DARPA to use Implantable Sensors to Monitor Soldiers in the Battlefield

The In Vivo technology would also have commercial applications for physiological monitoring of patients.


How beneficial would it be for warfare if soldiers did not get sick in the battlefield, or if those who get sick could be orderly repaired? Very profitable indeed.

Last March 15, DARPA put out a request for ingenious people to come up with nano particles that could effectively be implanted into animals, plants and insects — although its intention is to implanted on humans — which could not only monitor a the physiological state of a person in the battlefield, but also to repaired him/her by providing the best ‘therapy’. DARPA intends to develop what it calls biocompatible sensors that provide accurate readings on the physiological state of a living being while avoiding any kind of invasive or toxic results.

“Current implantable materials are limited by toxicity and immunogenic response. Implanted nanomaterials may be rapidly cleared by the eticuloendothelial system or foul due to nonspecific binding of biologic material on the surface depending on size, shape and coating.” says DARPA’s document. What the government agency is looking for then, is a nano sensor that can easily bind with the human body in a way that is not a burden for the soldier on the field and that is not as cumbersome as what it calls In Vitro monitoring systems. The so-called In Vivo Nanoplatforms (IVN), would need to have clinical diagnostic and operational implementation as well as “Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory compliance” when developed.

The creation and implementation of monitoring programs through IVNs stems from the need to cut down the time warfighters spend inactive due to disease as supposed to battle injuries. The search for monitoring and repairing technology would improve soldier readiness, says DARPA, while reducing healthcare costs and logistics as to how to manage injured or sick soldiers on the field.

The Department of Defense believes that although current medical devices are small and portable, which enables them to complete quick diagnostics, these devices are very sensitive and are limited in the kind of work they can do. “They are almost always limited to the detection of a single analyte (or target).” DARPA wants to have an In Vivo sensing device that can provide continuous monitoring about the physiology of the soldiers in real time while they are away.

“The first high-payoff application of In Vivonanosensor technology is in the early sensing and detection of biologic exposure, long before the warfighter is contagious or symptoms are present.” Through the same system, DARPA dreams about continuous surveillance that will tell those monitoring the devices whether a soldier may or may not be able to carry out a mission given his or her physiological state. Decisions about a soldier or a complete unit’s ability to be ready for combat would be made instantly based on the diagnostics obtained from the nanosensors. ”For military special forces the practical realization of implantable nanosensors capable of monitoring multiple indicators of physiological state could be a truly disruptive innovation, describes DARPA in its technical assessment.

But monitoring is only one part of the work that the IVNs would be capable of doing. Once the sensors have fed information about the state of a soldier on or off the battlefield, the operator who monitors such information can then take corrective action. “With an appropriate array of therapeutic nano particles (to be developed under the subsequent BAA), the warfighter could immediately administer effective therapy.” So the nano particles would not only monitor the human body, but also be charged with pharmaceuticals that in most cases would medicate the soldier in order to minimize the symptoms of a disease or even treat such illness for the period of time when the troops are on the field, which would guarantee maximum performance.

Although DARPA’s dream nanodoctors are intended for the battlefield, the document also envisions their use outside of combat situations and already give it a commercial value. According to the description, the medical establishment would also reap the benefits of such technology by offering devices for the continuous monitoring of physiological activity in patients. DARPA expects that modified forms of the IVN technology not only is widely accepted by the medical community for use in average patients, but also to have a significant impact in the healthcare systems.

“The glucometer market alone is forecasted to reach $6B by 2015 as the total U.S. population that is diabetic or prediabetic exceeds 100M.” DARPA has even envisioned and pinpointed some specific applications for other forms of IVNs. “A new In Vivo nanoplatform could enable monitoring of metabolic and infectious disease of national significance via measurement of analytes such as glucose, urea, lactate, and cytokines.”

Among the specifications given by DARPA as preferable in the new In Vivo technology are: analytical sensitivity; or the ability to detect a certain level of a target of interest, clinical sensitivity; or the potential to test positivity in disease, high dynamic range, or the range of analyte concentration over which the detector is capable of providing an accurate quantitative measure; multiplex levels, or the ability to perform simultaneously tests; a strong operational lifetime, or the capacity to work without any downtime or failure in performance and a quick response time that includes the entire testing process without sacrificing optimum analytical results.

The idea of implanting technology right under the skin of a patient or to monitor people by fitting them with a microchip for identification purposes is not new, neither is the idea of using nano particles to monitor or regenerate human tissue. Nanotechnology, biology and genetics are all working together and have already created artificial DNA, or GNA as well as human-like red blood cells which are beyond experimental phases. What is the news here, then? Perhaps the fact that DARPA has publicly announced the implementation of such technology for specific military and commercial purposes.

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