Profile details allegations against immortalist Aubrey de Grey
Plus, CRISPR blindness trial is successful and mushrooms on the runway
Hi, it’s Alex! Thanks for reading — if you forward this to one person who’s interested in biotech or new ideas, you’ll have my love and gratitude! 💜
Stat News reporters Megan Molteni and Mario Aguilar yesterday published a stark portrait of life extension researcher Aubrey de Grey and the many kinds of sexual and professional impropriety he’s been accused of. The hero of many transhumanist, regenerative medicine, and anti-aging circles, de Grey is a well-funded, provocative figure considered by many to be a visionary. But, as Stat reports, his appetite for young women, flippant attitude toward workplace social norms, verbal and emotional abuse of staffers, and a habit of discussing sex on-stage were repeatedly ignored by board members and peers in favor of elevating the radical science his foundation was supporting. Now it seems those days are over. A new leadership structure at SENS, in addition to his attempts to interfere with an investigation into his behavior, have resulted in de Grey’s removal from the organization he founded.
A few of the allegations against de Grey detailed in the remarkably in-depth piece (paywalled) include:
Forcibly kissing a colleague
Groping a colleague
Sending inappropriate emails
Telling a mentee she should sleep with investors
Having a beard so outrageous, it was considered the de-facto SENS mascot
Since SENS was founded, the anti-aging field has exploded. And as the reporting should make disturbingly clear for de Grey’s fanboys, he’s not the influential giant in Silicon Valley that he once was—his connections and controversial stage shows are no longer necessary to raise millions for aging research, and his toxic behavior has resulted in very few friends defending him.
Edit-101: A blindness cure, but only for one person?
Editas announced “proof of concept” results in trial for a CRISPR therapy that treats a form of genetic blindness. One person saw “encouraging” improvement in vision, out of the half-dozen included in the Edit-101 trial, which has been underway for over two years. It’s not quite the blockbuster result gene therapy cheerleaders were hoping for, but with a mid-level dose, a woman has seen “clinically meaningful improvement” in her vision, according to Endpoints.
“It's kind of fun to see,” the woman, Carlene Knight, said to NPR.
The big news is that the trial uses CRISPR to edit genes in the retina by being injected directly with a viral vector. Edit-101 doesn’t seem to have raised any major safety or toxicity concerns at low and moderate doses, and Editas will now move on to using a higher dose to make sure it’s still safe and determine if it works better.
Drama unrelated to the trial results was the apparent sidelining of Stat reporter Adam Feuerstein by Editas. Feuerstein called out the company on Twitter for its treatment of reporters at niche biotech outlets and accused Editas of lying about embargoed data being unavailable—they seemingly gave an exclusive to NPR.
Call for abstracts! A Special Collection issue on biomedical citizen science in the peer-reviewed journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice.
Biohackers, biodesigners, community biologists are encouraged to submit!
Gene edited foods: They’re here!
The first CRISPR tomatoes are now available to consumers in Japan! Sanatech Seed is selling seeds, fruits, and (soon) a puree from Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomatoes that contain five times the normal amount of an amino acid that may be able to lower blood pressure.
Relatedly, the UK has finally made a long-awaited decision on research related to gene edited (GE) crops. The BBC reports scientists will no longer be required to submit risk assessments for field testing GE crops, meaning the timelines and costs for research will be much more efficient. This is a noteworthy knock-on effect of Brexit, as the UK is no longer in harmony with the GE laws in the European Union, which treats gene edited crops the same as genetically modified (GMO) crops. Wired had an explainer about why those are two different things.
Once upon a time, we were meant to be seeing GE non-browning button mushrooms in the US. What happened to those? Leave a comment or reply to this email if you know what they’re up to.
The FDA is irreparably broken and the stem cell situation proves it. Reinvent the FDA.
“…a Pew Charitable Trusts review of 360 reported injuries from stem cell and other regenerative procedures between 2004 and 2020. Nearly all the reports came from medical journals, government publications, social media or news reports. Just five came from FDA’s database for medical injuries.
“There are a lot of holes in the safety system,” said Liz Richardson of Pew, who led the project.
The FDA didn’t clearly assert its authority over such clinics until 2017. The next year, it began sending form letters to some 400 clinics, warning that they may be violating FDA rules. But the names of the clinics haven’t been publicized, and such warnings are often ignored.” — Read more from AP.
Also, read this post about stem cell brand Regenexx from The Niche.
Designer Stella McCartney debuted mycelium couture in her Summer 22 line, wherein 63% of materials were eco-friendly.
A biohacker’s view on how easy it is to create a synthetic virus
I actually can’t believe that Nature Biotechnology published a how-to guide by biohacker Josiah Zayner about man-made viruses. His comments get a special call-out within a Q&A-style article highlighting other experts, and in a “thought experiment” about bioterrorism, the biohacker (aka the country’s most censored person) points out how “flimsy” the biosecurity is around DNA synthesis companies.
Luckily, the Community Bio/DIYbio ecosystem has a web of safety and security experts it can rely on. Biosafety advocates within the community, and who work in partnership with community labs, have created systems that can be better in some ways than establishment biosecurity measures. (Spoiler alert for a forthcoming paper on the Just One Giant Lab platform!) If there were suspicious biohackers out there, other biohackers would know about them and sound the alarm—a useful structure of self-governance I ranted about on an Ars Electronica panel last month.
But as for worrying about rogue scientists who have the training to do this and no community around them, let’s just remember that would-be bioterrorists probably aren’t the ones clamoring for more/better biosafety measures.