While lab-based testing has advanced in many ways over the years, sample preservation still relies on refrigerated transport that can cause challenges in remote environments, and this month Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a new program to solicit alternatives.
At heart, the issue is that refrigerated samples can be tricky to acquire in some situations and equally difficult to transport to austere or contested environments, leading to degraded, often critical, samples for labs in need. With emerging infectious disease hotspots predicted to increase worldwide over the next 50 years, the situation will likely only worsen from here.
Enter AMPHORA, the Assured Microbial Preservation in Harsh Or Remote Areas program. AMPHORA aims to remove the cold chain equation, allowing greater flexibility and viability of samples in even the most remote environments. Made up of two, 18-month phases, the program is currently taking solicitations from developers with ideas for how to stabilize a wide range of bacteria, fungi and viruses, and even preserving multiple samples in parallel.
In phase one, tech generation and demonstrations will be the focus, and items of interest will be selected at end-of-phase. Following this, a second phase will see developers create a portable prototype to test on real-world, transition partner samples, and the overall focus will be on system integration. At that point, bolstering sample complexity, preservation time and the number of microorganisms preserved will be key.
“AMPHORA is designed to preserve the viability and physical properties of any microbe, from any sample, rapidly and maintain that viability in any environment for greater than two months,” Dr. Tiffany Prest, AMPHORA program manager, said. “If successful, this effort will aid researchers in forensic analysis and development of targeted therapeutics, as well as increase awareness of emerging threats to support force health protection and readiness.”
Success will be determined by a testing regimen based on manufactured and real-world samples. Any systems proposed will need to adhere to current International Air Transport Association Infectious Substances Shipping Regulations (IATA-ISSR) for safe transport of live microorganisms.