DARPA releases new five-year Rapid Threat Assessment plan

DARPA released a new five-year plan for Rapid Threat Assessment last week that sets aggressive goals for detecting exactly how biological and chemical agents affect the body, in hopes of developing U.S. medical defenses.

The new initiative challenges researchers to map the complete molecular mechanism of a biological or chemical agent in the human body within the milliseconds following exposure. The map must also look at molecular translocations and interactions across cell membranes, cytoplasm and nuclei, Homeland Security News Wire reports.

"Understanding the molecular mechanism of a given threat agent would provide researchers the framework with which to develop medical countermeasures and mitigate threats," DARPA Program Manager Barry Pallotta said, according to Homeland Security News Wire. "If the RTA program is successful, potential adversaries would have to reassess the cost-benefit analysis of using chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces that have credible medical defenses."

Pallotta said research can be highly specialized and look at how specific lipids or proteins are affected by a given agent. For this reason, morphine is still being studied 200 years after its release into the market; aspirin has been studied for over 50 years. This initiative is extremely aggressive, as it seeks to determine all possible information in five years to protect the U.S. from biological or chemical attacks, Homeland Security News Wire reports.

The findings of the RTA program are intended to be paired with DARPA's Microphysiological Systems program to develop 'human-on-a-chip' technology to observe which specific cell types are affected by CB threats.