The years between 2010 and 2020 may likely be remembered as the decade of gene therapy, and perhaps, the end of cancer, heart disease, blindness, deafness, and even aging – if this revolutionary technology is properly implemented and integrated into our healthcare infrastructure. But it will not happen without effort, or even without a fight – for gene therapy threatens to undermine and overturn some of the largest and most influential corporate monopolies on Earth.
Gene Therapy is Already a Working “Miracle Cure”
In 2012, at the age of six years old, Emily Whitehead was enrolled in a phase I clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to treat her acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). She had failed to respond to all other treatments.
The clinical trial involved removing and genetically re-engineering her immune system’s T-cells. Using viruses as a vector to insert new DNA into her T-cells, they were now able to recognize and destroy the cancer that was killing her. The cells were reintroduced to Emily’s body intravenously, where they both fought the cancer, and replicated themselves just as all human cells do – with the difference being that the corrected DNA was replicated along with them.
Over time, the probability of ending up in the hospital nears 100%. When you finally get there, do you want to be greeted with a single injection cure and a new lease on life? Or an over-priced regiment of poison that will strip you of every dollar you have, your human dignity, and eventually your life?
Years later, Emily Whitehead is still cancer free. She went from literally lying on what would have been her death bed, to going into durable remission for years. The production of Emily’s specialized T-cells cost 15,000 USD – or a fraction of what pharmaceutical corporations charge per year for medications that don’t even cure cancer.
The 15,000 USD price tag was for what at the time was a highly experimental, customized clinical trial. With effort, the price can be reduced further. The research and trial was funded not by pharmaceutical corporations or even the US government, but by charity – the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Emily Whitehead isn’t the only patient to survive otherwise incurable cancer thanks to gene therapy. By 2014, over 60 other patients were successfully given the same treatment. And while other cancers involve tumors of a different nature, scientists, including those involved in Emily Whitehead’s survival, believe that similar techniques could be used to eradicate them just as effectively.
There’s a Catch…
Aside from permanently curing cancer, gene therapy is being investigated as a means of permanently curing diabetes, hemophilia, and other diseases in which cells are missing vital instructions required for normal biological function. The regeneration of aging heart tissue is also being investigated, as is the process of stopping – or even reversing – biological aging altogether.
While the gene therapy that saved Emily Whitehead’s life is not an approved treatment yet, there are others that have been approved for use in China, the EU, and soon-to-be approved by the US FDA.
However, there is a catch.
Because gene therapy cures individuals by correcting a fundamental genetic factor that will continuously replicate itself after being corrected, most gene therapy treatments involve a single, inexpensive shot resulting in a lifetime of healthy biological function.
In other words, instead of treating diabetes with insulin injections every day, providing corporations with a lifetime income based on selling insulin and the kits used to administer it, a single shot that in the future may cost only hundreds of dollars, perhaps even less, to fabricate and administer, will leave patients permanently cured at a genetic level and profiteering pharmaceutical monopolies virtually extinct.
That is why, despite the vast majority of the funding behind EU-approved gene therapies coming from public funding, the pharmaceutical corporations currently selling the handful of available gene therapies today have placed price tags on them for an absurd 1 million euros – not because they cost 1 million euros to produce and distribute, but to cover the lost income selling ineffective pharmaceuticals had provided these corporations in past years to “treat” now entirely curable conditions.
Tech magazines, the Western media, and even “scientific journals” have attempted to defend this practice – but are only able to do so as long as the public remains ignorant to both the realities of gene therapy today, and the implications it has to positively transform human healthcare tomorrow.
Here’s Where It Gets Interesting
Gene therapy can be carried out in a properly equipped university lab. Manufacturing technology, including personal manufacturing tech like 3D printing, CNC machining, laser cutters, and PCB design suites are making customized and cheaper medical and experimental equipment more accessible to a larger number of people.
Opensource research and software used to study and manipulate genes and design vectors like those that delivered new genetic material to Emily Whitehead’s T-cells are also a growing trend in the biotechnology community.
While it is not necessarily inevitable that individuals or a state will take advantage of these trends to disrupt and overturn current human healthcare paradigms anytime soon, it is currently very possible. Examples of researchers circumventing the very measures corporations and Western governments have placed in the way of such paradigm shifts are already unfolding.
MIT Tech Review has also covered self-funded self-experimentation using gene therapy.
In October 2015, MIT Tech Review‘s article, “A Tale of Do-It-Yourself Gene Therapy,” would report:
Can aging be slowed by using gene therapy to make permanent changes to a person’s DNA?
One Seattle-area woman says she has tried exactly that. Her claim has entangled some high-profile American academics in a strange tale of do-it-yourself medicine that involves plane flights to Latin America, an L.A. film crew, and what’s purported to be the first attempt to use gene therapy to forestall normal aging.
More recently, the same magazine, in a January 2017 article titled, “One Man’s Quest to Hack His Own Genes,” reported:
At Hanley’s request, a doctor had injected into his thighs copies of a gene that Hanley, a PhD microbiologist, had designed and ordered from a research supply company. Then, plunging two pointed electrodes into his leg, the doctor had passed a strong current into his body, causing his muscle cells to open and absorb the new DNA.
The effort is the second case MIT Technology Review has documented of unregulated gene therapy, a risky undertaking that is being embraced by a few daring individuals seeking to develop anti-aging treatments. 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.
Both articles provide insight into the growing “underground” world of DIY gene therapy – a movement that if cultivated properly, could relieve immense human suffering worldwide and shift the very nature of human healthcare to a reality where states don’t go bankrupt treating their populations because populations can afford to treat themselves with effective, nearly free gene therapy technology.
Wanted: A Biotech Company Placing Purpose Before Profit
At one point in MIT’s article about Brian Hanley’s DIY gene therapy experiment, the author remarked:
In many conversations and e-mails with Hanley, I frequently wondered what his deepest motive was, and whether he even knew it himself. Was it to “develop products people will love,” as he told me, as if he were the Steve Jobs of plasmids?
But what if Hanley, or someone like him doesn’t want to become the proprietary-obsessed, profiteering Steve Jobs of plasmids, and instead wants to become the purpose-driven Elon Musk of gene therapy?
Elon Musk, who heads aerospace company SpaceX and electric car and solar power combine Tesla-SolarCity, has been criticized for his prioritizing of purpose over profit. While Musk requires profits for his companies to be successful, for his employees to remain employed, and for capital to be available for future R&D, it appears he and his shareholders see the long-term purpose and prospects of both companies as more important than short-term profits.
What if someone possessing a similar mentality waded into gene therapy – seeing the potential to maximize a purpose-driven return on investment that benefited humanity in a historically unprecedented way instead of joining existing pharmaceutical monopolies in their profit-obsessed vision of holding cures over patient’s heads for villain sums of “1 million euros?”
Elon Musk is not and may never be a leader among the Fortune 500 – but he doesn’t need to be. His popularity and the impact he has on society already ensures his place in human history where others with net-worths many times his could never achieve, and could never buy.
He, she, or they who unleash gene therapy with purpose rather than for profit will likewise reap wealth immeasurable in dollars and cents.
What Can I Do?
Until then, realize that everyday ordinary people can become directly involved in opening up gene therapy and the implications it holds for human healthcare starting today.
Everything from simply educating and informing others of the basic concepts behind gene therapy and recent breakthroughs, to working with local community labs to expand their capabilities, resources, and ambitions, to developing opensource software and hardware researchers could use to advance human knowledge of how gene therapy works, are within the reach of writers, tech enthusiasts, designers, and engineers.
Over time, the probability of ending up in the hospital nears 100%. When you finally get there, do you want to be greeted with a single injection cure and a new lease on life? Or an over-priced regimen of poison that will strip you of every dollar you have, your human dignity, and eventually your life?
When we’re faced with that decision, it is already too late. Now is the time to get involved, even causally, even for a few hours a week, or even per month in raising awareness and shifting the current, unacceptable human healthcare paradigm.
Tony Cartalucci writes for LocalOrg, where this article first appeared. LocalOrg seeks to explore local solutions to global problems by empowering people locally with education and technology to not only survive, but to thrive.