A DIY coronavirus vaccines have biohackers questioning their entire approach

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/10/12/a-diy-coronavirus-vaccines-have-biohackers-questioning-their-entire-approach.html


“human beings-- their biology is so complex.”


who would have ever guessed . . .


“Biohacking” is basically how medicine was done until the mid 20th century. It led to a lot of discoveries, but also a lot of inequity and disasters - how many medical scientists wound up maiming, poisoning or killing themselves in the Victorian era?


So you test 30,000 people so that the messiness kind of averages out.

Yeah, no duh, that’s how medical research works. You test something A LOT to make sure it works first. The days of the lone scientist testing shit on themselves ended a century ago when we realized this.

Please get this guy away from testing equipment and find him some other area to focus on. Maybe drawing comics or something? What he does is incredibly dangerous and fantastically irresponsible and I’d rather he not be highlighted for his efforts. Ever. The lone genius solves medical problem stuff is never going to happen because (as he finally realizes) human biology is vastly complex.


well… I bet those guys & girls are smarter than my mom’s friend’s boyfriend, who died of multi organ failure in the early 90ies, after injecting himself with a home made extract from bovine thymus glands :smiley:


Right, what he did was basically a very weak phase I trial of a vaccine candidate developed by someone else. He showed that the drug didn’t produce any serious side effects in a healthy adult and it elicited an antibody response. A bunch of candidates by “big pharma” did this back in July, and with N>1. It is no guarantee of actual effectiveness, nor that it won’t do harm in some situations – which is why we do phase III, and why it takes time.

The lesson here isn’t just that human health is complicated and difficult, but that DIYers are not going to beat out drug companies in a race where those drug companies are spending billions of dollars and racing to get a product out. We saw the same thing a few months ago in the ventilator panic: a bunch of DIYers tried to put together crappy ventilators that both didn’t address the actual medical needs, nor understand the difficulty in volume manufacturing.

I’m a bit skeptical of most DIY healthcare initiatives in general but I do think there is a place for them. However, it usually involves finding underserved niches where conventional approaches aren’t putting effort or can’t make the financial aspects work, and it probably can only work when there isn’t the same time pressure.

I think areas where open hardware hackers can contribute is designing low cost, more rugged, or more practical versions of established medical devices that can be build locally for use in developing nations where existing medical supply chains don’t work well. 3D printed custom prosthetics is another area where people have been successful. I even think an open hardware ventilator project could be very interesting as a long term project: it just doesn’t work if you want to go from a blank piece of paper to a million units in a few weeks.


You call him biohacker (or he does, IDK), I call him moron. I mean, just read this:

“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, who has a few tattoos of his own, in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “It sounds crazy, but I think that would be a pretty interesting world to live in for sure.”

Yeah, no.



This guy here is more of a scam artist than anything else. I mean, he tries to peddle these kits:


A lot of times even then things were done better and more responsibly than this.

A commonly cited example is the smallpox vaccine, and people claim that the inventor “tried it on his gardener’s son then exposed the child to smalpox” as an example of wildly irresponsible behavior that led to a medical breakthrough. It is sort of technically true, but tends to misrepresent what really happened.

For centuries it was known that if you introduce smallpox pus into a cut on your arm, you get a much less serious infection that protects you from further infection. This was called variolation and it was a standard practice in the presence of a smallpox outbreak since it significantly reduced the risk even though variolation could be fatal.

Edward Jenner first observed that people exposed to cowpox didn’t seem to get smallpox. So first off, rather than a novel protein made in a lab, this was an already widespread naturally occurring virus, so he had a pretty good baseline for the risk of exposing people to it. He then, a couple months later, did variolation: which was the standard of care at the time during a smallpox outbreak and showed that the child did not even develop the normal local infection that variolation produces. This was the effect that was considered evidence of effectiveness. But even then, the experts at the time called for additional cases before he could publish it.

So this was not a strong or ethically performed experiment by modern standards, but it was much different that what this person did. The risks of the treatment were known because this was a well established virus, and the subsequent exposure challenge was a medically standard practice at the time. And a very small “trial” / case study was followed up by a larger quantity before it was accepted for use.

And this was for a disease with a 30% mortality rate among immune naive people, where the risk tolerance would be significantly different than something like coronavirus.


I wonder why there isn’t a 24/7/365 online all the time effort to mobilize every person who is interested in solving the most important jigsaw puzzle of our time - how to block the COVID19 spike from the ACE-2 protein. FoldIt is too complex for beginners to start with but is a good place to play for those who have some idea of protein folding.

Actually, I had to dig and dig to find a good illustrated depiction of how the virus gets from one infected person to infect another. I have yet to see NOVA or other TV science shows explain the virus in detail and what needs to be done to stop it.

We could be having a whole species conversation about this whole species threat but we aren’t. Why does that remind me of our approach to climate?

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Sorry, wut?
That story needs more than a single sentence post.


And medicine has evolved a lot.

So you could have really easy change, “wash your hands”, in earlier times, while now it takes much more because the basics are covered. Far back, science was rudimentary, now there’s a whole lot more to learn even to begin with.

Solutions don’t come overnight, and they are built on what came before.

They found my rare autoimmune disease in two weeks last year, though I was far gone and landed in the hospital via an ambulance. It takes so much to get to that point, the diagnosis, and the remedy to put it in remission is based on things uncovered for other diseases.

This guy seems more like a patent medicine salesman, some “cure” wrapped up in terminolgy. So “biohacker” legitimizes it, when it it was just “some guy” we’d dismiss it.

Trump claims immunity to Covid-19, and we don’t take his word. Why give this guy more power?

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Oh hey, it’s another episode of “‘Tech disruptors’ yet again figure out there’s a fucking good reason why we do things the way we do”! Boy, if only schools taught some decent 19th/20th century history, they wouldn’t have to figure it out the hard way. Certain institutions and processes exist for very good reasons, and if you want to bypass/get rid of them, you’d better start by understanding why they exist in the first place. (Hell, certain institutions/processes exist for very bad reasons, but you still need to understand why they exist if you’re planning on removing them, else something worse could end up replacing them.)


Unless you are Australian


We must swim in very different media ecospheres, because everything you’re asking for is prominently all over my Twitter feed, including: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-unveiled.html

Folding @ home has record sign-ups for COVID, pre-prints continue to churn out at an amazing pace, and there are many interviews with prominent researchers readily available at all levels of prior knowledge.


And Marshall won a Nobel for it. But, please don’t think what he did compared remotely to the “biohacker.” He had been working on H. pylori for years and had an excellent understanding of the risks prior to downing that culture. Pretty sure he already knew that human biology “is so complex.”

As an aside, tasting things used to be really common in science and medicine. Lead acetate is known as “sugar of lead.” Yum! Put that on your cereal!

Diabetes mellitus is so named because the urine tastes sweet. Likewise, diabetes insipidus, where the urine is … not.


With those interests, check out the Open Insulin Project and the Manu Prakash lab.

I’ve had too many arguments with wannabe biohackers to give them much countenance at this point. Too many dismiss the complexity of biology, focus on stupid problems that are the biological equivalent of a fart app, and insist on ignoring second- and third-order effects to maintain the plausibility of their never-validated hypotheses.


I mean, it would be kind of neat to live in a Warren Ellis comic, I guess. Not necessarily better or worse than our current reality — but it’d certainly be interesting!


Thanks. I have found FoldIt confusing and been bounced off it twice because somehow my password(s) don’t work when I try to log in. Oh well.

If you have more references please send them. If I were king of the forest, there would be curricula centered on COVID19 from kindergarten to post-graduate work, everybody would be invited to help process the information and contribute to the research efforts as a global community effort, and there’d be a central clearing house to help direct interested people to where they can contribute most usefully.

But whathehell do I know?

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Oh! We are talking about “interesting” in the Pratchett sense?