Medical researchers at the Pentagon have developed a microchip that can be placed under the skin to detect Covid-19 in humans.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which operates under the Pentagon, created the technology. The unit was originally launched during the Cold War to study new technologies for military use, including defense against biological warfare.
Dr. Matt Hepburn, an infectious disease physician and retired Army colonel, said that the microchip could detect Covid-19 in a person long before a “patient zero” starts an outbreak.
“We challenge the research community to come up with solutions that may sound like science fiction,” Hepburn said. He also said that his role at DARPA is to “take pandemics off the table.”
He also compared the microchip to a car’s “check engine” light.
But Dr. Hepburn emphasized that the microchip would not “track your every move.” It is also not being administered via shots. It is not in widespread use outside the defense department.
“It’s a sensor,” Hepburn told CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker. “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.”
The microchip continuously tests the person’s blood for presence of Covid-19. If the virus is detected, it will alert the patient to take a self-administered rapid blood test to confirm the diagnosis.
“We can have that information in three to five minutes,” Hepburn said. “As you truncate that time, as you diagnose and treat, what you do is you stop the infection in its tracks.”
Scientists are also working on a dialysis machine that could remove Covid-19 from the blood. Blood passes through the machine where it is detoxed. It is then pumped back into the body in a continuous stream until the body does not have the virus.
DARPA scientists say their research is critical in preventing outbreaks in crowded military facilities.
They eventually hope to close the gap between detecting a new disease and developing a vaccine.
DARPA scientist Dr. James Crowe said eventually “We would start from a blood sample from a survivor … and be giving you an injection of the cure within the 60 days.”
“For us, at DARPA, if the experts are laughing at you and saying it’s impossible, you’re in the right space,” said Hepburn.