Wired – Darpa has several programs to improve how we deal with bacterial infections, viruses and bio-threats. The agency is already funding tobacco-based vaccine production, prescient viral infection detectors and insta-vaccines to inoculate against unknown pathogens.
Darpa wants researchers to use nanoparticles — tiny, autonomous drug delivery systems that can carry molecules of medication anywhere in the body, and get them right into a targeted cell. Darpa would like to see nanoparticles loaded with “small interfering RNA (siRNA)” — a class of molecules that can target and shut down specific genes. If siRNA could be reprogrammed “on-the-fly” and applied to different pathogens, then the nanoparticles could be loaded up with the right siRNA molecules and sent directly to cells responsible for the infection.
Researchers already know how to engineer siRNA and shove it into nanoparticles. They did it last year, during a trial that saw four primates survive infection with a deadly strain of Ebola Virus after injections of Ebola-targeted siRNA nanoparticles. Doing it quickly, and with unprecedented versatility, is another question. It can take decades for a new antibiotic to be studied and approved. Darpa seems to be after a system that can do the same job, in around a week.