DARPA aims to protect blood from harmful pathogens

New program aims to tackle bloodstream infections in military and civilian populations

Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are taking a significant step forward in health technology with program that targets bloodstream infections caused by fungal and bacterial pathogens. These types of infections pose an ongoing and lethal threat to both military and civilian communities.

“SHIELD is designed to develop innovative approaches to create safe and effective broad spectrum medical countermeasures that can defeat fungal and bacterial pathogens, thereby preventing serious disease and death.”

Dr. Christopher Bettinger, the SHIELD program manager

Transforming post-trauma treatment

The Synthetic Hemo-technologIEs that Locate & Disinfect (SHIELD) program envisions a future where a single dose treatment, much like a Roomba, would circulate within the blood, binding, clearing, and defeating fungi and bacteria before they can become a health risk. This treatment could potentially protect a patient for up to a week, providing a non-toxic solution that can be rapidly deployed in a wide range of scenarios.

Addressing antibiotic resistance and toxicity

In the world of healthcare, bacterial pathogens that resist antibiotics are a well-known challenge. But Dr. Bettinger points out an additional, less-known threat. “There are an increasing number of pathogenic fungal strains that resist even the most potent anti-fungal compounds as a result of overuse of these compounds in hospitals and agricultural applications.”

Three-phase approach to development

SHIELD will be rolled out in three phases. The initial phase will establish the safety and effectiveness of the technology in vitro. The second phase will test these findings in animal models infected with either fungal or bacterial pathogens. The final phase will evaluate the program’s ability to enhance survival in animals exposed to both types of pathogens.

Collaboration for safety and efficacy

To ensure the safety and efficacy of SHIELD, the project’s developers will work closely with U.S. government and defense stakeholders, as well as regulatory authorities. “Future conflicts may incur high casualty rates, require prolonged field care and be in austere environments with limited resources – all of which increase the risk and impact of bacterial and fungal infections,” added Bettinger. “If successful, SHIELD could make a huge impact in preventing morbidity and mortality from BSIs.”

Potential implications of SHIELD

The potential long-term effects of the SHIELD project are significant. By reducing the danger of bloodstream infections, the initiative could not only protect individual lives but also decrease the strain on medical resources, particularly in conflict zones and areas with limited access to healthcare. The project represents a forward-thinking investment in health security, offering potential benefits for military and civilian populations alike.


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