2

I have read a report by a high-schooler doing "experiments" by injecting himself with custom-synthesized peptides (small proteins). I emailed the author who confirmed that his report was no joke.

This kid needs to have a serious conversation with a physician and a biology teacher (and maybe a psychologist).

But there's another serious issue there: the company from which he bought these peptides sells uncharacterized molecules to people who clearly have no idea what they are and what their effects can be. Worse, it also means that anybody can buy lethal toxins (some of them are small in size and can be made in vitro by the same process) from them. The kid in in high school and for all I know may very well be a minor - I don't know that for sure, though.

As a concerned biomedical science researcher, what is the best course of action to check whether that is legal?

If it is not, who should I contact to report this? I doubt that's business for the local police. Maybe French or European regulatory agencies, but then which one (the one that deals with chemicals? or pharmaceuticals?).

It it is indeed legal, who can I contact (regulatory agencies? politicians? journalists?) to highlight the fact that this is a potentially dangerous situation and that action needs to be taken?

In the US I guess the FDA or the EPA would be the best organizations for this kind of matter, but I'm not sure about the European context.

  • Are the substances illegal to sell? – colmde Jan 3 at 13:07
  • That's pretty much my question; I'm looking for the best way to determine whether that is legal or not – Mowgli Jan 4 at 19:51
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most biological poisons defense mechanisms specifically evolved to target specific pathways? Is it really all that probable that a large, randomly-generated macromolecule will be toxic? – Obie 2.0 Aug 22 at 7:14
  • As for this kid needing to talk to a biology teacher, it seems like he already knows a good bit of biology, certainly more than most adults, and that he had a good idea of the risks of his project. This article quotes a biochemistry professor who thinks that the worst consequence would be a potential allergic reaction. I admit that it seems more like an art project than science, and not something I'd take the risk of doing, but it's still interesting. – Obie 2.0 Aug 22 at 7:25
4

In general, anyone can buy potentially dangerous chemicals.

My local service station sells petrol, my local liquor store sells alcohol, my local supermarket sells ammonia, my local pool shop sells chlorine, my local hardware store sells poisons and my local chemist sells drugs. The world is full of dangerous stuff and all of it is for sale.

Certain governments may regulate the sale of certain products. Such regulations may cover packaging, storage, quantities, reporting and limits on who can be a buyer or seller. For example, who can be a buyer of Uranium is pretty strictly limited.

The decision about what and how to regulate is a political one, not a legal one. In general, governments apply a cost/benefit approach (including political costs/benefits). The fact that one (or a small number) of people use something inappropriately must be balanced with the cost that regulation imposed on government and legitimate users.

Also, in most parts of the developed world people are allowed to take risks with their own bodies - climbing mountains, surfing, parachuting and, yes, injecting themselves with foreign substances. It’s unwise but it’s not illegal.

I am unable to assist you with who would be responsible for regulating such matters in France but I can suggest that neither the FDA nor the EPA would be relevant in the USA because its neither a food nor a drug (FDA) nor is it being sole in quantities that are likely to adversely affect the environment (EPA).

  • 1
    I agree with the content of this answer. But it does not indicate whether the specific substances listed in the question and the linked report are currently regulated in the EU or in France where it seems this took place. If they are regulated, the relevant law and agency would also be helpful. – David Siegel Jan 2 at 22:08
  • Agreed with @DavidSiegel; the answer is correct but misses my point; there ARE laws that prevent people from buying substances that are particularly hazardous (from alcohol sales restrictions to explosives, weapons etc.) when they have no "normal" use for your average Joe. In that specific case, custom biologicals can be much, much more hazardous than things that are considered "ok" to sell to the public despite being a little toxic but otherwise safe if used properly by non-experts (e.g. paint thinner etc) – Mowgli Jan 4 at 19:49
1

If you're an EU citizen you could contact your MEP, but there's a first step that might alleviate your concerns, so is worth trying.

As a researcher, you're ideally placed to contact ProteoGenix (the provider, as cited in Locatelli's report) and ask what safeguards exist and whether they believe themselves to be bound by any specific regulation. This would be the first thing that any regulator would do - unless they already know something we don't about ProteoGenix's operations.

It may be that you are unconvinced by their reply, or that they don't reply at all. At that point you would have evidence of an attempt to seek further information which had not been handled to your satisfaction - something that's far more likely to catch the interest of an MEP or regulator.

[If you're not an EU citizen, there's not much you could do "as a citizen", in the same way that a Swedish citizen couldn't affect regulation enforcement in China. But you may still be able to contact your local political representative, assuming you're in a jurisdiction where government operates that way and can demonstrate that your concerns have multi-national implications.]

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.