Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fieldable Health Monitoring System for Warfighter

A continual monitoring system can seek out changes in the well being of those in combat when unknowingly exposed to agents either present due to dispersion by enemy combatants or simply present in the environment. This detection system is what the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is seeking out and has awarded Arizona State University a contract with a value of up to $30 Million to develop. 

The universities Biodesign Institute already has a technology in the works called the Doc-in-a-Box, which claims will follow the monitor fluctuations in blood-borne molecules and detect predictive biosignatures of disease that can inform individuals are becoming ill before they even know there is a problem. Now this is a broad effort that goes beyond a focus for the Department of Defense, but clearly the DTRA has been seeking out what they call a chip-based prototype that can be used in the field for early detection of infection risks to our troops.

Photo by SGT Mark Cloutier
As part of DTRA's Strategic Plan for combating weapons of mass destruction they have the objection of providing the warfighter with "a holistic chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) theat detection and search portfolio that provides a pre-release, in-field, near real time confirmatory analysis capability and integrates passive, active, and alternative approaches across the detection Science and Technology spectrum by  FY2017". Now that is certainly a mouthful and they also tie in the needs for a platform to detect infections disease such as influenza strains. Biological warfare is certainly a perceived threat and numerous agents of infection could be at play if dispersed in a manner of attack. Obviously these preventative measures are being considered in order to provide immediate detection in the event of such an occurrence.

The big question is how such a technology would monitor changes to detect a problem. How invasive would a "chip-based" system need to be in order to properly measure real-time health conditions to get the jump on any infectious disease. Would this be a wearable device which has been sought out and certainly could be put into play for blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and other medical indicators of health. 

In relation to this technology and in direct development for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency among other DOD agencies, DARPA put out a solicitation for fiscal year 2012 requesting a product that can measure an individual's physiological status through biomarkers such as peptidic hormones, histamine, and cortisol. The means of doing so were to avoid the need to take samples such as blood, urine, or other lab standard testing procedures. The solicitation also goes in to possibilities of implantation of the device and the ensuing side effects such as inflammation or errors in measurements from other complication from implementing such a procedure. 

Whether the contract and ensuing project are tied together with this DARPA solicitation is not clear from our understanding, but there is certainly an intriguing confluence of science being considered for such a system that our troops could relatively soon utilize when operating abroad. Perhaps this same technology would carry over for civilian use. Obviously there will be plenty of interest from service men and woman that would utilize any such device and the media will certainly find intrigue in implanted devices and the ethics involved if this is to come to fruition, or perhaps the scientists at work on these projects will simply find the capability for a wearable device that can properly measure the needed biomarkers for a proper real-time analysis. Either way you can certainly see that advanced technologies are in the works for projects beyond unmanned robots and advanced weapons systems. How it will all play out is beyond any conjecture on our part.

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