Voices from DARPA
Episode 47: The Life Saver
In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Tristan McClure-Begley, a program manager since 2017 in the agency’s Biological Technologies Office, recounts how he knew he wanted to be a biologist at the age of 7. That, thanks to an engineer dad, a psychologist mom, and a catalytic high-school teacher, all of whom ignited Tristan’s curiosity. Now Tristan is a program manager overseeing an ambitious portfolio of programs that is expanding the boundaries of battlefield medicine as well as neurocognitive science and practice. One of his programs is laying ground work for molecular tissue-stabilization interventions to help severely injured warfighters survive long enough to receive the medical treatment that can save them. In another program he is overseeing, researchers are investigating how peripheral nerve stimulation can improve cognitive tasks such as learning a new language. Two other programs could redefine what is possible in pharmaceutical science and practice. One of these is opening pathways to so-called polypharmaceutical treatments in which a single therapeutic agent intervenes in multiple cellular or physiological targets associated with a disease. The current paradigm centers on developing drugs that interact with a single disease-relevant target. Another of Tristan’s ambitious programs is devoted to warfighters who are suffering from post-traumatic stress and other psychiatric challenges. Researchers working on this project are diving into the clinical successes of hallucinogenic substances, such as LSD and psilocybin, with an eye on identifying new agents that can deliver therapeutic value but without the hallucinogenic effects, which are not suitable for many patients. Says Tristan, “I pretty much want to learn everything about everything.” That’s how you get a DARPA program portfolio like his.