Story by Ford Fischer and Alejandro Alvarez
Aaron Traywick wore the same dapper suit with a ruby boutonnière across three days of a radical science convention – but on Sunday night, Treywick himself took the stage – pantless – to inject himself with an experimental treatment he hoped would one day close the book on one of Earth’s most virulent diseases.
Traywick – who has been infected with herpes for five years – volunteered as the first human subject to try a research compound produced by Ascendance Biomedical, a maverick biotech firm he founded and continues to lead.
According to the World Health Organization, over half of the human race is infected with some form of the herpes simplex virus.
Joined by a team of young researchers, Traywick inoculated himself on Sunday in front of a live audience to conclude the three-day BDYHAX, a “celebration of human enhancement, transhumanism, and biohacking” in Austin. Lab manager Gabriel Licina prepared the vaccine on location during a question-and-answer session.
Traywick said his tentative cure works by interacting with the body’s immune system and blocking glycoprotein D, a structural component of the herpes virus that allows for its entry into host cells. Andreas Stuermer, the project’s lead researcher, will receive a version of the vaccine designed for infection-free individuals at a later date.
“The procedure itself is a simple one,” Traywick told News2Share. “If my herpes goes away, and the vaccine remains detectable in the blood upon subsequent lab analysis, we know it works as a cure. For Andreas, so long as the same happens, and he still doesn’t have herpes, then we have 90 percent of the data necessary to prove the vaccine works.”
The serum is the culmination of a years-long research and development phase in a small shared laboratory space outside of downtown Austin. Traywick’s project is wholly independent, with no direction or oversight from academic or corporate entities – a maverick attitude its researchers prided themselves on, despite criticism from some over a lack of ethical accountability.
“It’s ridiculously faster,” Traywick said. “We set the pace, and we aren’t constrained by anyone’s desire to complicate the research and the developmental pipeline to profit. It gets us as fast as possible to the exact place independent and corporate investors would really want us to be – a place where we have raw, valid human data verifying the safety and efficacy of a given therapy.”
Last year, Traywick’s experimental HIV gene therapy made headlines after volunteer Tristan Roberts self-administered the compound in a trial streamed exclusively by News2Share. That venture drew heat from the medical community, who raised concerns about unregulated self-experimentation.
The Food and Drug Administration responded with a thinly-veiled swipe that, while avoiding specific mention of Traywick’s experiment, expressed concern about the safety of self-administered gene therapies and advised consumers to refrain from undergoing treatments not approved or studied “under appropriate regulatory oversight.”
But production specialist Machiavelli Davis regarded the absence of a corporate or academic hierarchy as a strength, not a weakness. “Working with a tight knit team of passionate friends is also a far better experience than just being brought together because of a corporate job,” Davis said, noting that each of the team’s members had prior experience with self-experimentation.
The results of the HIV trial are yet to be determined, but Roberts will proceed into his treatment’s next phase later this month by injecting a dose Traywick described as 250-500 times more potent than the first.
As for Traywick, diagnostics on the effectiveness of the herpes vaccine start in two weeks. “We will be able to confirm the presence of the herpes and whatever concentration it’s at – if it’s moving, if it’s going up or down,” he said. “We’ll also be able to confirm the presence of the vaccine itself.”
With Stuerme also testing the vaccine soon, Traywick said a resolute victory would see both he and his friend virus-free.