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Pentagon develops implantable microchip to detect COVID-19

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Alaina Kolesnik injects fluids into a patient’s IV at Mann-Grandstaff Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., Oct. 23, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Kiaundra Miller)
April 15, 2021

Department of Defense medical researchers have developed a microchip that can detect COVID-19 after being inserted under an individual’s skin.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — a top-secret Pentagon unit established during the Cold War — created the revolutionary technology, and revealed it during a “60 Minutes” episode on Sunday.

“Among some of the current projects that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing: a health-monitoring subdermal implant,” the program described the technology in a tweet. “It’s not a government tracking microchip, but rather a tissue-like gel engineered to continuously test your blood.”

The microchip is designed to constantly check an individual’s blood for the virus and once COVID-19 is detected, the patient would be alerted and advised to conduct a blood test to confirm the presence of the virus.

“We can have that information in three to five minutes,” infectious disease physician and retired Army Col. Dr. Matt Hepburn told CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker. “As you truncate that time, as you diagnose and treat, what you do is you stop the infection in its tracks.”

Additionally, a dialysis machine could remove COVID-19 from the blood through a customized filter facilitated by the technology.

Hepburn likened the microchip to a vehicle “check engine” light.

“It’s a sensor,” Hepburn told Whitaker. “That tiny green thing in there, you put it underneath your skin and what that tells you is that there are chemical reactions going on inside the body and that signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow.”

The chip would not “track your every move” and is not being inserted through vaccinations.

According to Hepburn, the microchip is not frequently used outside of the Defense Department, but it could identify COVID-19 early on to help prevent an outbreak.

“We challenge the research community to come up with solutions that may sound like science fiction,” said Hepburn, adding that he hopes to “take pandemics off the table.”

Scientists at DARPA believe their projects are critical to preventing future outbreaks in military quarters, like the spread that occurred on USS Theodore Roosevelt in Spring last year, leading to 1,271 crew members contracting the virus.

“For us, at DARPA, if the experts are laughing at you and saying it’s impossible, you’re in the right space,” Hepburn said.

The report comes as almost 40 percent of U.S. Marines have declined to take the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Pentagon.

“We fully understand that widespread acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine provides us with the best means to defeat this pandemic. The key to addressing this pandemic is building vaccine confidence,” said Communication Strategy and Operations Officer Captain Andrew Woods.

Out of 123,500 Marines who have been offered the vaccine, just 75,500 have received at least one dose, with nearly 48,000 declining to take it at all.