One Saturday in August 2018, Patrik D’haeseleer raced down to Silicon Valley with two other members of Counter Culture Labs, a community science lab and maker space in Oakland, California. D’haeseleer and other scientists around the Bay Area had heard that the controversial blood-testing company Theranos, once the unicorn biotech startup of the Valley, was liquidating its assets to pay off creditors. There was a rumor going around that local community laboratories and other nonprofits might be invited to help Theranos rid itself of its wares.
The rumor turned out to be true.
D’haeseleer and his companions pulled up to the sprawling Theranos campus in Palo Alto to grab whatever they could use in their community labs.
The company’s warehouse was mostly filled with single-use laboratory supplies, like pipette tips and test tubes. D’haeseleer and his crew took a load of them back to Counter Culture Labs, where citizen scientists trying to develop a cheaper form of insulin and make vegan cheese out of yeast would put them to good use. Theranos was also getting rid of a few larger pieces of equipment, like centrifuges and DNA imaging stations.
“Obviously there was this great sense of irony. They blew through billions of dollars of funding,” D’haeseleer says, recounting the moment.
“At least some of it was going to a good cause,” he says with a chuckle.
Counter Culture, which provides laboratory access to communities typically underrepresented in the STEM fields — people of color, people from low-income communities, and people without college educations — is one of many institutions that were tipped off about the Theranos liquidation by a mass email sent by Bio-Link Depot, a nonprofit in East Oakland that redistributes new and used biotech equipment and supplies to community labs and public schools.
These institutions are often poorly funded and can’t afford to buy such expensive supplies. Community labs…