It Wasn't Biohacking That Killed the Biohacker: He Drowned

(Bloomberg) -- Aaron Traywick, the controversial 28-year-old biohacker found dead in a sensory-deprivation tank earlier this year, accidentally drowned with the drug ketamine in his system, an autopsy showed.

The autopsy report was provided to Bloomberg News on Thursday by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington, where Traywick was discovered April 29 in the tank in just a few inches of water. Ketamine is an anesthetic sometimes used as a recreational drug.

Traywick’s death sent a shockwave through the world of biohackers, do-it-yourself scientists who undertake complicated experiments outside of traditional labs, frequently on themselves. Traywick hoped to develop new gene therapies without the expense and rigor of clinical trials -- or the oversight of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He was best known for injecting himself with an untested herpes treatment onstage at a conference. Word of his bizarre death set off speculation that it may have been caused by his experiments.

In February, Traywick, who was chief executive officer of a tiny company called Ascendance Biomedical, announced on stage at BodyHacking Con in Austin, Texas, that he had herpes, shortly before stripping down to his boxers and plunging into this thigh what he claimed was a herpes cure that had been developed by biohackers and never tested in humans.

Just a few months earlier, a contractor for his company who is HIV-positive injected himself with a similarly untested gene therapy during a livestream on Facebook. Traywick sought to cure cancer, herpes, HIV and aging, all without dealing with the typical precautions and standards of regulators and the pharmaceutical industry.

Fans, Detractors

Traywick garnered both fans and detractors. His company, which consisted mainly of himself and a rotating cast of biohacker partners, seemed to materialize from nothing, appearing in early 2017 as the company behind a spinoff called Inovium, in which Traywick partnered with a pair of doctors in Greece on a novel fertility treatment.

But soon Traywick had set his sights on DIY science and had partnered with many of the most well-known figures in biohacking, offering the promise of funding, lab equipment and profit-sharing in exchange for time and expertise. His onstage demonstration in Austin, though, proved to be too cavalier, even among the ranks of DIY biologists. Before his death, he had become estranged from that world.

(Traywick sued tech-news outlet Gizmodo over its coverage of his company, including stories written by the author of this article, who now works at Bloomberg News. The lawsuit was dismissed.)

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