By Antonio Regalado - January 10, 2017
In a dream Brian Hanley told me about, he’s riding a bus when he meets a man in dark leather clothing. Next thing he knows, he is splayed across a tilted metal bed, being electrocuted.
The dream was no doubt connected to events that took place last June at a plastic surgeon’s office in Davis, California. 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.
Hanley, 60, is the founder of a one-man company called Butterfly Sciences, also in Davis. After encountering little interest from investors for his ideas about using DNA injections to help strengthen AIDS patients, he determined that he should be the first to try it. “I wanted to prove it, I wanted to do it for myself, and I wanted to make progress,” says Hanley of his decision to arrange an experiment on himself.