Biohackers attempt to modify his genes using cutting-edge medical treatment. Pharmaceutical companies all over the world are currently locked in a race to be the first to perfect the process of gene editing to cure diseases. CRISPR is considered to be a cheap and easy technique which can make precise changes to a person’s DNA which could be potentially revolutionary in the field of medical science.
Already, scientists have created a leukemia treatment using this technology, and it is hoped that more therapies will come in the future. However, the use of CRISPR is not exclusively limited to pharmaceutical laboratories according to Josiah Zayner, a biochemist and former NASA scientist, who has begun treating himself to CRISPR and hoped that others will follow suit.
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He caused quite a storm recently during a lecture on human genetic engineering and biohacking which Zayner streamed live on when he pulled out a syringe of edited DNA and injected himself on camera. He explained that the experiment was intended to increase his capacity for physical strength by removing the gene for myostatin which regulates muscle growth. This kind of gene editing has proven to work in dogs whose genomes were edited at the embryotic stage, but it is believed that Zayner was the first person to attempt it on an adult human. “Will allowing broad access to CRISPR risk creating a group of ‘superhumans’ with enhanced abilities?” The experiment has not been entirely successful. Indeed, Zayner claims that since he has begun injecting himself in this way he has not seen any considerable change in the bulk of his muscles. This is probably because myostatin levels are believed to manifest themselves and become static while an organism is developing.
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However, the failure of the experiment is not of huge concern to Zayner who claims that he is simply trying to prove a point. He believes that biohacking technology such as CRISPR should be available to people outside of formal laboratories. If people are allowed to modify their body through methods such as plastic surgery, tattoos, and piercings, why should they not be allowed to edit their own DNA, he wonders. “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, ’” said Zayner, “It sounds crazy, but I think that would be a pretty interesting world to live in for sure.”
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According to some experts, Zayner’s views are a little more than crazy. Robin Lovell-Badge, a leading CRISPR researcher, based at the Francis Crick Institute in London, Zayner’s experiments are ‘foolish’ and potentially dangerous. He said that they could lead to tissue damage, cell death or an exaggerated immune response which could cause devastating damage to the human body. These fears are shared to some extent by another CRISPR researcher, Dana Carroll. While Carroll is not overly concerned that the genes will actually be edited by Zayner’s rudimentary technology, he does point out that routine injections in a non-sterile environment could lead to infection or a dangerous inflammatory response. “There are aspects of what he’s doing that people need to be really, really careful about, ” Carroll said. While Zayner himself has not suffered any ill-effects because of his experiments, there are concerns that other people could fall ill if they following his lead. While it is likely that he would not face legal action if someone copied him and endured a negative bodily response, his example does raise serious ethical questions, “Even if you are not liable by legal terms, how responsible are you?” asks Eleonore Pauwels, a researcher in genomics and artificial intelligence at the Woodrow Wilson Center, think tank. “How do you define that in today’s bioengineering and democratized technology setting?” For Zayner, these concerns are largely irrelevant. He asks whether CRISPR should really be considered more harmful than other socially acceptable things which can permanently damage genes such as smoking, sunbathing and even chemotherapy treatment. “We should be able to do whatever we want, ” he said. “There are a lot of things we do that occur during the normal day that does a lot more damage, probably, than things like CRISPR.”