Scientists at DARPA (Pentagon’s advanced research lab), say that it may be possible to alter humans so that we can host deadly diseases without getting ill ourselves, just like RATS!
According to Colonel Matthew Hepburn, program manager of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office in a recent conference,
We should look beyond the pathogen—it’s really about the host, and the host’s responses to infection. Rats have all these things and they survive just fine—isn’t that a great opportunity for us?”
Hepburn says his office wants to “ditch the term pathogen” and instead attempt to find ways for humans to more-or-less coexist with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that would be harmful or deadly today. In other words, he wants to make it possible for people to carry diseases such as Ebola without actually getting sick.
Like most things DARPA, much of this research is classified, and Hepburn wouldn’t go deep into specifics about what he’s talking about. But his team is doing genetic analysis of mice, rats, and other animals in an attempt to understand what makes it possible for them to carry disease-causing organisms without getting sick. It seemed as though he was at least interested in the possibility of developing genetic therapies that would bestow some of a rodent’s immunity upon a human.
We’re trying to find—what’s special about the mice, and can we translate it to humans to modulate the host response to infection in times of critical illness? Can we make you more mouselike for a short period of time to save your life?”
Every year, thousands of clinical trials are performed on humans to test out new therapies and potential drugs. And in most of those trials, there is a control group that receives a placebo in place of the actual medicine being tested. And yet, in every control group, there are people whose immune systems manage to conquer whatever it is they’re fighting.
What if we reexamine that control group? There are always those people who are outliers, who are resistant to infection,” he said. “What if we can discover what makes them special and then predict if that special pattern translates across other infectious diseases?”
Famously, there is a line of Italian people who have a genetic “defect” that prevents them from getting clogged arteries, meaning the family doesn’t really have to worry about getting heart attacks or strokes. Researchers have long said that the family may hold the key to solving arterial diseases—Hepburn seems to believe that a similar genetic immunity could be developed for things like HIV, malaria, Ebola, and so on.
I want to learn from the animal kingdom to stop infectious diseases from killing people. We’re going to get there.”