Thursday, January 14, 2021

That time I ate a weed brownie on a private island Peter Thiel flew me to

Me and my laser tag gun. Happy Trails Hans.

Yeah, it's true. I'm that guy that you fly to a private island to hob knob with and I just eat a weed brownie and act dum. I've accepted that part of me. I'm a hillbilly and I see that as a positive. I grew up on a farm. We were dirt poor. We ate eggs from our chickens and drank dehydrated milk in a not hipster way. I know what it is like to truly have nothing and so anything I have I am deeply grateful for. I am not a person who is obsessed with more. More money, more fame, more, more, more. That's not me. As long as I have love from my family and friends, beer and whiskey and the opportunity to express myself through science or art I will be good.


That's not Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is runaway capitalism. People want to make money for money's sake. It doesn't matter how or why or who is fucked over in the process. 


2018 was my peak hype. At least I think it was. Though I just looked at my wikipedia entry and there is nothing for 2018 so now I'm questioning myself. Actually, 2019 might have been my peak but maybe 2018 was my Silicon Valley peak. That was the year Peter Thiel flew me to a private island with a bunch of Billionaires to hangout. 


I never really got along with Silicon Valley. I lived in Mountain View for a few years. Lived in the Bay Area for around 7 years now. I get all the inside jokes from HBO’s Silicon Valley that you don’t get. I was even a super fan of Valley Wag and have been trying to get Nitasha Tiku to write about me ever since. Still I don’t fit in. I'm a little rough around the edges. Been arrested a few times. Once I might have even smoked crack on accident. You can imagine how well my hillbilly punk style goes over with all the Stanford drop-outs/graduates (hard to tell the difference) that make up the start-up world here. I remember going to a Y Combinator interview looking like a homeless person. The informational email said I didn't need to dress up so I didn't. As you can imagine they didn't accept me. 


As I usually do, I find my own way. In 2016, I started my company, The ODIN. It has grown to have 6 employees and to this day we have yet to take venture capital funding. I don't think you understand how weird that is. I have met zero other Silicon Valley start-up founders who have built a company without funding. It would be less weird if you were a full-time furry CEO. I began getting lots of press because I am unconventional but when John Oliver quoted me saying "I want to live in a world where people get drunk and instead of giving themselves tattoos they’re like, I’m drunk, I’m going to CRISPR myself." I became a curio if you will. Well maybe it wasn't just the John Oliver thing but stop trying to ruin the story flow.


It's weird to have people with more money than I would make in 1000 lifetimes treat you like an interesting object. None of them willing to get too close for fear that my piercings and self tattoos, my peasantry, might rub off on them. It has happened way more than I would like to admit and usually I just try and go along for the ride. People always imagine that they want to be friends with those who have ridiculous wealth but in real life I have always had the issue of what do we talk about? Like, have you toppled a regime lately? It's usually all very superficial. I'm the side piece that’s just crazy enough that no one will commit to them.


Don't get me wrong I have never been mistreated. People just fly me to islands in the middle of the Canadian Wilderness to hangout and salmon fish and then won't respond to my texts. So I just started saying fuck it. I'ma eat my weed brownie and get hammered. That's all they usually want from me anyways. To say or do something crazy that they can tell their friends about. I know that guy who ate poop and injected himself with CRISPR they say. 


So yeah, 2018, peak hype. Founders Fund(FF), Peter Thiel's venture capital fund invited me out to an island in the middle of the Canadian Wilderness. Everything was paid for of course. Limo would pick me up, fly a private plane to Canada and then take a 4 person sea plane to an island. Most everyone else invited either worked for FF, had a company that FF had invested in or was just wealthy or famous. I was just the curio. Not wealthy. People are intrigued by my crazy. It’s awkward but also it’s a fun position to be in because there is no one I need to impress. I didn’t need anything from anyone. That bad part is I think that rubs people the wrong way. 


I remember in High School when Joe Margettis took me to my first party and he told me he needed to go say hi to some people to show face and pay respect. That's the way the island was. High school except none of the fun parts. There was a hot tub outside the suite I was staying in. It looked off onto the glassiness of the water surrounding the island and the untouched Canadian wilderness. I was the only one I ever saw in a hot tub. When a bunch of people decided to play a game of mafia at 12AM in a giant cabin Peter Thiel was staying in. I was the only one who wasn't sober. They had a book club during the day. OK, ok maybe it was like the nerdy part of high school.


The island was a resort. When we landed they handed me a glass of champagne which I finished in a gulp because that fucking sea plane ride over made me shit my pants. It was a plane from the 1930s I swear. Fortunately, there was a free bar as we entered the resort so right after I received my welcome packet I went and got a whiskey. Fucking sea plane. I settled in a bit and came back for dinner on the first night. One thing I noticed is that wealthy people tend to have eccentric points of view. It makes them seem interesting to each other but in real life it's just boring. There is less depth in a conversation about whether we live in a simulation than there is chatting about toe fungus. I just drank and drank and chatted and chatted. Let me tell you, it is exhausting being around people who thought their opinions mattered so much. Don't get me wrong I was the poorest person at this event by far but like, just because you raised $1 billion in venture capital for an app you paid some coders in Ukraine to write doesn't mean you're an expert in education or healthcare or really anything affecting real people in the real world.


I think this is one of the major problems with Silicon Valley, people want to be relevant beyond the fact that they just have money. However, the truth is that MONEY is usually the only reason they are relevant. They aren't geniuses and they don't have special insight into things. None of them built the products their companies sell and none of them could. I see it all the time, successful venture capitalists or CEOs try and become thought leaders. Posting their wisdom on Twitter, a blog or even worse substack. They say shit like "To run a start-up you don't need to sell to people you need to sell to yourself." which sounds insane but people retweet that shit in hopes that they get noticed. That they get investment or maybe even that they become friends and talk about toppling regimes or some shit hopefully not too superficial.

Day two we played laser tag around the whole resort. Peter Thiel didn’t join. It felt like a teenagers birthday party. I can’t say it wasn’t fun though. I don’t know what else to say about that. 


On to dinner. 


The thought of another night talking to people who imagine that they can solve the world’s problems using their massive intellect was daunting and luckily I had acquired some weed brownies for just this kind of situation. I ate one and went to dinner. I don’t remember who I was sitting next to except the fact that they seated me next to Justin Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Morty. He is the only name I will mention in this article because FF has always been kind to me and I do respect peoples who attended’s right to privacy. Since then, Justin and I have become sort of friends. Not real friends. Just sort of friends. He only responds to every fifth email of mine and only sends me emails when he is drunk(at least that’s what I imagine). But I don’t think he would mind me mentioning him. Justin is good people. He has no pretension in him. Not a bone. When our three tortellini came he picked up the fancy-not-drinkable-from bowl and drank the broth. I mean, we were starving, the meal was one of those “so fancy you only get a tiny bite for each course” type of meals so I don’t hold it against him. In fact, I was jealous of his audacity. When we were ordering wine I asked for a buttery Chardonnay but Justin just wanted to most expensive wine on the menu so we split the difference and went for the most expensive Chardonnay. By this time the weed brownie is kicking in. Justin gives me his phone to enter my contact info and I just stared at his phone for a few minutes lost in a haze of being stoned. He freaked out a little bit and asked me what I was doing with his phone. Nothing man, I'm just drunk and the lack of food is making it all worse. By the time dinner was done I was starving and everyone was going to walk over to Peter Thiel’s cabin because he was having a party there. At least the cold and fresh air would sober me up a bit. They would have food there so that was a plus. Food would help me sober up a bit. NOOO. The food all had cheese or dairy in it and I am lactose intolerant and I didn’t want to be farting all night with dairy cramps so I had no choice but to grab another beer and buckle up for the ride. I was not sobering up. This was a swanky-ass cabin mansion and they were serving drinks but I seemed to be the only person drinking. I wasn’t really sober enough to talk to anyone but I did it anyway. Lucky for me all of my embarrassment has been erased from my memory. Well almost all. 


Six months later a friend says, I think you should meet this person. Let me introduce you. 

Sure, I say. 

They introduce me. 

Nice to meet you, I say.

Oh, actually we met already waiting to use the bathroom at Peter Thiel’s cabin, they say. 

Sorry about that, I say. They didn’t serve much for dinner, ya’ know? 


After that bathroom break I went and sat down. It happened to be right in the middle of a game of mafia and I was drafted to play. This was pretty surreal. I’m fucked up and everyone else is sober. I’m weird to begin with so it definitely didn’t help. When I told them I might be too drunk to play they looked at me with chagrin. I shrugged and was the first person voted out even though I wasn’t mafia. I got the feeling they were annoyed by me. If you don’t know the game Mafia the rules are pretty simple. There are people in the group who are deemed the mafia. No one knows who they are except the person leading the game. Every round the mafia gets to select a person to kill and the townspeople try to guess who the mafia is before they are all killed by the mafia. So the game starts by people accusing each other of being mafia and everyone agreeing or disagreeing and arguing to vote someone out. I decided to try a second time and again was the first person voted out. Again, I wasn’t mafia. It was at that moment I realized just how different than these people I was. The outsider. I was literally told twice that I was untrustworthy and despite it being a game it mimicked real life. People paid deference to the accusations of those who were high in the Silicon Valley hierarchy and ignored those of people who weren’t that high. It’s crazy how much power this hierarchy holds over people’s lives. Silicon Valley claims to be a bastion of freedom but people don’t dare say or act out of order around the elite. Wouldn’t want to offend them as they might want to give you a billion dollars one day. I don’t want a billion dollars though. That’s not what motivates me in life so I quit mafia. I went and found Justin and asked him if he was as fucked up as I was and he just shook his head no. I guess I’m in this one alone. I went out on the front porch and sat down on a bench and just decompressed and stared off into the wilderness. Every once in a while someone would come out for a cigarette and we might chat a little bit but mostly I just reflected. 


Coming to the event part of me hoped someone would just invest in my company without me asking. Completely unrealistic but I want so bad for people to see myself and my company as fucking crazy but worth investing in. I hate being on the outside as much as I enjoy it. I learned that you can only be so different from people if you ever want to fit in. That’s a hard one for me. I dread following the crowd. It’s like hardwired into me. 


Silicon Valley is truly a world of people who don’t deserve to be there. So everyone is fighting to fit in. I have never seen anyone invest in crazy or disruptive founders or products. I have seen plenty of investments in dum companies, ever heard of Yo? Mostly though venture capitalists just invest in the same start-ups the biggest funds invest in. They hope they can skitch a ride on that broken Tesla retractable door handle of success.. Everyone tries to pretend like there is some secret to success but really it is just luck and who you know. You can’t just email venture capitalists, you need to be introduced. Everything in the Bay is about the intro. This creates a system of cronyism like no other. It’s so disheartening that the only way to succeed in the Bay Area start-up world is to know the correct people to beg, I mean, pitch for money. And venture capitalists have no special qualifications except that people decided to entrust them with money to invest. It’s not even their money. Despite all the VC brags, an analysis from the Kauffman Foundation, who invest in venture capital firms, showed that VC investments don’t actually outperform the public market. It doesn't matter thoughh, venture capitalists make money regardless if they perform. The good old 2 and 20. Start-ups that raise money the founders generally make a pretty penny regardless if the company succeeds. The number of times I have heard founders buy houses or take fancy trips around the world after raising a funding round is fucking mind blowing. 


I mean, I was flown on a private plane to a resort in the middle of the Canadian Wilderness with a group of people and a venture capital fund paid for it. I have had a number of ridiculously wealthy people fly me places to meet. At first, I wouldn't even let people pay for stuff for me. That was dum but I still don't feel bad about it. I'm a different breed. I don't want your money, I want your friendship. I would rather have a friend who would take a bat to a mother fucker for me than know someone who is a billionaire. I've realized that a billionaire doesn't have friends. They aren't going to support me through tough times. They are never going to just give me money because they want to help me do cool shit. It's not that they are mean, almost all wealthy people I have met are super nice, it's just not possible. How do you be friends with a billionaire? What do you talk about? I haven't toppled any regimes. So that leaves me one option I have to beg, I mean, pitch them for money and it comes with lots of strings. I've tried to suck it up and beg, I mean, pitch people for funding. But everytime my acting betrays me. I've realized that no one wants to be friends[with me] in Silicon Valley. People just want the impossible, to become friends with billionaires. It's a hard realization and so I decide to walk back to my cabin and get some sleep. 


I never saw Peter Thiel again.





Friday, December 11, 2020

I Made a Covid-19 Vaccine in my Kitchen and it Worked - Science Still Sucks


I hate science. It's so elitist. 

I have an internal dialogue going all the time trying to convince myself that I don't want my work to be called science. What I do is completely different, more sacred, honest and open and yes sometimes flawed. Sometimes I hide the fact that I have a Ph.D. because I don’t want it to be a symbol of authority or intelligence for myself. It also feels douchey to tell people I have a Ph.D. I want to be judged by my actions, not where I went to school, which can be primarily determined by your parents financial status and education level. I grew up on a farm in rural Indiana. We ate eggs from our chickens and drank dehydrated milk. Up until even high school my family was dirt poor. We had our electricity shut-off and had to take cold showers. When we couldn't afford the phone bill, I walked to 7-11 and used the payphone to call my friends. Violence, evictions, car repossessions — you name it, I’ve lived it. Starting undergrad at SIU I was homeless and lived out of my car and slept on the dorm room floors of people I knew. 

When I was in graduate school, 99% of my peers did not come from a similar background. It was abundantly clear that the practice of science and medicine is only accessible to the upper crust. That’s an issue in itself, but the fucking humongous gigantic bigger problem is that cutting-edge medicines are also only available to the societal elite. Time and time again throughout this pandemic, we’ve watched as the wealthy and powerful get all the unapproved drugs to treat their covid, while all of us peasants sit back and do our best not to die without them. The 108 Regeneron antibody cocktails all went to Washington DC.

That’s why I left academia. Why I quit my job at NASA and started doing science as a biohacker. I want everyone to be able to do science without any gatekeepers. The single greatest impediment to diversity in science is access to knowledge and information that is being held tighter than Ric Flair’s Figure Four Leg Lock.

Biohackers are setting knowledge free.

In May 2020, an article came out in science magazine where researchers showed that by using a DNA vaccine that codes for the SARS-COV2 spike protein, they could create antibodies that provide protection from covid-19 in macaque monkeys without harmful side-effects. Getting good monkey data is basically the best pre-human data you can ever hope to get. Most people only have experimental data from mouse tests. When I see a paper like this the gears in my brain begin to spin because there is a good chance the FDA would approve this for human testing.

So, I decided to test it myself. The project perfectly fit a niche where biohackers have an experimental advantage over academia and industry. With enough knowledge and skill, we could perform quick but data-laden experiments to show whether the same DNA vaccine tested on monkeys would be promising in humans. And instead of taking months or years we could have results in as little as a few weeks. 

I brought up the idea with David Ishee and Dariia Dantseva, fellow members of the biohacking group the Central Dogma Collective (CDC). They also thought that based on the data this would be a fucking crazy project. We decided we would live-stream every step so that people could learn how to do advanced biomedical research like this in their own home. If one were to replicate the experiment from scratch, the total individual cost would end up being around $3500, the major costs being $1600 for DNA synthesis and $1200 for the kits to measure coronavirus spike protein antibodies.

What I really wanted was to show people how to do the science. I didn't really care if it worked or not but I tend to be pessimistic about my own experiments anyway. While testing and creating a successful coronavirus vaccine would send a powerful message to the world, teaching people how to do advanced biomedical research will change it. 

In the end, the experiment worked. All three of us developed SARS-CoV2 spike protein neutralizing antibodies. I still can't fucking believe it. Not only did we create and test a successful vaccine, we showed that we could get a gene therapy to work (a DNA vaccine changes the DNA in your cells and so is a gene therapy also). Here is a summary of the experimental details and results if you are interested. We didn't create the vaccine to sell it. We made the nucleotide sequence and genetic design data open and free so that anyone can easily recreate it. All in a state-of-the-art lab. I'm kidding, my lab is a tiny bedroom in a house in West Oakland, David's is in a shed in rural Mississippi and Dariia's is an old building she converted in Ukraine. If your mind isn't blown, you either already knew about the project or you don't understand what I just told you. 

If you want to know why I created and tested a coronavirus vaccine on myself, it’s because I am at War. 

I know it sounds a bit dramatic but there really is a class war going on. There is a group of people who are actively making choices that cause a disproportionate amount of deaths among those in lower social classes. New gene therapies cost over a million dollars. That’s right. Your life, your child’s life, your mother, your loved one depends on how much money you make. The government and Pharma companies aren’t going to help you when you can’t afford it either. Most of these gene therapies aren't even available outside the US either because most countries with socialized medicine won't pay for them. So don't tell me how your country's healthcare is better.

Considering that if you are reading this there is a 99% chance you are not part of the top 1%, let me ask you this — why are we letting the wealthy and powerful get away with this? 

Those who have a monopoly on the understanding and use of biotechnology have all the power. If I, if we can teach people how do it themselves then we win back power.

This is why biohackers are needed in society. 

Now in Dec. 2020, many people are still holed up waiting for a vaccine. The problem is when a vaccine for covid comes around it won't be the 99% that receive it first. Your life isn't worth that much. You're not important or wealthy or powerful. The people who will receive it first are the same people who can sit out a pandemic in the comfort of their home and have their necessities delivered by the working class. They tell everyone else to social distance and wear a mask but won’t do it themselves. Fucking Gavin Newsom.

Still, we are losing this class war as people continue to fight against their best interest. They believe lying politicians, lying scientists, and are manipulated by the news media. We are told to wait and trust while hundreds of thousands of people in the US die. While small businesses close at an unprecedented rate, but large corporations make billions.


What the fuck. They are killing us and taken what we own. Why are we still putting up with this?


We can take back what belongs to us by creating for ourselves. 

Science and medicine belong to us not them. Biohack the fucking planet





 




Wednesday, October 7, 2020

CRISPR is Dead



Today, the Nobel Prize was awarded for “genome editing” to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. Essentially this was the CRISPR Nobel Prize. If enough of CRISPR has already come so that it is worthy of a Nobel Prize I can’t imagine there is much place to go from here. 


Modifying the genome of organisms has always been of great interest to scientists. Adding or removing genes allows us to understand how things work and allows us to create microorganisms, plants or animals(humans are animals right?) that have traits never seen before. Knowingly modifying the genome of organisms has been done since people understood breeding. Inserting specific DNA elements began in the 1970s but it wasn’t very targeted and was mostly just inserting genes into random places in genomes. It wasn’t until the 1990s that people started to be able to do targeted genome modifications. 


Targeted genome modifications allow highly specific and accurate changes to an organism’s DNA. The co-opting of the cellular mechanism of homologous recombination is the backbone of all modern genome editing technologies including Zinc Finger Nucleases(ZFNs), Transcription activator-like effector nuclease(TALENs) and Clustered regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats(CRISPR). Both ZFNs and TALENs are mostly synthetic, i.e. they contain a portion that can be engineered to target DNA and a synthetically attached nuclease that will cleave DNA to initiate recombination and gene editing. CRISPR is almost completely natural which makes one wonder how there are so many patents on it’s use, yikes.


CRISPR can modify most any living cell but so can ZFNs, TALENs and other technologies. So why then was CRISPR heralded as the discovery of the century by the MIT Tech Review? Simply, CRISPR is just easier to use because it uses nucleic acid targeting. That makes it cost less and take less time to produce genetic modifications. 


So what has CRISPR made possible? Not much really. Most everything done with CRISPR can be done with one of these other technologies albeit these others are slower and more expensive. CRISPR allows the scaling of genetic engineering so that time and money are much less of a factor. It is the cloud computing of biology at least in my mind.


Despite claims by scientists and pharma companies there is little chance CRISPR will ever be widely used in the clinic to directly treat disease. That is because it suffers from all the same faults as its predecessors and maybe even more so. Gene editing has low efficiency in adult animals(yes humans are animals) no matter the technique used. For instance, if you have a disease that affects the brain you can probably only modify <1% of cells even using the best delivery techniques available. Really, the only way to get rid of genetically inherited diseases using gene editing is by modifying embryos. 


Misleading as it has been CRISPR can’t actually make specific changes to a gene easily in an adult animal. That is because it requires what is called a donor template, basically just a DNA template that cells can use to create the genome modifications. There is no efficient way to use donor templates in an adult animal so all genome edits would need to be gene knock-outs only i.e. you can only use CRISPR to destroy bad genes not modify them to make them good genes. As you can imagine this is very limited in scope when it comes to diseases that can and should be reasonably targeted using genome editing.


To date all human clinical trials involve gene editing technology whether CRISPR or otherwise have failed to show any change in the disease condition. I don’t see this as likely to change. While there might be a disease that can be helped despite the low efficiency of CRISPR chances are that normal gene therapy, that doesn’t edit the genome, will be easier and more successful. There are very few diseases that would require genome editing as opposed to just adding an extra copy of the gene to cells like gene therapy does. It’s not all just conjecture either, just recently in August 2020 the pharma giant Abbvie ended a partnership it had with Editas, one of the major CRISPR players. Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees CRISPR's future in the clinic as limited.


So what applications are left for CRISPR besides contributing to research? Some people are betting on diagnostics, using CRISPR’s ability to target specific sequences of DNA. While this seems reasonable it is unlikely that tried and true methods for DNA detection that use PCR will ever be significantly deplatformed. After that we are scraping the bottom of the bowl of guac.


I have been around CRISPR since near the beginning. The only thing that has remained constant is the hype. Even that has been fading. While it is hard to measure hype Google Trends indicates that for 2020 the topic and search term CRISPR is on track to be the lowest searched since 2016. We now know that CRISPR gene drives don’t really work. No success for CRISPR in the clinic. CRISPR has already been used to edit human embryos. Really, the only thing keeping CRISPR hype alive is probably the MIT Tech Review.

In 2006, RNAi gene silencing was given the Nobel Prize. MIT called it the breakthrough of the decade. I remember everyone being so excited about it! It was the hot topic at conferences and even my graduate school interviews. While RNAi was and always has been a great benefit to researchers its actual application has been extremely limited. It’s taken 13 years from the RNAi Nobel Prize to bring something to the clinic and even then the two drugs have been a bit underwhelming. According to Google Scholar, papers even mentioning RNAi have been on the decline for the past 6 years. The drug approved in the past few years haven't even slowed the decline.


I am sure people will continue to use CRISPR for years to come but I hate to break it to you CRISPR is dead.


 




Thursday, June 25, 2020

Do-It-Yourself: From Scientific Paper to Covid-19 DNA Vaccine

I'll be honest, when the coronavirus pandemic first started I didn't imagine it would last this long. I am constantly planning and looking to the future and it seemed like some temporary nuisance that the media was blowing out of proportion. It was annoying to see people flock to work on coronavirus related things to further their own agenda. Among those were numerous groups of Biohackers who were pretending to solve problems that they couldn't reasonably solve because of lack of access to the SARS-COV2 virus or animal testing models or both. Despite pleas from many many people to get involved in projects I decided to sit the pandemic out and do what I always do - work on shit that would have long-term benefits to the Biohacking and science community. The pandemic kept going. I really didn't imagine it would last this long.

 Then in May 2020, an article came out in science magazine where researchers showed that by using a DNA vaccine that codes for the SARS-COV2 spike protein they could create antibodies and protect macaque monkeys from covid-19. Getting good monkey data is basically the best pre-human data you can ever hope to get. Most people only have mouse data. When I see a paper like this the gears in my brain begin to spin because there is a good chance the FDA would approve this for human testing. From the data it is seemingly both safe and effective. I changed my mind. This sounded like a great project and not just because it was coronavirus related. 

 This project fits a niche where biohackers have an experimental advantage over academia and industry. With enough knowledge and skill we can perform quick but data laden experiments to show if the same DNA vaccine tested on monkeys would be promising in humans. And instead of taking 2 or 10 years we can have results in two months. Weeks if we wanted to drop an extra $5k. 

 For the past month Myself, David Ishee and Dariia Dantseva have been working furiously to develop a step-by-step online class on how you can take a paper with animal data like the one above and use it to develop a research plan to collect usable human testing data. Simultaneously, over the course of the next 2 months we will show you the process we went to recreate the SARS-COV2/covid-19 vaccine from the paper and test it on ourselves. From designing the DNA, testing expression in human cells, ELISAs and more. We will explain how one can do advanced Biomedical research DIY and on a budget.

 You ain't fucking going to want to miss this.

 With a risk averse scientific and medical system Biohackers are the ones who will push things forward in a reasonable time frame.

 Biohackers are needed in society. 

 Whether you think I am an idiot for self-experimenting is not the point. The point is that when it comes your turn to suffer and die at the hands of a disease you will hope there is someone like me willing to risk something to try and help.

 Biohackers will be trying for you when everyone else has given up.

 How do we get more Biohackers then? The problem at the moment is that there are not many people with enough knowledge and enough crazy doing experiments. Science and medicine has become so stratified into a risk averse elitist system because of lack of diversity. I want to change that. I want anyone who has access to an internet connection to have access to the knowledge required to do advanced Biomedical research. I mean, what if we could do this for any drug? Some people with a little ambition, intelligence and crazy could be testing promising drugs in weeks not years. The test pilots of the biological age.

First class will be live-streamed Sunday June 28th at 11AM PT at https://youtube.com/josiahzayner/

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Why We Shouldn't Be Forced To Wear Masks


It has become glaringly obvious in the past few months that science has let us down. I don’t blame them. The situation the world is in is complicated because we don’t have enough information on what we should do and how we should act. We look to our “experts” for help but generally they are probably only slightly more insightful than yourself.

In Oakland, CA where I live there is a mandatory order to wear masks when in public. This is despite as recently as March 31, 2020 the World Health Organization(WHO) has suggested people not wear masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. On April 6th, 2020 they released interim guidance suggesting that people in the community should wear masks, though they are not effective alone. The CDC suggests we should wear masks or rather cloth face coverings and save masks for medical professionals. So what gives? Should we or should we not wear masks?

There have been a number of scientific studies in a number of different live settings that have shown that face masks alone don’t reduce influenza like illness spread in a statistically significant way. A meta study of 15 of these studies also agrees. However, a recent study done in a lab environment disagrees. When there is conflicting information from scientific papers and organizations how do we decide who is correct and who is incorrect?

This is one of the major problems with science today, science is never wrong. You can almost always find a paper that agrees with the point you are trying to make. Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) but according to the WHO and European Union it isn’t. Do you believe the WHO over the IARC? Why? Because one seems more reputable? So the one with the best reputation wins? Is that what science comes down to for you?
Who do we believe and who do we trust?

This happens often in science, conflicting information. None of the studies are technically wrong and so it is up to the bias of the reviewer/interpreter/observer to determine what evidence they want to agree with. If we even have evidence enough to disagree.

Models and data analysis are an interpretation of data that is guided by a human. We are left with a simple choice: either believe it was modeled correctly or don’t. How can you say it wasn’t modelled correctly if you don’t even have information on how it was modeled?

In March, The Imperial College in London released a report that said up to 2.2 million people in the US might die from the coronavirus. The CDC ran models that suggested anywhere from 200,000 to 1.7 million might die. These numbers caused mass hysteria and the lockdown of most states. Despite the fact that 200,000-2.2 million is almost about as big a range as you can get in this prediction. Fortunately, we will most likely underperform and have nearer to 100,000 deaths or less in the US(the current number of coronavirus related deaths on April 24 stands at 51,000 with over 26,000 from New York and New Jersey alone, who may either be overcounting or undercounting depending on who you ask). It is unknown whether any of the models took into account preventative measures and I imagine the lockdown has decreased the number of coronavirus related deaths but by how many? In this scenario could the models ever be wrong? If all the deaths stopped after 4,000, like in China, would there be anyone who would say these models were wrong or would they instead point to preventative measures that helped save us from the predictions of the models?

The models can never be wrong. This makes it so the science can never be wrong. I have seen it time and time again. Where scientists _decide_ some scientific publication is wrong and look at it under the most intense scrutiny that they fail to give similarly to papers that support their argument and a _consensus_ is reached. Do we have great evidence that covid-19 is causing a really high death rate? Not really. Testing has been extremely underdone or needs to be tripled to reopen according to the NYT. Why then are scientists trying so hard to dismiss studies that suggest the number of infected people is much higher than by what testing so far in the US has been done? They really don’t know if these studies are incorrect as evidence for a high death rate is based on an extreme lack of testing. Still, they have decided a low death rate is incorrect and so that is what we are to believe.

The powers that be from on high have decided that this science is correct and this science is incorrect. The problem is that there is no empirical way to decide whether one piece of science is more correct than a piece that disagrees. It requires humans to judge and humans are fallible and prone to bias. Here is where modern science breaks down. It is more about social and political posturing to achieve the most number of people to support your argument than it is of empiricism. If you disagree with the consensus you are automatically wrong. I mean, consensuses have never been wrong before amirite(see sarcasm).

If you still operate under the idea that science delivers us truth and facts I beg you to reconsider your position and understand that beneath the peer review, the data collection, the choice to publish what experiments and what to leave out, is a whole pool of bias and misinformation. Scientists are just as biased as everyone else, maybe more so, because they have their reputation on the line. But we put them up in the heavens and pretend that they are presenting the truth to the rest of us. When they have no more access to the truth than anyone else.


Science might be doing us more harm than good but it depends on who you ask.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scientists Can't Save Us If There Aren't Many Scientists

Two Normal Scientists

As a former academic scientist it is hard for me to comprehend how many scientists there actually are. When I was in graduate school I was surrounded by scientists. My friends were scientists, my colleagues, the friends of my friends were. I had lunch with scientists, got hammered out of my gourd with scientists and had sex with scientists. The only people I interacted with that weren’t scientists were the bartenders at The Cove Lounge and my family.

With the ‘rona pandemic scaring the shit out of people we all hope the scientists are there to save us. Ya’ know like some Outbreak bullshit. Last minute, save your lover. Where is Dustin Hoffman when we need him? There are so many articles about scientists and companies doing their part that it seems like everyone in the world is working to save us. I have long pondered the question of how many scientists there actually are. If we were to conjure up all biomedical scientists and pay them to work on the ‘rona exclusively how many would that be? I imagine alot but only 2% of the US(~6 million people) has a PhD in anything. That number seems low to me. I guess I know too many PhDs and it skews my estimate. When I actually started to figure out how many scientists there are it was even more shocking. 

Trying to quantify the number of scientists that are working to save us from disease is tough as there really is no data on it. Instead, what we can do is use the data that is available to indirectly infer how many scientists there are out there working in biomedical research.

According to the NSF there are around 200,000 employed PhD biological scientists in the US. If we try and narrow down the number to those engaged in biomedical research the number drops closer to 50,000-100,000. Understand, scientists aren’t just PhDs. PhDs are actually the smallest group of scientists. There are about twice as many people receiving Master’s degree so if we assume similar employment rates for Master’s degrees as we do with PhDs that adds another ~200,000 people to the biological researcher workforce. For bachelor’s degrees ~2 million have been received in Biological sciences since 1990. It is difficult to find the numbers of people with Bachelor’s degrees who are employed in biomedical research. If we use Indeed.com, a website which includes many or most job postings, and look for entry level job openings in biomedical research in the US the number is somewhere around 6,000. If we can assume most jobs stay on the market for 3 months that is about 24,000 entry level jobs a year. If we assume the number of jobs available is proportional to the number of people who obtained degrees (which isn’t always true but is our best bet) we have around 300,000 - 400,000 total employees with Bachelor's degrees. If we add up those numbers we have a total of around 450,000 - 700,000 active biomedical research scientists in the US. 

That number is just so much smaller than I imagined. The crazy thing is that many of these people are teachers, managers or work in non-research roles so even 450,000 is probably a high estimate. But the world is a pretty big place and the US is small in the whole scheme of things. Right? I mean...

Finding data on how many biomedical scientists are in every country is near impossible but fortunately (unfortunately?) most countries contribute so little to the total that we can just ignore them. According to the NSF, China awards around twice as many science and engineering bachelor’s degrees as the US but only 85% as many PhDs. The Euro8(Germany, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, and Romania) awards around the same number of bachelor’s degrees as the US while also awarding about 1.5x more PhDs. If we can extrapolate the job numbers from the US we are looking at around 800,000 bachelor’s + 200,000 masters + 85,000 PhDs and around 1.1 million biomedical researchers in China, 400,000 bachelor’s + 300,000 master’s + 150,000 PhDs and around 850,000 in Euro8. I know it seems weird to just choose these countries but from the data the number of biomedical researchers in other countries not mentioned do not significantly contribute to the worldwide total from all the numbers I can find.

An estimate of the worldwide total number of individuals actively employed in biomedicine in any capacity is  around 3 million.

Being hands-on in science is essential to being able to plan out research experiments and perform research. When you aren’t using equipment you lose your touch and sense of intuition for what is possible and on what time scale. There is a phrase in science that people use for someone who knows their way around a lab and can make things work. Scientists say that the person has “got hands” or has “good hands”.

Most scientists you have heard of or revered don't have good hands. Nobel Prize researchers generally didn't do the actual experiments that lead to the Nobel Prize. People say it is the process of science and that everyone moves away from doing lab work but it really doesn’t make much sense. Scientists at the prime of their career and ability, generally quit doing actual hands-on science. 

In an average research lab of 10 people there are around 3 people who participate in a support role and not active research. These positions would be the lab Principal Investigator(PI), the lab manager, administrative roles and roles like dishwasher. If we subtract that 30% we are at around 2.1 million biomedical non-support role researchers worldwide. At MIT, the typical lab is under 10 people and I imagine that number is even less elsewhere. I have worked in labs with one or two others and those other two were in support roles and not active in research. These numbers are probably an underestimate.

Our final worldwide total is around 2.1 million biomedical non-support role researchers who can do hands-on work. 

Around 50% of US research funding is for applied research which is considered research that can contribute directly to a product or outcome. I know, I know but basic science research will contribute to helping us _eventually_. While I don’t necessarily share that sentiment and my own published research is evidence of that fact, I am talking about research that can contribute now. Like, if say, a virus was spreading. From the NSF we know that 25% of researchers work at for profit institutions and let’s just say for profit institutions are generally doing applied research. Drug companies got to make drugs amirite? That leaves 50% of the other 75% as those doing applied research that can contribute directly to a biomedical product or outcome now. If we use these numbers to extrapolate to our global number

This leaves us with around 1.3 million people worldwide doing applied biomedical non-support role hands-on research.

If around 7% of those are PhD researchers, as from the initial numbers above, that is only 91,000 PhDs doing applied biomedical non-support role hands-on research worldwide!!!! 

The lack of experienced scientists doing hands-on research hurts us all. One of the goals of my company, The ODIN, is to train up people who can do hands-on scientific research. In the past year we have trained nearly 2,000 people to do so. The problem isn’t schools not letting in enough people, it is the simple problem of marketing. Convincing people that they are capable and then training them.

The World Health Organization(WHO) has a system that provides codes and nomenclature for over 33,000 diseases. If no one researched anything in biomedical science but diseases that would be less than 3 PhD scientists per disease in the world. 

Here is the problem, when new threats come around like CoVid-19 the number of scientists with actual knowledge and skill to be able to work towards developing a treatment is tiny. If you imagine that vaccine development for viruses is a subset of a field in virology and then factor in familiarity with coronaviruses you are down to very few people. In 2016, coronaviruses were listed by the World Health Organization as in urgent need of R&D. Using Pubmed, I found 12 scientific publications in 2017 that mention (coronavirus or CoV) and vaccine in the title, 6 in 2018 and 16 in 2019

Despite multiple previous coronavirus pandemics why wasn’t there more research on coronavirus vaccines done? 

It's not funding. The NIH alone invests $41 Billion in medical research a year. The top 20 Pharma companies invest around $100 billion. ChinaEurope and Japan add near another $100 billion. Bringing the total Biotech R&D investment per year to somewhere near a quarter of a trillion dollars.

Honestly, I imagine it is because there just aren’t enough scientists to go around. 

We should be afraid and not because of CoVid-19. There are so many diseases that humans suffer and die from on a daily basis that have no treatment or cure. That shit needs to change and change fast. We need more scientists that can do hands-on research because what we have just ain't cutting it.






Wednesday, April 1, 2020

All My Friends Are Dying


My Friend

I’m 39 years old and all my friends are dying.

The medical system is failing us. Poor and wealthy, those with and without insurance. We suffer at the fate of a system that optimizes for revenue instead of alleviating human suffering. Regulatory bodies that care more about protecting pharmaceutical company profits than human lives.

It takes around 10 years for a drug to get approved by the FDA and only 48 drugs were approved in 2019. This isn’t even 48 drugs for unique illnesses that have never had a drug. In fact, a recent study showed that around 65% of FDA submissions are just reformulations or improvements of existing drugs. I mean, there are at least 10 different approved heart-burn drugs that aren’t antacids.

Regulation is killing us, literally. As we don’t get the drugs we need to help us fast enough.
Not only does regulation slow drug development but it allows for high drug prices and little competition. US drug prices are almost four times higher than economically similar countries throughout the world. Pharmaceutical companies make billions, averaging 15%-20% profits when the average for non-pharmaceutical companies is 4%-9%. The government allows this despite over 80% of Americans believing that prescription drug prices should be lower!

I’m not writing to be unbiased because I am not unbiased. It’s no secret that I think that individuals should become more independent of the medical system. I have experimented medically on myself numerous times including a fecal transplant and a few gene therapy experiments. I buy my contacts on the internet from Canada without a prescription. I order blood tests online and draw my own blood. My advocacy for medical freedom, body autonomy and genetic engineering accessibility has brought about a lot of heat. The FDA, the California Medical Board & California Department of Consumer Affairs have investigated me. The state of California has passed a law that specifically targets my company. Why is the system fighting so hard against me? Someone who has never sold a drug, except maybe weed to a friend in high school.

The system is scared and afraid of people functioning on their own. You don’t know enough they say. You’re going to hurt yourself and others. They make trying to help people illegal even when there are no approved treatments.

As I become more well known the number of emails and messages I receive from people suffering from disease and looking for help is becoming insurmountable. I rarely respond anymore. I can’t because I usually end up becoming friends with people and I can’t keep watching my friends die. There was a time in the beginning when I did respond. That’s how I met L and D and how we became friends.

D was diagnosed with Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). She was in her 30s and a never smoker. I quit smoking after I started talking to them. I couldn’t handle the guilt. There are no approved treatments that could cure D’s NSCLC and so she decided to try something radical, something illegal, she wanted to try individualized peptide immunotherapy. It was either that or wait to die.

My PhD in Molecular Biophysics taught me how easy it is to order peptides from companies on the internet. You can have them shipped to your home. If companies won’t ship to you then you create a fake business name, website, sign your emails “Ph.D.” and get a PO Box. You can even get an Employer Identification Number from the IRS without any requirements. Having drugs made for you is within the realm of possibility for anyone even if you have no scientific knowledge. We thought people should know this and so together with L, other PhD scientists, medical doctors and people with cancer we developed a DIY guide on how to order peptide immunotherapies. AS, a friend and medical doctor who helped us with this guide passed away in March 2020.

S was on our cancer email list and we became friends. S also had NSCLC and eventually acquired some illegal immunotherapy peptides. The chances these peptides could help were small but that was better than the nothing that was available. That was better than waiting to die. In Summer 2018, she told me she was going to be in the Bay Area visiting family and she wanted to meet up.

I almost backed out at the last minute because l was scared. But what excuse do you give to a dying person? How do you look them in the eye and refuse them anything? I don’t understand how a government can tell someone dying that they can’t try unapproved treatments because, get this, they may die. Cowards.

The thing I remember most about spending time with S was her smile. The purist smile I have ever seen. S never injected any illegal peptides before she passed away. I don’t know why she wanted to meet. Maybe she just wanted to say goodbye. That’s her hands in this video she created shortly before her death. She passed away in January 2019.

I never met M but he loved to workout and would even do so in his hospital bed. I think it helped him to have something to focus on other than the cancer. We were bros. I remember when he told me he didn’t have long. I told him how much of an inspiration he was to me and that’s the last conversation we had. M passed in December 2018.

The number of friends with cancer I have watched pass away is more than anyone should need to endure.

It’s not just cancer either. K, contacted me because she had muscular dystrophy and could barely move, she couldn’t gain any weight, was frail and close to death. There are human tested gene therapies that have shown promise in Becker muscular dystrophy. For Duchenne muscular dystrophy something as simple as gentamicin sulfate has increased dystrophin levels by as much as 15% when tested in humans. A DIY infusion regimen similar to the study would cost an individual around $600 for the compound. I couldn’t help and she passed in June 2018.

If you have the knowledge, million dollar gene therapies like Glybera can be recreated for under $50k. The patents and regulatory filings provide all the details even down to the DNA sequences used, the dosages needed and administration protocols.

Most any drug can be made by a company in Asia. Just make a post on Alibaba and you will get a quote in less than a week. If you want premade, prepackaged drugs there are many websites that sell from the same manufacturers that are used by US pharmaceutical companies, same packaging and all. You can find these sites pretty easily after searching Reddit for a few minutes.

I hate telling people that the biggest thing between them and a self-administered treatment option is just their own lack of knowledge. That the government makes it so that those like me with knowledge can’t help them order and administer drugs they want to try.

Would you risk going to jail for trying to prevent someone’s death? I feel guilty about that question every day.

According to the government it is ok for an approved medical treatment to kill me. Ok for a self-treatment to kill me. Ok for me to suffer and die without any treatment. If however someone helps me with a treatment, even if the drug has been tested in humans, it is against the law.
People don’t contact me because they are looking for an approved drug. Every single one of them would be willing to try a risky treatment if it meant even a small chance of alleviating their suffering. I have thousands of emails and messages. The husband who has stage 4 cancer, his wife telling me she and her kids can’t live without him. The couple who are drug addicts and would do anything for their daughter to not suffer the same fate. The family that has two kids with muscular dystrophy. The younger brother watching the older deteriorate knowing it won’t be long till he suffers the same fate. Neither child will live past 25.

D passed away in January 2020 and many others die each day without any hope.

See, it’s not money or knowledge that keeps people suffering, it is greedy corporations and the regulatory system that supports them. The system is so set on avoiding blame for someone getting hurt trying something risky that we would rather just let people suffer and die with no chance.