Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fighting disease - without antibiotics?

That's what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) appears to have in mind. Wired reports:

Darpa is making a long-shot request for an all-out replacement to antibiotics, the decades-old standard for killing or injuring bacteria to demolish a disease. In its place: the emerging field of nanomedicine would be used to fight bacterial threats. The agency’s “Rapidly Adaptable Nanotherapeutics” is after a versatile “platform capable of rapidly synthesizing therapeutic nanoparticles” to target unknown, evolving and even genetically engineered bioweapons.

. . .

Darpa wants researchers to use nanoparticles — tiny, autonomous drug delivery systems that can carry molecules of medication anywhere in the body, and get them right into a targeted cell. Darpa would like to see nanoparticles loaded with “small interfering RNA (siRNA)” — a class of molecules that can target and shut down specific genes. If siRNA could be reprogrammed “on-the-fly” and applied to different pathogens, then the nanoparticles could be loaded up with the right siRNA molecules and sent directly to cells responsible for the infection.

Replacing a billion dollar industry that’s been a medical mainstay since 1940? Far fetched, sure, but researchers already know how to engineer siRNA and shove it into nanoparticles. They did it last year, during a trial that saw four primates survive infection with a deadly strain of Ebola Virus after injections of Ebola-targeted siRNA nanoparticles. Doing it quickly, and with unprecedented versatility, is another question. It can take decades for a new antibiotic to be studied and approved. Darpa seems to be after a system that can do the same job, in around a week.

There's more at the link.

Given the already huge, and still growing, problem of diseases and pathogens that are resistant to common antibiotics, this is a really interesting development. I daresay it's still years, perhaps even decades away from deployment; but if DARPA's prepared to fund the development of such alternative methods of medication, antibiotics may no longer be the only arrow in our medical quiver, so to speak. This will bear watching.


1 comment:

trailbee said...

I can see strong opposition to this. But, to actually vanquish the great C, for which we probably do already have a cure, would be a real kicker.