DC Biohackers And Blockchainers Take On HIV


Publish Date:
October 31, 2017
  • Airey, Julia
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On Oct. 17 local blockchainer Tristan Roberts livestreamed as he injected himself in the stomach with a treatment that is designed to fight HIV. It came with a warning for viewers not to try it themselves.

According to D.C.-based company Ascendance Biomedical, Roberts is the first person to try this particular treatment. And if it lowers his HIV viral load, the therapy could be available to the public as early as the first quarter of 2018.

Not everyone is a fan. We spoke to Dr. Hank Greely, the Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford. He told us there’s a reason the FDA has a lengthy approval process, and strict regulations.

“These lower the chances that people will be directly harmed by their ‘treatments,’ will end up wasting their time and energy on useful ‘cures,’ or will avoid helpful treatments while chasing a pie in the sky panacea,” Greely wrote to us in an e-mail last week.

There’s also concern that Ascendance Biomedical could still be violating the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act, which bans unapproved drugs. “It isn’t entirely clear that self-experimentation would violate the statute,” Greely said to us. “But the provision of the drug to someone else for their experimental use could.”

Ascendance Biomedical will also be using the blockchain to record “attestations” or testimonials from the people who test out the gene therapy. Hank Greely, the bioethicist at Stanford, shared his concerns about using the quality of attestations as proof of successful treatment.

“In a word, crap,” Greely said. “Single, uncontrolled anecdotes can prove very little.”

Greely on the other hand, is less optimistic about the treatment, or Ascendance Biomedical in general.

“To me, folks who want to make money by selling desperate people unproven cures or treatments for dread diseases belong somewhere in Dante’s Inferno. If your treatment is good, prove it!” Greely said. “And if it’s that good, don’t tell me you can’t find the money, or the partner, to prove it with.”

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