- Scientists at the Pentagon’s secretive unit are researching viruses and developing pandemic cures
- They work at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and other Pentagon laboratories
- DARPA’s teams saw COVID-19 infected 1,271 onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt as the virus spread unchecked
- In response they have developed a sensor which can detect minute changes in the body caused by asymptomatic infection in a bid to prevent a COVID outbreak
- The gel is inserted below skin and would trigger a sensor if COVID infects the body
- DARPA have also created a filter which can remove COVID virus from the blood when attached to dialysis
- They are working on a vaccine that would work against all coronaviruses, even ones not yet identified
- The team also successfully manufactured antibodies against Spanish Flu
Pentagon scientists working inside a secretive unit set up at the height of the Cold War have created a hydrogel sensor to be inserted under the skin, which has the ability to detect infections such as COVID-19, and a revolutionary filter that can remove the virus from the blood when attached to a dialysis machine.
The team at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been working for years on preventing and ending pandemics.
They assess the issues and come up with ingenious solutions, which at times appear more from a science fiction novel than a working laboratory.
One of their recent inventions, they told 60 Minutes on Sunday night, was a sensor which detects any infection in an individual before it can become an outbreak.
Retired Colonel Matt Hepburn, an army infectious disease physician leading DARPA’s response to the pandemic, showed the 60 Minutes team a tissue-like gel, engineered to continuously test your blood.
‘You put it underneath your skin and what that tells you is that there are chemical reactions going on inside the body, and that signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow,’ he explained.
He said they were inspired by the struggle to stem the virus’ spread onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, where 1,271 crew members tested positive for the coronavirus.
‘It’s like a “check engine” light,’ said Hepburn.
‘Sailors would get the signal, then self-administer a blood draw and test themselves on site.
‘We can have that information in three to five minutes.
‘As you truncate that time, as you diagnose and treat, what you do is you stop the infection in its tracks.’
Troops are likely to be highly skeptical of the new invention.
In February, The New York Times reported that a third of troops have refused to take the vaccine, sighting concerns that the vaccine contains a microchip devised to monitor recipients, that it will permanently disable the body’s immune system or that it is some form of government control.
Another invention of Hepburn’s team is a filter, which is placed on a dialysis machine and removes the virus from the blood.
The experimental four-day treatment was given to “Patient 16”, a military spouse, who was in the ICU with organ failure and septic shock.
‘You pass it through, and it takes the virus out, and puts the blood back in,’ said Hepburn.
Within days, Patient 16 made a full recovery.
The FDA has authorized the filter for emergency use, and it has been used to treat nearly 300 critically ill patients.
Another Pentagon agency, the Joint Pathology Institute, studies tissue samples from soldiers and sailors infected with pathogens all over the world.
They have in their laboratories tissue from patients infected with the Spanish Flu 100 years ago, and in 2005 a team from Mount Sinai hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) managed to recreate the virus.
They also found survivors, and have manufactured antibodies to the lethal virus.
A member of the team, Dr James Crowe, has found a way to find antibodies in a vial of blood in record time – reducing the time frame from the usual six to 24 months down to 78 days.
The technology he developed was used to help make antibodies against COVID-19.
They are currently working on ways to speed up the actual growing of antibodies – a process that at present takes three weeks for 7,500 doses.
‘We would start from a blood sample from a survivor, and be done with all of this and be giving you an injection of the cure within the 60 days,’ he said.
Another scientist, Dr Kayvon Modjarrad, is currently trying to create a vaccine against all coronaviruses.
‘This is not science fiction, this is science fact,’ he told the show.
‘We have the tools, we have the technology, to do this all right now.’
He said the aim was to be able to inoculate people against deadly viruses that have not even been identified.
‘Killer viruses that we haven’t seen or even imagined, we’ll be protected against,’ he said.
- Since publication this article has been amended to remove references to the hydrogel sensor as a ‘microchip’, and to clarify that while the technology is able to detect infection prior to symptoms appearing, it is not able to identify the cause of the infection.