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DARPA Seeks to SHIELD Blood from Fungal and Bacterial Pathogens

New program looks to combat bloodstream infections, a significant battlefield health threat


Fungal and bacterial pathogens can cause bloodstream infections (BSI), are a persistent and deadly threat to both civilian and military populations,1, 2 and are particularly prevalent in the military due to increased risk of infection following trauma. These infections can be uniquely challenging due to delays in diagnosis, antibiotic resistance and toxicity of treatments, especially for fungal infections.

But what if you could have a Roomba-like treatment circulating within your blood that whisks away pathogens before you get sick? DARPA’s new Synthetic Hemo-technologIEs that Locate & Disinfect (SHIELD) program aims to develop broad, preventive treatments for warfighters who suffer trauma from gunshot or blast wounds, or burns. Novel therapies would be administered as combat casualty care post-trauma with the aim to bind, clear, and defeat any fungi and bacteria in a pathogen-agnostic, or broad-spectrum manner before they can become a health risk. These therapies will be designed to protect the recipient for up to a week with a single dose; be durable, non-toxic, rapidly and broadly deployable; and be effective against the many different known and emerging bacterial and fungal threats.

“SHIELD is designed to develop innovative approaches to create safe and effective broad spectrum medical countermeasures that can defeat fungal and bacterial pathogens, thereby preventing serious disease and death,” noted SHIELD program manager, Dr. Christopher Bettinger. “While many of us may be familiar with the idea of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there are an increasing number of pathogenic fungal strains that resist even the most potent anti-fungal compounds as a result of overuse of these compounds in hospitals and agricultural applications.”

The program will be divided into three phases. The first phase will show proof-of-concept studies for safety and efficacy in in vitro studies. The second phase seeks to validate these findings with either fungal or bacterial infections in animal models, while the final phase aims to increase survival in animals exposed to both fungal and bacterial pathogens simultaneously.

SHIELD performers will engage with U.S. government and defense stakeholders, as well as appropriate regulatory authorities, to ensure safety and efficacy.

“Future conflicts may incur high casualty rates, require prolonged field care and be in austere environments with limited resources – all of which increase the risk and impact of bacterial and fungal infections3,” added Bettinger. “If successful, SHIELD could make a huge impact in preventing morbidity and mortality from BSIs.”

  1. D. R. Tribble, C. K. Murray, B. A. Lloyd, A. Ganesan, K. Mende, D. M. Blyth, J. L. Petfield and J. MacDonald, “After the Battlefield: Infectious Complications among Wounded Warriors in the Trauma Infectious Disease Outcomes Study,” Military Medicine, vol. 184, no. S2, p. 18–25, 2019.
  2. CDC Newsroom, “Increasing Threat of Spread of Antimicrobial-resistant Fungus in Healthcare Facilities” March 20, 2023.
  3. A. Nguyen, Managing Casualties in Future Conflicts, San Diego, CA, 2022.

A Broad Agency Announcement solicitation with all program details and instructions for submitting proposals is available on

Media with inquiries should contact DARPA Public Affairs at

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