The gene Hanley added to his muscle cells would make his body produce more of a potent hormone—potentially increasing his strength, stamina, and life span.
Hanley opted instead for a simpler method called electroporation. In this procedure, circular rings of DNA, called plasmids, are passed into cells using an electrical current. Once inside, they don’t become a permanent part of person’s chromosomes. Instead, they float inside the nucleus. And if a gene is coded into the plasmid, it will start to manufacture proteins. The effect of plasmids is temporary, lasting weeks to a few months.
Hanley says he designed a plasmid containing the human GHRH [growth-hormone-releasing hormone] gene on his computer, with the idea of developing it as a treatment for AIDS patients. But no investors wanted to back the plan. He concluded that the way forward was to nominate himself as lab rat. Soon he located a scientific supply company that manufactured the DNA rings for him at a cost of about $10,000. He showed me two vials of the stuff he’d brought along in a thermos, each containing a few drops of water thickened by a half-milligram of DNA.
Hanley skipped some steps that most companies developing a drug would consider essential. In addition to proceeding without FDA approval, he never tested his plasmid in any animals. He did win clearance for the study from the Institute of Regenerative and Cellular Medicine in Santa Monica, California, a private “institutional review board,” or IRB, that furnishes ethics oversight of human experiments.
Hanley had opted to take six milligrams of the tranquilizer Xanax and got local anesthetic in his thighs. The doctor can be seen placing a plexiglass jig built by Hanley onto the biologist’s thigh. The doctor leans in with a hypodermic needle to inject the sticky solution of GHRH plasmids into the designated spot. He also uses the jig to guide the two electrodes, stiff sharp needles the size of fork tines, into the flesh. The electrodes—one positive, one negative—create a circuit, a little like jump-starting your car.
Highly controversial, and borderline legal, as you’d expect in any hacking activity, especially hacking the human body.
Hanley published his version of the story on the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, calling the above article a “gross misrepresentation”.