Chapter 12 – BioHacking – An Example


Research Project Details

As part of the course Jennifer Kirkey took at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada in 2019, a research project was done. Of the topics, Implanting Electronics into the Human Body was the one chosen.  She had to take a “pro” or a “con” position.  In her opinion “pro” is easy but “con” is more fun to do and to debate so most of the research presented here is for the “con” side of the argument.  She will gladly sit down and debate either side of the issue with you.


The purpose of the final research project was to examine the Engineering profession and its relationship with society.  The idea as to research something using the following insights:

  • Design
  • Scientists versus Engineers
  • The history of the Engineering profession
  • Sustainability
  • Engineering and the environment
  • Engineering and the betterment of the Human Condition
  • Advancements in Technology

This project was an in-depth research study of Engineering issues that humanity is currently facing. The findings were submitted in the form of a research report and maybe an in-class presentation. The expectation of this project was to formulate an argumentative research paper on one of the topics. The research had to identify critical historical discoveries, document the progression of key milestones up to today and the future outlook.  The research will also include details of the role of the engineering society, the engineering and ethical issues that were encountered, as well as any pertinent policies and regulations that were developed.

Project Details

Biohacking or ‘Do-It-Yourself Biology’, describes the process of making changes to your lifestyle in an attempt to alter the body’s natural biology and improve the way you feel. [1,2].  The term biohacking has been traced to the late 1980’s, but is biohacking a fad, or is its roots traced deeper in the realm of chemical and biological engineering? While the term biohacking has been linked to simple principles of lifestyle changes such as eliminating sugar in your diet, the expectation of this research paper is to dig deeper into large laboratory scale, big budget biohacking, based on the following topics:

  1. The Use of Anabolic Steroids in Professional Sports.
  2. Manipulating and Customizing DNA.
  3. Implanting Electronics into the Human Body.



Biohacking Research Results

A lot of my information comes from, or at least starts, at CBC Spark.

As it says on their website “Spark is an ongoing conversation about our rapidly changing world… host Nora Young explores how technology, innovation and design affects our lives.”  It is one of my favourite radio shows and I make sure to listen it to every week.

Biohacking article from CBC Spark April 12 2012

Biophysics professor Andrew Pelling of the University of Ottawa is working to create designer organs that could communicate via Twitter. April 12 2012

Biohacking article from CBC Spark May 13 2012

“A few weeks ago on Spark, we heard how scientists at the University of Ottawa were working to create designer organs (the kind in our bodies!) that could communicate via Twitter. This kind of bio-tinkering seems an awful lot like what’s going on in the DIY-bio movement. Yes, Do-it-yourself bio-hackers do exist, and they say if you’re an actual scientist, you can’t be in the club.”

Biohacking article from December 1 2018 – Swedes with RFID implanted under their skin

In Sweden, electronic devices implanted under the skin are becoming more common and useful for everyday things. The devices, which use RFID (radio frequency identification) technology similar to what allows key fobs or debit cards to be tapped, have been implanted into 4,000 Swedes, 700 having been done in the first 6 months of 2018.

Per Söderström is a consultant and biohacker in Sweden, who is able to use his device to enter his office and gym in Stockholm. He can even buy snacks at vending machines. Last year, Staten Järnsväger (SJ), the state owned railway, began allowing customers to confirm their tickets through their implanted chips.

“Stuff we use daily that have chips in them, could be a chip that’s under your skin,” Soderstrom said, speaking to Spark host Nora Young

Biohacking article from CBC Spark March 24, 2019

Exploring Silicon Valley’s obsession with longevity and bio-hacking

CBC Spark asks if there is a problem with Silicon Valley’s obsession with agelessness and living forever.  The interview is focused on James Strole who states that he “plans to live forever”.  At the biological age of 70, he has spent his entire life trying to find a cure for aging, and ultimately death, optimizing his body through techniques like cleanses, fasts, blood transfusions and even skin patches that claim to help reverse aging at a cellular level.  In the interview he states “Let’s put it this way: I’d do anything that I feel safe with.”

Strole, who appears lean and energetic and sports a full head of greyish-white hair, is the director of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, an organization that brings together scientists, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who are passionate about physical immortality. Their overall aim, Strole said, is to conquer aging and eventually death.

In that episode two things really stood out for me, in context of this research paper.

Arwa Mahdawi said she also spoke to people who consider themselves “biohackers,” which are those who measure certain markers in their bodies and experiment on themselves using various techniques with the goal of optimizing their health.

“Some of them will go and they’ll get special glucose implants in their skin, so they can test their glucose, and that’s something that diabetics normally have,” Mahdawi explained. “These people are not diabetics. They just want to check.”

These behaviours, Mahdawi said, are troubling. “They are basically treating themselves like computers: If I don’t eat, how does my blood sugar react? If I eat this, how … did my metabolic markers change? And that degree of obsession, really, I think can be quite problematic.”

Unintended consequences

James Horton, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bath, has also written about the dark side of this obsession with body optimization and longevity.

In his article “Silicon Valley’s quest for immortality – and its worrying sacrifices”, he argues that there is a real danger to some of these practices that certain tech companies are touting.

“Some are great,” Horton said. “They’re basically just encouraging us to live healthy lives and you know, if that brings us extra longevity and lifespan, health span, that’s fantastic.”

Legislation –  2019 – Nevada USA bill would outlaw electric microchips

The disastrous Nevada bill that would outlaw elective microchip implants (AB226) shows that some policymakers simply do not understand augmentative technology and the importance of bodily autonomy.

At the invitation of State Senator Melanie Scheible (who has been absolutely amazing throughout this process), we’re going to hold a Cyborg & Transhumanist Forum at the Nevada State Capitol to educate policymakers, staffers, the media, and the public on these technologies and topics. We’d love to see you there if you’re able to make it! If not, we hope you’ll share this with anyone who may be able to attend and support. If you’re interested in participating in this event in any official capacity, please get in touch!

Facebook event on May 15 2019  : organized by the U.S. Transhumanist PartyFuture Grind, & Anastasia Synn.

Grindhouse Wetware

Grindhouse Wetwares was founded January 2012, by what was then a rag tag group of programmers, engineers, and enthusiasts, according to their web page.  In the short five months that followed, Grindhouse evolved from a group of highly driven individuals on the forums, to a dedicated team working towards a common goal – augmenting humanity using safe, affordable, open source technology. All hardware can be purchased from the Grindhouse website, and all schematics for our implants and cyberware are open source. “What would you like to be today?”

Here is a short video from their YouTube channel.  Here is an update on this implanted red LEDs Northstar from April 2019.

Canadian Health Regulations

In Canada, The Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) applies the Food and Drug Regulations and the Medical Devices Regulations under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act to ensure that the pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices offered for sale in Canada are safe, effective and of high quality. The TPD also administers fee regulations for drugs and medical devices under the authority of the Financial Administration Act. All Federal Acts and associated Regulations are available on the Justice Canada Web site.

The same evidence requirements apply to 3D printed devices as those for non-3D printed devices in terms of their characterization and evidence of safety and effectiveness, including physical and mechanical bench testing, biocompatibility testing, software validation and clinical evidence.

As part of the evidence to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of a Class III or IV 3D printed device, manufacturers should submit the additional information outlined in this guidance document with their application. Failure to submit the additional information with an application could result in a request for additional information under subsection 35(1) of the Regulations at any time during the review (i.e., during either the screening or review phase).

In keeping with international standards, the guidance document adopts definitions developed by the International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF) with respect to Definitions for Personalized Medical Devices.

Healthcare facilities which manufacture 3D printed implantable medical devices under their own name and distribute them outside of their own corporate entity, qualify as a manufacturer, and will be subject to all the requirements of the Regulations.

Footnote Reference:

CTV Canadian article about implants from 2016

“Anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people across the globe are estimated to have the RFID implants in their hands, according to Amal Graafstra, who owns a U.S. company that sells the chips.”

Medicine vs. convenience

Back at the doctor’s office, Landy points out that technologies similar to the RFID chip have become part of many doctors’ 21st century “tool kit.” For instance, cardiologists can now use tiny implants placed near a patient’s heart to detect heartbeat abnormalities and relay them back to a doctor using radio frequencies.

“So these things exist both for convenience and for what I’ll call conventional medical application,” Landy said. “And I’m sure the berth between those things is going to be growing smaller as time goes by.”

Still, Landy insisted that getting a non-medical implant outside a medical environment “does not strike me as a safe idea.”

Dangerous Things Company

As they say on their web site “We’ve been working with human implant technology since 2005, and we’re happy to help with your upgrade.”

Canadian regulations on the frequency used for medical and non-medical implants

One example of what can be found there is ” This device may not interfere with stations operating in the 400.150-406.000 MHz band in the meteorological aids, meteorological-satellite, and earth exploration-satellite services, and must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.”   Another example is “The maximum average e.i.r.p. for MICS transmitters is 25 microwatts.”

TED talk by David Eagleman on Can We Create New Senses for Humans?”

The technology stuff starts at 5:00 minutes in and PH model = Potato Head model “plug and play senses” at 7 minutes in.  10:40 in is where he talks about sensory substitution for the deaf which is what he does in the lab.  17:38 “we not longer have to wait for Mother Nature on her time scales.”  All of his stuff is wearable, but you can tell the next frontier is to embed.

The Future Scope and Regulation of Implantable Technologies

from Wikipedia

Given the technical scope of current and future implantable sensory/telemetric devices, these devices will be greatly proliferated, and will have connections to commercial, medical, and governmental networks. For example, in the medical sector, patients will be able to login to their home computer, and thus visit virtual doctor’s offices, medical databases, and receive medical prognoses from the comfort of their own home from the data collected through their implanted telemetric devices.[107] However, this online network presents huge security concerns because it has been proven by several U.S. universities that hackers could get onto these networks and shut down peoples’ electronic prosthetics.[107] These sorts of technologies are already present in the U.S. workforce as a firm in River Falls, Wisconsin called Three Square Market partnered with a Swedish firm called Biohacks Technology to implant RFID microchips in the hands of its employees (which are about the size of a grain of rice) that allow employees to access offices, computers, and even vending machines. More than 50 of the firms 85 employees were chipped. It was confirmed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved of these implantations.[108] If these devices are to be proliferated within society, then the question that begs to be answered is what regulatory agency will oversee the operations, monitoring, and security of these devices? According to this case study of Three Square Market, it seems that the FDA is assuming the role in regulating and monitoring these devices.



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To the extent possible under law, Jennifer Kirkey has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Engineering and Technology in Society - Canada, except where otherwise noted.

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