Biological Warfare, Advanced Diagnostics
The Advanced Diagnostics Program is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States government (DARPA). Its objective is to develop tools and medicines to detect and treat biological and chemical weapons in the field at concentrations low enough to prevent illness. Challenges to this task include minimizing the labor, equipment, and time for identifying biological and chemical agents.
One area of interest includes development of field tools that can identify many different agents. To accomplish this goal, several groups funded under the advanced diagnostics program have developed field-based biosensors that can detect a variety of analytes including fragments of DNA, various hormones and proteins, bacteria, salts, and antibodies. These biosensors are portable, run on external power sources, and require very little time to complete analyses.
A second focus of the advanced diagnostics project is the identification of known and unknown or bioengineered pathogens and development of early responses to infections. Many viruses act by destroying the ability of cells to replicate properly. One group funded under the advanced diagnostics program is studying the enzyme 5'-monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH), which produces products that are required for synthesizing nucleic acids, such as RNA and DNA, both of which are essential for proper cell replication. This group seeks to develop novel drugs based on IMPDH, which can cross into cells and thwart viral infection.
A final goal is to develop the ability to continuously monitor the body for evidence of infection. Researchers are addressing this goal in two ways. The first involves engineering monitoring mechanisms that are internal to the body. In particular, groups funded under the initiative are developing bioengineered white blood cells to detect infection from within the body. Often genetic responses to infection occur within minutes of infection so analysis of blood cells provides a very quick indication of the presence of a biological threat. The second method involves the development of a wearable, non-invasive diagnostic device that detects a broad-spectrum of biological and chemical agents.
█ FURTHER READING:
Advanced Diagnostics (DARPA) < http://www.darpa.mil/dso/thrust/biosci/ADVDIAG/index.html > (March 13, 2003).
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Sciences Office < http://www.darpa.mil/dso/thrust/biosci/advdiagn.htm. > (March 13, 2003).