“Everyone Should Have Access to Affordable Gene Treatments”
At a biohacking conference in Austin, Texas this week, biotech CEO Aaron Traywick dropped his pants and injected himself in the thigh with an experimental herpes treatment created by his company Ascendance Biomedical. As biohackers have done before him, the whole thing was broadcasted live on Facebook.
The treatment Traywick tested was based on research intended to vaccinate against herpes simplex type 2 virus. The treatment was designed by a 25-year-old Austrian biohacker named Andreas Stuermer, who “holds a Master’s Degree and is a bioentrepreneur and science lover”, according to a conference bio.
Talking to MIT Technology Review, Traywick said: “These therapies that we’re developing have the potential to allow individuals, without the requirement of a clinician or without the healthcare industry, to be able to self-design and self-administer treatments. I absolutely see gene therapy as political.”
Plus, he has herpes, and he’d like to be cured.
This isn’t the first time Ascendance Biomedical has been in the biohacking spotlight. The biotech sponsored an experiment last year, in which an HIV-positive man injected himself with a DIY HIV treatment during a Facebook Livestream.
We asked: What do biohackers represent to you?
5.71% Pure science, free of politics and commercial goals.
51.43% Something in between.
14.29% What’s a biohacker?
As most biohackers, Ascendance Biomedical believes they could bring a cure to market faster and more cheaply than institutions hampered by regulations and corporate concerns over profitability. To do so, they have biohackers who are figuring out the science, and then they trial participants to perform experiments on themselves.
In the past, the company has developed a treatment in an effort to reverse menopause, a method that is now actually in clinical trials.
“We prefer to do everything before a live audience so you can hold us accountable in the days to come as we collect the data to prove whether or not this works,” Traywick said before Sunday night’s experiment. And, he added, “if we succeed with herpes in even the most minor ways, we can move forward immediately with cancer.”
Despite specifying that he wanted “technical questions,” someone in the audience asked whether Ascendance had received ethical permission for the experiment. Traywick said he didn’t. Technically, everything has been officially labelled “not for human consumption,” he said.
The FDA has not commented directly on the recent event, however, they issued a strongly worded warning late last year, noting that selling supplies intended for DIY gene therapy is illegal and actually performing it is unsafe.
This last experiment has left other biohackers worried. Josiah Zayner, a global leader in the biohacker movement said in a Facebook post that Ascendance Biomedical is “gravely misleading people and are making the biohacker community look like idiot scammers.”
Zayner has previously made the headlines for constantly pushing the boundaries of science outside of traditional environments, whether by injecting himself with a concoction of a donor’s DNA to help get rid of his irritable bowel syndrome, or by brewing glowing beer with the help of jellyfish protein that makes things glow.