“Biohacking” refers most broadly to self-help or DIY efforts by people to modify the functioning of their bodies, with goals of improved health or improved physical and mental performance. The term has been appropriated by advocates of everything from nutritional supplements to quantified-self technologies (like FitBits) to cyborg-style implants to attempts to modify one’s own genetic code. While a regime of untested nutritional supplements poses risks mainly for the person taking them, the declining costs and increasing availability of gene-editing techniques in particular has raised concerns in many circles about broader risks posed by unregulated biohacking. In recent conferences, biohacking advocates have injected themselves with serums designed to treat herpes and HIV. More seriously, a laboratory in Alberta recently recreated a previously extinct version of the smallpox virus. The lab used entirely off-the-shelf ingredients, and their research raised no regulatory red flags, which raised concerns about either accidental or deliberate amateur bioweapons
Biohacking thus occupies an ethically fragile space between the participatory democratic values behind citizen science movements, and the regulatory and security concerns that follow untrained, experimental use of new and potentially dangerous technologies. More above-board biohacking endeavors like Genspace have attempted to negotiate this space by providing basic genetic education to biohackers and incorporating basic security into their work. Still, the rapidly increasing availability of genetic-modification technologies and their vast potential for remaking biomedicine mean that we are only beginning to confront the issues that biohacking will inevitably raise over the coming years.
We are pleased to announce a speaker series for 2018-19 focusing on issues in biohacking. These lunch workshops, generously funded with the help of NC Biotech, typically involve about half an hour to eat and network and socialize, followed by a 20-30 minute presentation by the visiting speaker, and then another half hour or so for discussion.
The first speaker will be Dr. Todd Kukien on Oct.2. More details and speakers to follow!