Parasites to fight chemical and biological weapons

Parasites could become part of the armour of military personnel and first responders to help them counter chemical and biological weapon attacks in war zones.

Professor Alex Loukas’ and Dr Paul Giacomin’s teams from James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine will receive nearly US $2.5 million over five years to conduct research.

The funding is part of a US$16.4 million contract awarded to US research and development company Charles River Analytics from the US Government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Professor Loukas, a molecular parasitologist, said the project is intended to reduce the burden of personal protective equipment worn or carried by members of the military and medical first responders in conflict zones to protect them against bioterrorism agents.

“What we will be doing at JCU builds on our work with parasitic helminth infections in human volunteers,” said Professor Loukas.

“Capitalising on recent advances in genetic modification using CRISPR-Cas9, the team will create parasitic helminths that secrete drugs that counteract bioterrorism agents, and thereby protect the parasite-infected subject against chemical and biological agents in a safe and well tolerated manner.”

Professor Loukas said as military technology and technology in general advances, these kinds of threats will become more common.

“It is clearly an advantage to have an internal biological solution to counter threats when they suddenly appear.

“We are thinking of parasitic helminths as internal molecular foundries, producing and delivering drugs within and throughout the body continuously, or on demand, if we so choose,” said Professor Loukas.

Six other international universities and companies are involved in the multi-million dollar program, which was initially conceived by JCU’s Professor Loukas and his US colleague Prof Paul Brindley at George Washington University.

“It’s all cutting-edge work and JCU will be an integral part of it,” said Professor Loukas.”

This material is based upon work supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, (NIWC Pacific) under Contract No. N66001-21-C-4013. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the DARPA or NIWC Pacific.

Contacts:

Professor Alex Loukas: alex.loukas@jcu.edu.au

Alistair Bone, James Cook University media liaison: alistair.bone@jcu.edu.au

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