In the span of two years, Aaron Traywick, who was 28 when he died, went from a virtual unknown to a notorious personality in the biohacking community. At the time of his death, he was estranged from many of his closest collaborators.
He had remained close with his adoptive family, though they knew little about his work. His mother, Rita Traywick, was completely blindsided by the news. “He was fine, we saw him in April,” she said. “Talkative and proud of the work that he was doing.”
But Ms. Traywick, 70, said she barely understood his work. “He would tell us these things, and I would stand there and say, that’s great, we’re proud of you, and I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying to tell you the truth.”
Biohackers in general aim to augment their bodies in the hopes of gaining enhanced abilities. Those who work with the kinds of compounds that Mr. Traywick did often experiment on themselves so as not to break any of the laws that regulate health care.
Mr. Traywick’s company was founded in 2016 to provide funding, lab equipment and distribution to these D.I.Y. citizen-scientists. He seemed dedicated to investing in experimental compounds — formulas that would eventually be meant to treat diseases — that few others would touch.
Until several months ago, the company was viewed by many biohackers as a potentially groundbreaking venue for invention.
But Mr. Traywick proved to be secretive and aggressive. He kept the people he worked with away from one another, ensuring that he was the only person at his company with all the information. He tried to gain financial control over his collaborators’ inventions, and to sell them before they were fully tested.
Rich Lee, who created a vibrating penile implant called the Lovetron 9000, recalled that Mr. Traywick wanted to own 75 percent of profits made from sales of his device in exchange for funding. He said Mr. Traywick offered to pay him only $5,000 and was insistent that Mr. Lee presell the implant before it was finished and tested. “I was left with a bad taste in my mouth,” Mr. Lee said.
“He did seem to promise anything to everyone who was looking for something,” said Mr. Roberts, the Ascendance contractor. “He was actually developing some of the things he was saying he was developing. On the other hand, it did seem like he would take any money that people handed him with no regard for executing.”
By the time Mr. Traywick died, biohackers, researchers and engineers he had recruited had soured on his approach to the business.
Walt Crompton, an engineer and life extension enthusiast who worked as a contractor for Boston Scientific and other medical device manufacturers, started doing research for the company in the fall of 2016.
“I was allegedly a co-founder,” Mr. Crompton said. “At first there were big promises of equity sharing and so on but those things never materialized.”
Shortly after Mr. Traywick’s death, Mr. Crompton wrote an email to a friend about his ambivalence. He said that while the Ascendance founder’s behavior had convinced him to leave the company, he found himself “kicking the dirt, though, expecting that Aaron would go on to be rich and famous, while so many great contributors will not, precisely because of the way he elbows his way to the front of the line.”
Still, he wrote:
For me, it was enough that at least he was breaking through the frustrating inertia of our rejuvenation biotechnology movement. At age 65, and feeling the degenerative burn more and more, FDA timelines are just not good enough. Celebrating the heroism of "bio-hackers" comes easy. Funny, though, how his death has created a reactionary stir about bio-hacking, when, from all appearances, there was ZERO bio-hacking factors leading to his fall … Kinda like how a fringe anarchist assassinating the Archduke triggered WWI. Such is politics! We cannot expect logic and mercy to be primary forces in that realm.