Two months after his widely reported death at age 28, biohacker Aaron Traywick was found to have accidentally drowned in the floatation tank he was using, and the drug ketamine was in his system.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington, DC, where Traywick’s body was discovered on April 29, confirmed to Endpoints News that the death, an accident, was caused by “asphyxia due to drowning with ketamine intoxication,” after we followed up on a Bloomberg story citing an autopsy report. A floatation tank is a soundproof pod filled with body-temperature saltwater meant to promote “sensory deprivation” and “deep relaxation,” while ketamine is a powerful anesthetic often abused as a party drug.
That’s consistent with law enforcement’s initial note that they had no evidence suggesting foul play. Edwina Rogers, Traywick’s adoptive cousin and one-time employer, earlier told the New York Times that a police detective said he found ketamine in Traywick’s pants pocket.
Traywick, the founder CEO of Ascendance Biomedical, was known for his view that individuals should be able to self-design and self-administer unapproved treatments — like gene therapy — without the requirement of a healthcare professional. He gained wide publicity in February when he injected himself with a DIY treatment that he hoped would cure his herpes onstage at a biohacker conference in Texas this February. The whole process was broadcast live on Facebook.
While the stunt put his name all over mainstream media, it also alienated him from the biohacker community — who thought his tactics went too far beyond medical boundaries even by their standards — and some of his collaborators, who had frustrations about his representation of the company’s work and the less-than-expected pay.
One of those frustrated was Tristan Roberts, a computer programmer who first helped Traywick to fame: Roberts, who had HIV, volunteered to stage a live demonstration of an untested HIV treatment by injecting himself with an experimental gene therapy. Shortly thereafter, without naming names, the FDA issued a warning against self-administration of gene therapy products, concerned about the safety risks involved.
In an obituary published days after Traywick’s death, Roberts described Traywick as a “passionate visionary” who “sought nothing short of a revolution in biomedicine,” while noting he was “a difficult figure” whose big picture mentality “seemed at times to cloud his judgment.”
“As a mutual acquantaince (sic) put it: ‘We’ve all been watching Aaron drown these past few months,’” Roberts wrote. “Aaron’s life gave hope to countless people suffering from diseases they believe they will live with until their death. But it also brought the frustration and ire of his researchers and investors who were just as frequently burned as they were brought together.”
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