Time is of the essence for soldiers injured during a warfare on the battlefield as their life and death depend on timely medical care.
The U.S. agency, DARPA, wants to work on treatments that actually slow down the biochemical reactions in the body and tips it into a suspended or slow state until medical help is at hand. The goal of the program, referred to as Biostasis, is to save a life by slowing it.
Although the fundamental behind the treatment may seem like something out of the pages of science fiction, there are microscopic creatures on the planet that employ the same type of processes to stay alive in dangerous environments.
For instance, the microscopic creature tardigrade, also called water bear, can survive extreme radiation, dehydration, and freezing. The invisible bugs enter a state known as cryptobiosis in which tardigrades are alive in spite of having seemed to stop their metabolic processes.
Life is a series of continuous biochemical reactions at the molecular level, which take place with the aid of catalysts like molecular machines or proteins that make the chemical reaction rate faster.
"Our goal with Biostasis is to control those molecular machines and get them to all slow their roll at about the same rate so that we can slow down the entire system gracefully, and avoid adverse consequences when the intervention is reversed or wears off," said Tristan McClure-Begley, Biostasis Project Manager.
However, preserving bodies perfectly on the battleground while waiting for medical care, is still going to take a long time to develop.
The First Step
Researchers want to start by examining different methods to retard the biochemical processes in tissues and cells, gradually scaling up to complete organism level. In the first stage, a treatment will be taken to be a success if it stalls all biological functions that can be measured within a system. It will also be observed that the treatment does not cause harm to the cellular processes when the system goes back to its normal speed.
In the future, the technologies that the Biostasis program develops could also be utilized to prolong the lifespan of drugs, biological compounds, and blood products.
McClure-Begley added that the source of Biostasis's inspiration is nature.
"If we can figure out the best ways to bolster other biological systems and make them less likely to enter a runaway downward spiral after being damaged, then we will have made a significant addition to the biology toolbox," he said.