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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed a subdermal implant to continuously test a person’s blood for infection before they present symptoms that they are sick — a development that the agency is trying to use to stop future pandemics.
Retired Colonel Matt Hepburn told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” that the device, which the network described as a “tissue-like gel,” is designed to be put “underneath your skin” and that it notifies a person that “there are chemical reactions going on inside the body and that signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow.”
Individuals that are notified that they need to get a blood test done are then able to self-administer a test on site and can have the results back in as little as three to five minutes.
Hepburn said that he was told by the agency that his goal was to “take pandemics off the table.”
“We challenge the research community to come up with solutions that may sound like science fiction,” Hepburn said. “And we’re very willing to take chances with high-risk investments that may not work. But if they do, we can completely transform the landscape.”
In response to confusion about the technology, Hepburn told Newsweek that the hydrogel is not the same as a microchip, and that it doesn’t even have electronics. “It wouldn’t tell you if you had influenza or if you had COVID.” He explained that the gel, for example, could detect abnormal levels of tissue-level lactate, a sign that someone could be getting sick.
Hepburn compared the hydrogel to a check-engine light: “It doesn’t tell you what’s wrong with your engine, but it says ‘you might want to take a look.’”
Among some of the current projects that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing: a health-monitoring subdermal implant. It’s not a government tracking microchip, but rather a tissue-like gel engineered to continuously test your blood. https://t.co/1UDs9dBNcE pic.twitter.com/Zfph8xQUKC
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 11, 2021
The “60 Minutes” segment noted that the agency was created more than six decades ago to respond to the Russians having more sophisticated aerospace technology than the United States.
The agency has pushed the boundaries of science in other arenas, including neuro-engineering and developing “computer chips designed to modulate the nervous system to help with everything from arthritis to post-traumatic stress.”
Just this week, the agency awarded contracts to several companies to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft.
This article has been updated to include a quote from Hepburn to Newsweek further explaining the technology and how it works.
NARRATION: Dr. Hepburn showed us a few current projects, some sound like they’re from an episode of “Star Trek.” Consider a ship like the USS Theodore Roosevelt — hobbled last year when 1,271 crew members tested positive for the coronavirus. What if everyone on board had their health monitored with this subdermal implant, now in late-stage testing. It’s not some dreaded government microchip to track your every move, but a tissue-like gel engineered to continuously test your blood.
DR. MATT HEPBURN: It’s a sensor.
BILL WHITAKER: This tiny green thing in there?
HEPBURN: That tiny green thing in there, 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.
WHITAKER: Wow. There’s an– an actual transmitter in that–
HEPBURN: Yeah. It’s like a “check engine” light.
WHITAKER: Check this sailor out before he infects other people?
HEPBURN: That’s right.
NARRATION: Sailors would get the signal, then self-administer a blood draw and test themselves on site.
WHITAKER: Look at that.
HEPBURN: 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.