Last week, amongst discussions of the flotilla and Afghanistan, there was some good stories on military medicine advances, especially from DARPA. Here are a few, with Ackerman’s drone article thrown in for good measure.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working on some of the most promising Pentagon-backed medical research projects. Just last month, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen visited the university’s labs to see the science firsthand. And despite the looming threat of a shrinking Pentagon budget, he told them that “10 years doesn’t satisfy any of us,” where clinical trials were concerned.
And that’s exactly what this funding infusion is going to address. Dr. B.J. Costello, the lead researcher behind the university’s bone cement project, told Danger Room that the Pentagon’s contract is meant “to catapult us forward.” Costello’s program was expected to be in human clinical trials in 5-7 years. With the new grant, it’ll be more like 12 months to 2 years.
So today I got ahold of a new study that backs Fair. (And Obama, and Panetta, and Brennan.) Brian Glyn Williams of the University of Massachusetts finds that the drones in Pakistan have a 3.53 percent civilian-casualty rate. That’s 44 civilians killed out of 1,247 people killed by the drones in Pakistan since the program’s 2004 inception. Read the whole post for the methodology. Williams concedes that no matter what, you’ve got the problem of the source data presuming an accurate distinction between “militant” and “civilian.” From my perspective, I respect the attempts at rigor here, but that basic problem appears insurmountable.
One of the world’s deadliest pathogens, which gives its victims a gruesomely bloody exit, might finally be contained. After decades of unsuccessful research, a collaboration based out of the Army’s labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland has devised an experimental injection that cures the Ebola virus by targeting its genetic material.
The injection uses a novel technique, called RNA interference, to stop viral cells from replicating. Scientists packaged RNA snippets into particles that were then injected into four rhesus monkeys, who’d been infected with a dose of Ebola that was 30,000 times more potent than the virus’ most lethal strain, which already has a measly 10 percent survival rate. The snippets latched onto key viral proteins, and cured all four monkeys after a week of daily injections.
The Pentagon’s far-out research arm has been zeroing in on the danger of mutating pathogens, and the corresponding problem of drug resistance, for years now. The agency is already funding tobacco-based vaccine production, a seven-day plan to thwart biothreats, and prescient viral infection detectors. And they’ve even set their sights on psychic medics, with a 2007 program that sought to turn docs into all-knowing illness predictors.
Now, Darpa wants the powers of premonition to wipe out viral threats altogether. They’re hosting a workshop for a new program, called “Prophecy,” that’ll develop methods to predict the rate, location and likely mutations of viral agents.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.