WASHINGTON — DARPA is expanding its quest to improve the quality and pace of healing battlefield wounds by using proactive bioelectronics that would track the progress of the wound and then guide and stimulate healing.
The four-year program, called Bioelectronics for Tissue Regeneration (BETR), will be formally announced to inventors and researchers on March 1, when the guidelines for proposals will be outlined, DARPA said in a news release.
DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It is the Pentagon’s research, innovation, and “no-bad-ideas” wing.
“Wounds are living environments and the conditions change quickly as cells and tissues communicate and attempt to repair,” Paul Sheehan, the program manager for BETR, said in the news release.
“An ideal treatment would sense, process, and respond to these changes in the wound state and intervene to correct and speed recovery,” he said. “For example, we anticipate interventions that modulate immune response, recruit necessary cell types to the wound, or direct how stem cells differentiate to expedite healing.”
Sheehan said the pivotal difference in what BETR would provide is a proactive, continually caring and treatment of wounds. That differs from as current and some experimental technologies — such as “smart bandages” and hydrogel scaffolds — that are passive or static in nature.
Today, physicians commonly set the conditions and time frame for the body to either heal itself unilaterally, heal with transplants or recover with intervention, such as a cast to stabilize broken bones, DARPA said. Yet those methods often fail to achieve full or even partial success, DARPA said in its release.
For example, DARPA said passive approaches “often result in slow healing, incomplete healing with scarring, or, in some unfortunate cases, no healing at all.” Blast injuries are notorious for not healing, DARPA said, while nearly two-thirds of military trauma patients “suffer abnormal bone growth in their soft tissue due to a condition known as heterotopic ossification, a painful experience that can greatly limit future mobility,” DARPA said.
Even standard antibiotics can be counter-productive, DARPA said.
“To succeed, the BETR system must yield faster healing of recalcitrant wounds, superior scar-free healing, and/or the ability to redirect abnormally healing wounds toward a more salutary pathway,” DARPA said in its release. It urged those interested to have a strong focus on wounds that could be relevant to the use of advanced prosthetics.
This is DARPA’s second recent foray into ways to speed and enhance recovery. In November, it announced the Panacea program, with the goal of finding multi-target drugs to deliver safer and more efficient solutions to military requirements for readiness and recovery.