Vision and strategy
Everyone deserves to be able to live in a body that fits their identity, including if that identity is not fully human. Identity affirmation is underrepresented in biomedical research, and it is now time to bring the exciting pace of technical progress in gene and cell therapies, neuroprosthetics, surgical innovations, and other technologies to this impactful, life-changing application.
We are taking on research to help make personalized bodily modifications within our lifetimes, and are especially enthusiastic about full-body changes that embrace appearances of other species. Despite a small budget and all-volunteer team, we are already delivering research results, interacting with thought leaders, and building a highly motivated community of people who are standing up for each other. In the coming years, our results will make their way to people in the real world. Cycles of learning, growth, and iteration will make progressively greater levels of personal affirmation possible.
Our grand aim is to develop all necessary techniques for a complete anthropomorphic bodily modification procedure to be available to patients well within the next 30-or-so years.
To accomplish this, we are conducting in-house, applied research on the areas we understand as being most important to a successful procedure. We are using an engineering mindset, cutting problems into smaller pieces that can be individually understood and resolved.
Furthermore, we are excited by the prospect of positively impacting many more people than those aiming for full-body procedures. Several of our projects – research into tails and eye modifications, for example – are promising to be directly useful to people in their own right.
As well, some of our research outcomes may be beneficial to medicine as a whole, such as the possibility that our Anatomy Reengineering Framework may help improve how surgical planning is done.
Open, grassroots research
The Freedom of Form Foundation is in a unique position to coordinate and guide the research efforts that will be necessary to facilitate large scale bodily modification. We firmly believe that a sustainable and practical plan requires open science, and want to provide a platform for any type of researcher to help and benefit from their own work. It is our policy for research papers we support or publish to be open-access, and for programming to be open source.
We conduct a lot of research in our many projects, ranging from orientational literature research to hardware development, and from dry-lab simulations to wet-lab experiments. We have many openings for researchers to join or start novel research. Are you an enthusiast, generalist, or expert, willing to help out? Check out our volunteer page, or propose a research project yourself! We would love your help.
General research schedule
Our mission will be most successful if project outcomes align at the right time. Some projects only loosely depend on others, or are relatively easy to tie off. But, as you might expect, there are a few key places where projects either depend on others, or have long lead times.
To keep ourselves focused, we have made decisions in terms of prioritization and timing for the most essential projects and deliverables on the horizon. This information helps us continuously and diligently work towards tangible results at each step of the way, until we have opened the door to anthropomorphic bodily modification procedures and beyond.
Spanning over approximately thirty years, this plan separates an anthropomorphic procedure into several anatomical regions: the tail, craniofacial changes, ears, paws and claws, digitigrade stance, integument, eye changes, and gender affirmation. Proceeding from left to right, the research for each anatomical region goes through a foundational research and model-building phase, followed by preclinical development, and finishing with testing and relevant regulatory approvals.
We will use an iterative approach: while final testing and regulatory approvals are being obtained for earlier versions, we will keep working on the next version. For each anatomical region, the first two iterations that will be used in full-body procedures are illustrated. Subsequent iterations can be assumed.
While regulatory approvals may be easier for certain devices and surgical procedures, the development of genetic or cell therapies, e.g. needed for integument, may involve a longer approval process. Fortunately, while preclinical development and especially testing and regulatory approvals will be expensive, preliminary research and model-building are relatively inexpensive. This schedule allows our research expenses to scale with our organization’s resources.
We expect that the tail, craniofacial changes, integument, and eye modifications will be the most challenging, and we are prioritizing their research.
- For the tail, humans have little existing neurological ability to control or sense a tail, and we are working on ways to make it work.
- For craniofacial changes, we expect relatively routine techniques such as distraction osteogenesis will be sufficient – but the devil is in the details, and significant modeling and planning will be required.
- For the integument, it is challenging to even modify existing hair in humans, either for hair restoration, or for intentional hair removal – nevermind how to create new color patterns, change hair texture for fur, or to create scales and feathers for non-human forms. Our Integument Review project has started to point to solutions, but a lot of work is still needed.
- Eye changes involve a lot of moving parts, as well. Modifications to iris size, shape, or color, as well as to sclera color, will likely be beneficial for a non-human form, but these are complex tissues with delicate 3D structure, and it will take a lot of work to look right and be safe for the patient.
To the contrary, we expect that ear modifications, paws and claws, digitigrade stance, and gender affirmation can be deferred until later in the research schedule.
- For ears – ear modifications are commonly performed by body modification artists already, and clinical advances in bioprinting are also relevant (e.g. 3DBio Therapeutics ↗). While muscular control of ears would be beneficial, we see it as less challenging than tail muscular control – and therefore not requiring focused research. Finally, even though canines and other creatures appear to have ears on the top of their head, sound is actually routed downwards through a vertical external ear canal to a position very similar to that in humans. So, no movement of the middle or inner ears would be required in patients; mimicking the vertical external ear canal will be dramatically simpler.
- For paws and claws, musculoskeletal changes, as well as the creation or implantation of claws, would be required. However, musculoskeletal changes would be simpler than craniofacial ones. Similarly, claws would use similar techniques to those we develop elsewhere.
- Digitigrade stance is scheduled later, because we anticipate that a tail would be very important for balance for people walking in a digitigrade fashion. In addition, it would use similar musculoskeletal techniques to those we develop elsewhere.
- Gender affirmation is scheduled later because it is an active area of research, and several desirable affirmation goals may not need our direct involvement. Still, we will actively monitor the field’s progress against our goals and adjust as needed.
In all cases, this schedule only illustrates the workflow for permanently integrated modifications. Temporary prosthetics, such as the first 1-2 release versions of the prosthetic tail, are not shown for clarity, even though the technology developed will be used for permanent modifications.
Additionally, while this schedule shows how we are thinking about the biggest challenges for how a full-body procedure will come together, it is our philosophy that if a project outcome is useful to people, we will do it. For example, even as permanently integrated tails become possible, we would plan on continuing to support and advance temporary tail prosthetics.
In conclusion, we are prioritizing the areas of anatomy that appear to be the most limiting for achieving a complete anthropomorphic procedure. In addition, several standalone procedures or products would be beneficial for identity affirmation, before full-body procedures are available. This is will be especially true for the tail and eye changes, and can reasonably be expected for several more. Ultimately, organizing our research in this way lets us resolve the most-limiting challenges, get results out to real people sooner, and parallelize our efforts for optimal efficiency.
Interfacing with the world
The scientific challenges are the most crucial to resolve – and the ones that our volunteers are best equipped to take on. No amount of outreach and advocacy, asking nicely, or discussion with thought leaders can overcome the scientific challenges otherwise. And, once the scientific challenges are resolved, a lot of things will fall into place, even if only some legal jurisdictions are receptive to our assertion that freedom of form is your absolute right.
Even so, we are doing this precisely because freedom of form is your right. Our goal is not just to make procedures possible in the theoretical sense, but to make them available in practice to patients. We are firm believers in the importance of outreach and education, as well as community building.
Our outreach activities have focused on meeting and engaging with qualified individuals and organizations, learning from them, and introducing them to our organization and mission. We’ve held several panels at events such as Midwest FurFest, Anthro New England, and Indy Fur Con. Additionally, we’ve met with numerous experts including Anders Sandberg, Hugh Herr, Liz Parrish, Max More, and Master Tailer of the Tail Company to get their insights.
For community building, we’re motivated to help people cross paths in a genuine and supportive environment, no matter what their field of expertise is. We’re empowering everyone to excel and make their own positive impact on the world. Whatever your experience, we celebrate the ability of everyone to make an impact one small step at a time.