Cranley Clinic in London, claimed a marked improvement in wrinkle severity in 75% of cases, six months after treatment.
The treatment appears to be safe. Although foreign substances are often rejected by the body, the fibroblast cells are accepted, and the only side effects that have been reported are redness and itching.
So what’s the catch? At the time of writing, this treatment will cost wrinkle-wary consumers about £750, or R11 400. Another drawback is that results can take several months to show, as the fibroblasts take time to settle before they begin to stimulate new collagen production.
Miracle cure or medical madness?
If you’re not keen on the idea of injectable baby foreskin derivatives, you’re not alone. The use of human tissues for cosmetic purposes has met with opposition both in Britain and the US. Many are fiercely opposed to the idea of commodifying baby foreskins in light of recent male circumcision debates.
“Understandably, the ethical issues around this form of treatment will be hotly debated between scientists, politicians and other decision makers,” agrees Health24’s anti-ageing expert, Dr Alek Nikolic, who specialises in aesthetic medicine.
On the other hand, scarring can lead to severe psychological damage, causing people to feel intensely self-conscious, and sometimes even resulting in complete withdrawal from society. For those marred by such physical and psychological scars, a treatment such as Vavelta could be life changing.
Nikolic advises anyone considering the treatment to “Wait and see what future studies reveal, what the long-term side effects and complications turn out to be, the longevity of the treatment, and if treatment with Vavelta produces superior results to other similar available procedures.”
It remains to be seen whether Vavelta will become available in South Africa. So for now, those hoping to beat the clock and slow down the dreaded aging process will have to be content with the current range.
(Donna Steyn, Health24, November 2008)
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(Sources: www.vavelta.com; Daily Mail; Dr Alek Nikolic)