“Major fashion and cosmetic companies have already signed research collaboration agreement with bioengineering institutes,” Gorjanc said. “Those collaborations are enabling the development of existing skin technologies that were firstly designed for specific medical problems and applying them to commercial products targeting the enhancement of normal human functions.”
Her work is entirely speculative, of course. Yet it also raises the issue that bioengineering technologies are advancing faster than legislation can govern.
As the case of Henrietta Lacks demonstrates, existing regulations regarding the ownership of human tissue samples are far from clearly defined, particularly where profit is involved.
Loopholes in patient and intellectual property laws allow bioengineering companies to “obtain ‘raw’ materials from surgical patients without their consent,” Gorjanc said.
“Those materials are then processed into product, such as skin drafts for cosmetic testing, copyrighted by the manufacturing company and sold worldwide,” she added. “Such behavior is raising ethical concerns that question the ability of big corporations to claim ownership over an individual’s biological material.”
By envisioning a range of commercial products cultivated from an individual’s skin cells, Gorjanc wanted to show how deficiencies concerning the protection of genetic information can “shape a whole new luxury market.”
Pure Human, as she’s dubbed the work, is a critique of corporations and the terrible ease one person can gain ownership of another’s DNA.
“The new formed alliances are starting to redefine the standards of the luxury industry by developing products that reach far beyond beauty and physical enhancements, provoking, and challenging the relationship between human and skin,” Gorjanc said. “The project aims to showcase the increasingly indulgent parameters of ethics and security in the field of tissue-engineering technologies.”
Consider ourselves warned.