The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, commonly referred to as DARPA, was established during the Cold War more than 60 years ago. For 60 years, DARPA has maintained and advanced the mission of making “pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.”
Many are familiar with their human and animal-like robots, but recently, they have taken on another mission that involves being prepared for future pandemics like COVID 19. Recently, the organization has invested more in this area. DARPA’s Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) program, which started in 2017, looks at finding, describing, producing, testing, and the delivery of effectual DNA — and RNA — encoded medical technologies to fight infectious disease. According to its website, the technological aspects of this research were developed by the organization under the Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention and Therapeutics (ADEPT) program. The goal is to implement technology that will be able to offer the body bioengineered instructions on how to produce protective antibodies against a given threat when required.
One recent development involving multiple laboratories including at Duke and Vanderbilt universities has resulted in them quickly pivoting to rapidly identify antibodies for COVID-19 in less than 90 days: a process that typically requires years to complete. More information about this was revealed on a CBS “60 Minutes” segment with Dr. Matt Hepburn, an army infectious disease physician and retired colonel. Hepburn joined DARPA as a program manager in 2013 working out of the Biological Technologies Office. Prior to his position at DARPA, he served as the Director of Medical Preparedness on the White House National Security Staff.
During the “60 Minutes” interview conducted by Bill Whitaker, Hepburn spoke of a subdermal implant that would be able to monitor anyone with the implant. He added: “It’s not some dreaded government microchip to track your every move, but a tissue-like gel engineered to continuously test your blood.” This implantable microchip will be able to continuously monitor the human body for signs of COVID-19.
In the interview, he added that when placed underneath a person’s skin, they will be able to track “chemical reactions going on inside the body and that signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow.”
From his comportment, he asserted that the technology could be used to tell if a person is infected with COVID-19, but added it is still in the testing phase. The DARPA website does state that they are actively conducting research programs “focused on the diagnosis, detection, treatment, prevention and manufacture of medical countermeasures to combat COVID-19.”
DARPA continues to work closely with the Department of Defense (DoD), multiple U.S. government agencies, as well as its academic and industry partners, to provide technical and scientific solutions to address the COVID-19 pandemic.