Pentagon scientists working inside a secretive unit set up at the height of the Cold War have created a microchip to be inserted under the skin, which will detect coronavirus infection, and a revolutionary filter that can remove the virus from the blood when attached to a dialysis machine.
The team at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been working for years on preventing and ending pandemics.
They gauge the issues and come up with brilliant solutions, which at times appear more from a science fiction novel than a working laboratory.
One of their recent inventions, they told 60 Minutes on Sunday night, was a microchip which detects coronavirus infection in an individual before it can become an outbreak.
The microchip will certainly spark worries among some people about a government agency implanting a microchip in a citizen.
Officials who spoke to the 60 Minutes team said the Pentagon isn’t looking to track your every move.
A more detailed explanation was not given.
Retired Colonel Matt Hepburn, an army infectious disease physician leading DARPA’s response to the pandemic, showed the 60 Minutes team a tissue-like gel, engineered to continuously test your blood.
“You put it underneath your skin and what that tells you is that there are chemical reactions going on inside the body, and that signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow,” Hepburn said.
He said they were inspired by the struggle to stem the virus’ outbreak onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, where 1,271 crew members tested positive for COVID-19.
“It’s like a ‘check engine’ light,” Hepburn said, noting that “sailors would get the signal, then self-administer a blood draw and test themselves on site.”
“We can have that information in three to five minutes. As you truncate that time, as you diagnose and treat, what you do is you stop the infection in its tracks.”
Troops are likely to be highly skeptical of the new invention.
The New York Times reported in February that a third of troops have refused to take the vaccine, voicing concerns that the vaccine contains a microchip devised to monitor recipients, that it will permanently disable the body’s immune system or that it is some form of government control.
Another invention of Hepburn’s team is a filter, which is placed on a dialysis machine and removes the virus from the blood.
The experimental 4-day treatment was given to “Patient 16”, a military spouse, who was in the intensive care unit with organ failure and septic shock.
“You pass it through, and it takes the virus out, and puts the blood back in,” said Hepburn.
Within days, Patient 16 made a full recovery.
The FDA has authorized the filter for emergency use, and it has been used to treat around 300 critically ill patients.
Another Pentagon agency, the Joint Pathology Institute, studies tissue samples from sailors and soldiers infected with pathogens all over the world.
They have in their laboratories tissue from patients infected with the Spanish Flu 100 years ago, and in 2005 a team from Mount Sinai hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) managed to recreate the virus.
They also found survivors, and have manufactured antibodies to the lethal virus.
A member of the team, Dr James Crowe, has found a way to find antibodies in a vial of blood in record time – reducing the time frame from the usual 6 to 24 months down to 78 days.
The technology he developed was used to help make antibodies against the coronavirus.
They are currently working on ways to accelerate the actual growing of antibodies – a process that at present takes 3 weeks for 7,500 shots.
“We would start from a blood sample from a survivor, and be done with all of this and be giving you an injection of the cure within the 60 days,” he said.