ASU Receives $39M DARPA Grant To Develop WMD Exposure Detector

Published: Monday, July 29, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, July 29, 2019 - 10:17am
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The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute nearly $39 million to develop a detector for exposure to weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and other related substances.

Current tools can detect WMDs and their related biological agents, radiation, chemicals and explosives. But they work within brief windows of time, which can confound efforts to detect past exposures in victims or weapons makers.

ASU's method will attempt to avoid this pitfall by searching for chemicals that affect gene expression and can stick around long after physical effects have faded.

Team leader and Biodesign Institute executive director Joshua LaBaer said the four-year contract requires both isolating the signatures and building the detector.

"The goal of this project is to have a box, something that would fit on a table, that could be used at a field hospital, for example, to actually test soldiers' blood," LaBaer said. 

The detector initially will be used in the armed forces, but the concept could be adapted to detect diseases. 

LaBaer previously led the ARad project, a radiation test that uses genes to detect radiation exposure levels in victims of nuclear attacks. That project's commercial partners are currently taking it through validation trials in preparation for review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

"The technology we're employing here is very different from the technology we employed on that project. And, although this project does include exposure to radiation as one of the weapons of mass destruction that we're willing to look at, this project includes many others as well," LaBaer said.