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Darpa seeks nanotechnology defense against novel pathogens

One of the great successes of twentieth century medicine has been the use of antibiotics to treat formerly fatal bacterial infections. This success is now at risk of being reversed by the ability of bacteria to evolve resistance to antibiotics, and by the recently developed ability to engineer particularly lethal new pathogens for military or terrorist purposes. Darpa wants to deploy nanotechnology to maintain the upper hand against both evolving and engineered bacterial threats. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for passing along this item from Wired written by Katie Drummond “Darpa: Do Away With Antibiotics, Then Destroy All Pathogens“:

…In the military’s latest round of small business solicitations, Darpa is making a long-shot request for an all-out replacement to antibiotics, the decades-old standard for killing or injuring bacteria to demolish a disease. In its place: the emerging field of nanomedicine would be used to fight bacterial threats. The agency’s “Rapidly Adaptable Nanotherapeutics” is after a versatile “platform capable of rapidly synthesizing therapeutic nanoparticles” to target unknown, evolving and even genetically engineered bioweapons.…

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.

Replacing a billion dollar industry that’s been a medical mainstay since 1940? Far fetched, sure, but 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. …

Using nanoparticles of various types to deliver therapeutic siRNA molecules is already a hot research area in nanomedicine (for example). The challenge here may lie in rapid DNA sequencing and good bioinformatics tools to find the best siRNA molecules to target novel bacterial threats.

6 Responses to “Darpa seeks nanotechnology defense against novel pathogens”

  1. PacRim Jim Says:

    The nanotech better be pretty damn adaptive, because bacteria certainly are.

  2. mike Says:

    and they had better be selective. we live in a symbiotic relationship with our gut flora. kill them and you will be very ill.

  3. Instapundit » Blog Archive » NANOTECHNOLOGY UPDATE: Darpa seeks nanotechnology defense against novel pathogens…. Says:

    [...] NANOTECHNOLOGY UPDATE: Darpa seeks nanotechnology defense against novel pathogens. [...]

  4. NanoMan Says:

    Advanced nanotech could produce a weapon that would make someone zombie like, without any supernatural basis.

    The nanomachines would have to be programmed to enter the brain and somehow turn the person into a raging beast that does nothing but kill, and, as the machines replicate, they would infect new persons through transmission via blood and body fluids. Ofcourse, the opponents could produce a nanotech anti virus that reverses the effects of the virus.

    But you get the picture. With nanotech, we can do great things or horrific things. Nanites don’t kill. People kill. They are just material machines.

  5. BrianM Says:

    This sounds great…. too bad siRNA doesn’t work in bacteria…oops

  6. Jim Lewis Says:

    Yes and no. Conventional siRNA does not work in bacteria, but people have had some success with RNA:DNA hybrids (siHybrids). See this for a report on siHybrids: http://www.eurekalert.org/features/doe/2004-11/ddoe-sdg111104.php
    and this study for the “the first to report on the efficacy of siRNA against bacteria”: http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/57/1/122.full.

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