DARPA – Epigenetic CHaracterization and Observation (ECHO)

February 2, 2018 by School of Medicine Webmaster

This site will be updated as additional information is released.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a program designed to diminish the threat posed by state or non-state actor use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and improving diagnostics for troops who may have been exposed to threat agents. The ECHO program aims to develop technologies that enable the use of an individual’s epigenome to reveal their history of exposure to WMD and WMD precursors.

WMD production is proliferating around the world, specifically among terror groups and non-state actors. Current forensic practice uses residues associated with WMD manufacture or exposure, which are often transient and in such low concentrations making them virtually undetectable in field forward austere conditions. Addressing the emerging WMD threat requires a capability that can move beyond the state of the art to forensically link an individual to WMD manufacture, and diagnose WMD exposure, with high specificity and temporal resolution with respect to the timing of the exposure event. The ECHO program aims to reveal an individual’s WMD and WMD precursor exposure history, recorded in their own epigenome. ECHO will build a new forensic and diagnostic platform that provides an advantage over current methods, as the epigenome is imprinted in the genome and detectable even when physical evidence has been erased. ECHO will build signatures that incorporate the pattern of unique epigenetic changes associated with a specific exposure to a single compound or agent. The exposure-specific epigenetic signatures will contain information that denotes the specific exposure and time since exposure. Ultimately, ECHO will integrate the final epigenetic signature panel into a point-of-need forensic and diagnostic system.

Success in this program will require groundbreaking approaches to characterize epigenetic signatures from WMD exposure events, and new bioinformatics tools to perform forensic analysis and disease diagnostics with high sensitivity, specificity and temporal resolution. Proposing teams should be multidisciplinary with expertise in WMD threat agents, chromatin biology, epigenetics, gene expression, bioinformatics, microfluidics, next generation sequencing, forensics, circulating biomarker discovery, point-of-care diagnostic device development, infectious disease surveillance, and computational modeling. Proposing teams are strongly encouraged to include expertise across these fields, as well as with industry partners that can develop commercial applications based on outputs of the ECHO program

Proposer’s Day (pre-registration required):  

Interested attendees are invited to present a brief one-slide PowerPoint summary of their interests and capabilities, to be presented during 3-minute “lightning” presentations at Proposers Day. Presentations consisting of multiple slides will not be granted a time slot. Attendees may also choose to present a poster (see Attachment 2) describing their research interests that will be available for viewing and interaction for the duration of Proposers Day – those interested may submit both a lightning talk and a poster. Lightning talk and/or poster submissions will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis until time constraints (lightning talks) or physical capacity (posters) is reached. Lightning talk submissions are restricted to those attending the physical meeting.

All presentations and posters must be emailed to DARPA-SN-18-23@darpa.mil no later than 12:00 PM EDT on February 19, 2018.

The conference will take place at:
Executive Conference Center (ECC)
4075 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22203

Complete information on the conference:

Conference registration:

Broad description of the program:  https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2018-02-01

Filed Under: Funding Opportunities