When Aaron Traywick injected himself with his experimental herpes treatment, he wanted the world to see — so he dropped his pants and plunged the needle into his thigh in front of a live audience at the BDYHAX convention in Austin, Texas.

“I wanted to inspire others to feel safe enough to self-experiment,” Traywick tells Rooster Magazine. “I wanted to bear a flag of hope for people who have herpes and no alternatives to treatment. Also, I have herpes, and I want it to be cured.”

Traywick is known as a man of grandiose statements. Scientists are dubious, but he says that he and his company, Ascendance Biomedical, are already sitting on the cure to herpes, HIV and aging.

“If we succeed with herpes in even the most minor ways, we can proceed with cancer,” he told the conference crowd.

[Aaron Traywick, just before injecting his herpes therapy. Image: Kristen V. Brown]

This wasn’t Ascendance’s first big stunt. A few months before, an employee named Tristan Roberts injected himself with the company’s experimental HIV treatment, and streamed it all on Facebook Live.

Traywick says his company currently has three gene therapies, which tinker with genes to treat or prevent diseases. “There’s one to mitigate muscular wasting and bone density loss in aging, one that should be a functional cure and vaccine for HIV, and one that should be a functional cure for herpes.”

However, these bold statements haven’t been verified by the Federal Drug Administration. FDA regulations for developing treatments are too slow for Traywick’s taste. That’s why he’s experimenting on himself, and encouraging others to do the same.

Traywick isn’t the first maverick to evade the FDA in the quest to cure the herps. Doctors and researchers before him have believed they’d found the miracle cure to the STD, and fled the states for medical trials to circumvent time-consuming FDA safety protocols.

Traywick does some clinical trials offshore, but primarily runs Ascendence from inside the U.S., taking advantage of a loophole that makes government intervention difficult: he’s not performing experiments on volunteers — his volunteers are performing experiments on themselves.

How many people would be willing to inject themselves with an untested treatment? More than you think. There’s a burgeoning underground community of self-experimenters, garage geneticists and chemists known as biohackers, who believe DIY enhancement is the most expedient avenue to maximizing human capabilities.

“A lot of people were very happy that I’d chosen to inject the herpes treatment before a live audience. Other people think I’m an idiot, and no amount of scientific information will give them confidence in my compound,” Traywick says.

“Some people are terrified. They think it’s illegal. But it’s not illegal to experiment. What I’m describing to you has been done every day in a massively unregulated industry.”

Traywick refers to the vast gray market for drugs. It includes the research chemical industry, known for re-arranging the molecular structure of illicit drugs, like salvia or amphetamines, until creating a drug that is extremely similar, yet chemically distinct from the original.

This market also includes the supplement industry, featuring controversial drugs like kratom. As long as retailers label the concoctions as “not for human consumption,” policing them is close to impossible.

“An unapproved compound is not an illegal compound,” Traywick says. “We don’t provide anything for human consumption.”

Of course, Traywick has plenty of critics. Unvalidated medical claims tend to inspire intense opposition. Former colleagues worry that he could hurt people. Experts say these treatments are unlikely to work and are potentially dangerous, and the FDA recently warned against “do-it-yourself” gene treatments.

“We don’t care what the press says, what the academic community says, or what the governments around the world say,” Traywick says. “The means to getting the cure don’t matter to us.”

“Most of this stuff would be underground because nobody wants to get big enough to worry about FDA intervention. They want to go about their way and do things quietly.”

But Traywick won’t quiet down. He won’t even keep his pants on.