The Prometheus program aims to improve military readiness and force health through development of a prognostic that can determine if an individual is contagious before he exhibits symptoms of illness. DARPA’s goal is to develop a molecular test for determining if an individual is likely to spread disease following exposure to an infectious agent and predict within 24 hours of exposure if that individual will become contagious. That ability to predict contagiousness would allow for specific planning and concentration of resources to prevent the spread of an illness from an individual to a population within the confined settings and close quarters typical of military operations.
Prometheus specifically aims to discover a minimal set of biological signals in a person recently infected with disease that would indicate the potential for contagiousness, characterizing a person's genetic and molecular-level immune responses at multiple time points during the infection process. These temporal “biomarkers”—measurable indicators of the severity or presence of some disease state—might help researchers predict the onset of contagiousness earlier than is currently possible using conventional medical technology.
The program focuses on acute respiratory infections as a proof of concept. Using retrospective and prospective data from study volunteers who live in close communities, researchers aim to identify biomarkers and develop advanced analytics to predict which individuals will become contagious and whether or not they will show symptoms.
A successful prognostic capability would enable early treatment of infected individuals or the initiation of other mitigating steps (e.g., quarantine) before a disease can be transmitted to others. Technologies developed in this program could enable the earliest possible clinically actionable information and extend infectious disease forecasting into a real-time, accurate support tool for military planners.
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