Rapid Threat Assessment program seeks to minimize CBRN damage

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced on Wednesday that it is starting a five-year program called Rapid Threat Assessment.

RTA sets a new goal for researchers to develop new methods and technologies capable of mapping the molecular mechanism of a CBRN threat within 30 days of exposure.

"Understanding the molecular mechanism of a given threat agent would provide researchers the framework with which to develop medical countermeasures and mitigate threats," Barry Pallotta, DARPA program manager, said. "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."

Researching the affects of molecular mechanisms on the human body is a slow process. Scientists are still trying to have a complete understanding of aspirin and how it affects the body after over 50 years of research.

New CBRN weapons can be mass produced in a year. With current technology, it would take decades to fully understand and be able to treat these new threats. RTA would cut down on the time and save the lives of people exposed to new CBRN weapons.

"Introducing a threat agent into a cell sets off a chain of interactions that propagate throughout the cell much like the pattern of ripples that result from throwing a pebble into a pond," Pallotta said. "Unfortunately, current research tends to be highly specialized, examining effects on very specific proteins or lipids and so on, which is why a drug like morphine is still being studied almost 200 years after its introduction. For this reason, DARPA is demanding a comprehensive approach that identifies all of the affected components and interactions at once against a background of inherent complexity."