As medical research tilts over a technological precipice, the research method known as biohacking looks to charge headlong downhill, sans delay.
The term only recently found its way into modern vocabulary, but the notion of independently researching and treating the body has long held the fascination of populous culture, be it as superhuman or supermonster. Over the past five years, the term biohacking has appeared with more and more frequency within google search terms; moreover, the gradual increase features intermittent spurts of rapid, punctuated growth, which hints to biohacking’s larger potential as a topic of cultural debate.
But, what exactly is biohacking?
Tristan Roberts, a self-proclaimed “nomadic activist” for biohacking, said “Bio-hacking is primarily distinguished by being more independent and decentralized than the conventional university and corporate research.” Also referred to as DIY bioresearch, or wetwire hacking, biohacking aims to further biological studies without the limitations that a university or pharmaceutical corporation might—intentionally or not—impose.
Notably, Roberts worked with Ascendance Biomedical, which sought to bring groundbreaking gene therapy to those in need. After working in the biomedical industry, he began to notice a trend. “If a researcher doesn’t submit to institutional pressure, they almost always will lose their lab. I think this has had a very chilling effect on novel therapies,” said Roberts.
The biohacking community looks to subvert the established institution of medical research and treatment through experimental studies and accessible treatment. ODIN, a pioneering group in the emerging field of biohacking, sells do-it-yourself bacterial editing kits to encourage those interested in biomedical studies, even if they may not have access to impressively funded projects.
The biohacking movement appears to be accruing momentum, and it does so regardless of how traditional biological researchers view it. While larger corporations avoid experimental research, focusing on, as Roberts says, “Doing what is safest and most profitable. Which is why, quite frankly, HIV cures have not been studied—it would disrupt their profit streams. It would get rid of their lifelong customers.” So keep an eye out for renegade researchers—they might save lives, or at least challenge established research practices enough to effect some change.