DARPA wants to replace antibiotics with nanoparticles

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – aka DARPA – wants to replace outdated antibiotics with nanoparticles capable of targeting unknown, evolving and genetically engineered bioweapons.

As Wired’s Katie Drummond notes, the nanoparticle initiative is the latest of several DARPA programs attempting to counter bacterial infections, viruses and bio-threats. 

Indeed, the Pentagon is already funding tobacco-based vaccine production, prescient viral infection detectors and insta-vaccines to inoculate against unknown pathogens.

According to DARPA, antibiotics are increasingly vulnerable to bacterial resistance, which allows nefarious pathogens to survive and spread. 

Meaning, even if scientists managed to develop an advanced crop of antibiotics, they too would fall victim to the “same issues and may ultimately meet a similar fate,” especially when faced with genetically engineered and mutating bioweapon agents.

Instead, DARPA envisions the use of nanoparticles: tiny, autonomous drug delivery systems capable of transporting medicated molecules right into a targeted cell.

In theory, the nanoparticles would be loaded with small, interfering RNA, or siRNA, a class of molecules designed to shut down specific genes. 

If siRNA could somehow be reprogrammed in real-time and applied to various classes of pathogens, the nanoparticles could theoretically be equipped with the appropriate siRNA molecules and sent directly to cells responsible for the infection.

Although obviously difficult to implement, DARPA’s “real-time” nanoparticle initiative is actually grounded in reality, as researchers recently managed to engineer siRNA molecules to protect four primates from the deadly Ebola Virus.