The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funds research that should spur breakthroughs in science and technology with the ultimate goal of providing support for soldiers in the field and promoting national security. Their sponsored research includes a surprising amount of medical and basic science that uses model organisms. DARPA encourages broad-spectrum proposals with the potential to make big technological leaps. Funded program topics range from infectious disease and wound healing to neuroscience and beyond.

‘We want to take the technological hurdles off the table’, says Dr Leo Christodoulou, Director for the Defense Sciences Office (DSO), ‘we don’t want people to tell us about the incremental steps they could add to the project that they have worked on for the last 10 years. We want to hear about their dream and what they might do that could change the world.’

DARPA program managers review the applications and may consult with other US government experts in certain cases. Criteria for funding include the potential importance of the idea and the project’s technical feasibility. Realistic budgets are also considered when deciding which grants to fund. There are no citizenship or residency requirements for applicants.

DARPA invites proposals from the research community through two distinct types of solicitations: thrust areas and Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs).

Specific needs identified within DARPA are directly solicited through requests for grant applications that fit within ‘thrust areas’. Individual program managers within the DARPA organization focus these requests to reflect their interests and anticipated needs. Disease researchers working with model organisms might want to check the thrust areas defined by the DSO.

Some of the biomedical thrust areas funded recently by the DSO include: systems to create red blood cells from progenitors through new ‘blood pharming’ techniques; rapid vaccine assessment; deep bleeder coagulation; and methods to promote recovery from significant blood loss. Current thrust areas range from stress and pain management, to infectious disease detection and treatment, and understanding visual processing in the brain. Also on the DARPA wish list are better swimming techniques and aquatic devices stemming from ideas generated by model organisms, such as fish or aquatic birds. More information about targeted thrust areas from DSO can be found at

DARPA welcomes all grant applications that address the health of soldiers or the welfare of national security through open BAAs. These general requests encourage innovative ideas in biology and are renewed yearly to provide scientists with frequent opportunities to submit applications. The criteria and guidelines for submitting grants through BAAs are online at

If you are considering a grant submission to DARPA, a well-written ‘white paper’ could save you time and produce a more successful grant application. White papers are a mechanism to allow applicants to communicate their ideas for grants in a shorter, less formal way than a grant proposal. More importantly, white papers invite a dialogue with the reviewers, usually the program managers, which is not possible with official grant proposals. White papers can precede a grant submission to either a thrust area or a BAA. The response could prove valuable for the focus of an application. More information about white papers can be found at