Last night, a young man took off his pants in front of a live audience – as well as one on Facebook – and injected his thigh with a drug. While that might not seem that impressive, this drug was an untested experimental gene therapy to treat herpes, made by an unlicensed biohacker contracted by Ascendance Biomedical.
The event was the latest move by the growing community of biohackers, a do-it-yourself group who think they should be allowed to self-experiment with medical and genetic alterations in order to treat diseases and improve health.
In general, they believe that people should be able to do what they want to their own bodies. They argue that there is a long and rich history of people self-experimenting in science, and that the strict regulations put in place on medical testing by organizations like the FDA are too heavy and restrictive. This, they say, is hampering research and preventing gains in medical advances.
The man with no pants is Aaron Traywick, the 28-year-old CEO of Ascendance. He injected himself at a biohacking convention in Austin, Texas, called BDYHAX, where, along with a handful of others, he spoke about both a vaccine and cure that the company has apparently developed for herpes type 1 and 2, before testing the cure live on stage.
This isn’t the first time that Ascendance Biomedical has hit the headlines, and almost certainly won’t be the last. Last year they broadcast another Facebook Live video in which another man injected himself with an untested experimental HIV treatment, as Traywick sat next to him on the sofa.
This hasn’t stopped the FDA from weighing in. Not long after the HIV treatment video was beamed around the world, they issued a firmly worded statement, the content of which you can probably guess.
“FDA is aware that gene therapy products intended for self-administration and 'do it yourself' kits to produce gene therapies for self-administration are being made available to the public,” the government organization wrote. “Consumers are cautioned to make sure that any gene therapy they are considering has either been approved by FDA or is being studied under appropriate regulatory oversight.”
The FDA also mentioned that “the sale of these products is against the law. FDA is concerned about the safety risks involved.” Traywick suspects that the heavily worded response from the FDA was aimed directly at him and his company. But as the HIV therapy was given to the man for free, the biohackers claim that no laws were actually broken.
Unsurprisingly, researchers are skeptical. Safety issues aside, scientists have been working for years, spending millions of dollars to find cures and therapies for both HIV and herpes, so the idea that one company has suddenly struck gold is not very convincing.