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