DARPA Developing Stimulant to Keep Warfighters Alert Without Side Effects

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a type of stimulant without the attendant side-effects of regular stimulants such as anxiety, irritability, or euphoria.

The ingested stimulants are activated through the contact of certain types of light sent non-invasively through a device.

They target certain brain circuits “responsible for executive function, working memory, and decision making, while avoiding off-target effects,” DARPA explained.

A combination of wearable device that emits near-infrared light and the photo-switchable stimulant is being designed under DARPA’s Alert WARfighter Enablement (AWARE) program.

It aims to demonstrate “on-demand de-transition from alertness and make restorative sleep possible.”

Photoswitchable Drug

“To achieve the beneficial effects of stimulants on alertness without the undesirable effects of the stimulant on mood, restorative sleep, and mental health, a new approach is needed to enable targeted activation of the drug,” AWARE program manager Pedro Irazoqui explained

“AWARE aims to achieve this goal by modifying currently approved prescription drugs to make them photoswitchable – to have the ability to change using light – and to develop wearable light emitters to rapidly activate those drugs in a localized area.”

An ethical, legal, and societal implications plan will be included in the program to discuss the technology’s human use.

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