Icahn School of Medicine earns $27M DOD contract to develop tech that measures patients' exposure to infectious agents

New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai will explore new technologies that identify and measure a person's exposure to weapons of mass destruction as part of a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Researchers at the medical school were awarded $27.8 million to work with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to find molecular signatures in blood that indicate previous exposures and time of exposure to infectious agents, chemicals and radiation.

Additionally, Icahn School of Medicine researchers will develop a field-deployable tool that can perform specific forensic and diagnostic analyses that reveal the type and time of an exposure.

The four-year contract is part of DARPA's new Epigenetic Characterization and Observation program, which seeks to develop new approaches to analyze epigenetic markers. Epigenome is biology's record keeper. While DNA does not change, a person's environment may leave marks on the DNA that modify how genes are expressed.

"Current forensic and diagnostic screening technologies can only detect the immediate presence of many materials and require sensitive instruments," Stuart Sealfon, MD, director of the Center for Translational Systems Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine. "The ECHO technology we and our partners are developing through the DARPA program will enable use to quickly read someone's epigenome from a small amount of blood to reveal possible exposure to infectious agents, chemicals or radiation, even when other physical evidence has been erased."

The DARPA is also engaging with independent ethical and legal experts to help with research plans, potential issues and dialog in the scientific community.

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