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SKEPTOID BLOG:

DARPA to Research Use of Nanobiotics

by Guy McCardle

December 5, 2011

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Donate It has only been a few decades since medicine ushered in the antibiotic era with the widespread use of penicillin during WWII. Today, many scientists believe we are beginning what one might call the post-antibiotic era; a time when mutations in existing pathogens evolve at a faster rate than our ability to destroy them. It is for this very reason that DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has decided to invest funds into developing "readily adaptable nanotherapeutics" as an adjunct to conventional antibiotics.

Why would we turn our research efforts away from conventional antibiotics? One reason is that antibiotics are becoming increasingly less useful due to increasing bacterial resistance. This allows the nefarious mutated pathogens to survive and reproduce unchecked. Historically, as scientists develop new and more powerful antibiotics, the pathogens respond by developing resistance to the point where the most powerful drugs in our arsenal are no longer effective against them. This fact is especially important from the military medical point of view where we may be faced with dealing with genetically engineered bioweapons.

Enter the nanoparticle, or "nanobiotic", a small "interfering" piece of RNA (siRNA). They are a class of molecules designed to shut down specific genes. These scraps of genetic code seek out their mirror image within cells, such as bacteria, and silence them. This stops protein production and leads to cell death. DARPA is attempting to engineer adaptable nanoparticles that can be "reprogrammed on the fly" to combat any type of biological agent which might threaten our troops in real time.

Although this might sound somewhat like science-fiction, DARPA researchers have recently been able to engineer siRNA molecules to protect four primates against the deadly Ebola virus. DARPA's overall plan is no small task considering that it can take decades for a new conventional antibiotic to be studied and approved. DARPA seems to be after a system that can do the same job in around a week. If they are successful, it might just usher in a whole new exciting era of medicine.

Sources:

Forget Antibiotics, Try Nanoparticles Instead - NewScientist

DARPA Wants to Replace Antibiotics With Nanoparticles - TG Daily

DARPA: Do Away With Antibiotics Then Destroy All Pathogens - Wired.com

 

by Guy McCardle

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