Tristan Roberts sits sandwiched between two men on a couch in a bland DC apartment, with leafy, dusk-lit trees peeking out from the sheer curtains behind him. The mundanity of the setting betrays the extremity of what is about to happen next. On the elliptical glass coffee table in front of him is a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a tray holding a glass of water, several vials, and syringes. Roberts is about to inject himself with an experimental gene therapy for HIV, a DIY prototype treatment designed by three biohacker friends. The treatment had never been tested in humans.
“You can’t stop it, you can’t regulate these things,” Roberts says to the camera a few minutes before pinching his belly fat and plunging a syringe into its tissue. “But you can create an environment where there’s transparency.”
Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford, told me that while it would be unlikely for the FDA to step in, the livestream was still troubling. “If he really did inject a DIY vaccine, I hope it doesn’t hurt him,” he told me. “But, if it does, at least he would be in line for a Darwin Award.”
Greely told me that his biggest concern was the involvement of a company in sponsoring Roberts’ self-experimentation.
“A company pushing such self-administration of an experimental compound is another story,” he told me. “My eyebrows raised at seeing the CEO of a company that provides the compound—to be used ‘for research use only’—starts the presentation by saying, ‘We do not advise that anyone watching this video do what is about to be done here,’ at the same time he is presiding over a taping, for internet distribution, of a video about just that.”Read More