Super pill for soldiers
Real-life super soldiers might be coming faster than you think. Our on-screen superheroes might soon have competition from various militaries around the world. If you follow my blog, you know that I’m fascinated by human performance and anything that can enhance it. It seems there’s a powerful pill – one that can help our troops – and some revolutionary technologies “over the horizon.” We’ve seen the movies and read the books. Hollywood has been pumping out movies about super-soldiers capable of operating beyond normal human limits or abilities either through genetic modification or cybernetic augmentation for years. There have also been reports that China is looking at “improving” its soldiers’ performance. It turns out that China is not alone and that this might not be as far-fetched as we thought. The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is looking to enhance human performance through a pill that may inhibit or reduce some of the degenerative effects of aging and injury.
Enhancing natural traits
“These efforts are not about creating physical traits that don’t already exist naturally. This is about enhancing the mission readiness of our forces by improving performance characteristics that typically decline with age,” according to SOCOM spokesperson Cmdr. Tim Hawkins. SOCOM has a Human Performance Program that features cutting-edge and innovative physical training, injury mitigation and performance nutrition. This is all part of a broader Pentagon push to enhance and improve the performance of US special operations soldiers and sailors. SOCOM is partnering with a private biotech laboratory, Metro International Biotech, LLC (MetroBiotech), to develop a pill based on a “human performance small molecule. SOCOM has spent nearly $2.8 million since the 2018 launch of this project.
The military has been testing a crystalized version of NMN (Nicotinamide mononucleotide – an anti-aging product) called MIB 626 for two years under top-secret conditions on their greatest athletes – special operations soldiers. NMN is a precursor to NAD+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide), meaning it becomes NAD+ through chemical transformations. NAD+ is essential to the function of all living cells. According to the Metro Biotech website, “reduced levels of NAD+ are linked to aging and numerous diseases, including mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation, and various associated diseases. These levels decline as humans age and remain depleted during disease states. Preclinical evidence suggests disease-and age-related functional decline can be mitigated by boosting NAD+, which supports the Metro Biotech hypothesis that maintaining optimal NAD+ levels may allow humans to lead longer and healthier lives.”
First, they tested the product for safety and then for efficacy. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said that these operators were experiencing endurance “explosions” and building muscle mass, stronger and greater with the same stimulus. That’s right – not more exercise but less. Moreover, their cognitive function “shot through the roof,” according to Hawkins. Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology for Special Operations Forces, acquisition, technology & logistics (SOF AT&L), says, “The pill has the potential, if it is successful, to truly delay aging, truly prevent the onset of injury — which is an amazing game-changer.” Preclinical safety and dosing studies have already been completed.
Enhancing mission readiness
We aren’t trying to create physical traits that don’t already exist naturally. Instead, this is about enhancing the mission readiness of US forces by improving performance characteristics that normally decline with age, Hawkins points out. “Essentially, we are working with leading industry partners and clinical research institutions to develop a nutraceutical, in the form of a pill that is suitable for a variety of uses by both civilians and military members, whose resulting benefits may include improved human performance – like increased endurance and faster recovery from injury.” You’re probably just as confused as I was when I first encountered the term – nutraceutical, which is not to be confused with a pharmaceutical. WTF? The Oxford dictionary defines a nutraceutical as “a food containing health-giving additives and having medicinal benefit.” In other words, the pill is a dietary supplement and is the result of biotechnology. The Metro Biotech website says the company has developed some proprietary precursor compounds (a chemical compound preceding another in a metabolic pathway) for something called “nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).”
Commercial research cooperation
SOCOM has found a way to explore the biotechnology sector and enter into partnerships with laboratories, industry and research institutes to conduct commercial research that could make our troops healthier. SOCOM isn’t looking at long-term genetic engineering, which many people find troubling for various reasons. But a pill that can help people avoid injury, delay aging and improve sleep would have a substantial commercial demand. And that’s why SOCOM is working on expanding its cooperation with innovative companies and small businesses involved in emerging technologies, such as biotech and artificial intelligence.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) and other organizations are looking to give troops immunity from pain, super strength and, yes, even telepathic abilities (think of the movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats). Some of the new technologies being investigated include bionic boots that work like a kangaroo’s feet to make soldiers jump farther and run faster, gecko-like gloves and shoes for climbing, bullet-proof clothing and exoskeleton underwear, methods to eliminate inflammation and pain after an injury or wound and synthetic blood (not plasma) that would contain respirocytes. What in the world is a respirocyte, you’re probably wondering?
Eliminate diving equipment
A respirocyte is a hypothetical nanomachine that could behave like a red blood cell in humans and assist or completely replace our own red blood cells as a carrier of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. This would allow soldiers to spend hours and hours underwater without equipment because they would never run out of breath, thanks to trillions of miniature air tanks inside their bodies. While this might seem far-fetched today, think of all the technologies we now use daily that were nothing more than dreams a decade or so ago. It will be interesting to see where this research leads. Will it result in some sort of a “super” soldier one day? I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.