Million days lost to diarrhea spur military’s cure search

Napoleon knew the strategic advantage of a large, well-fed army.

One without diarrhea.

In 1795, the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. Nicolas Appert suggested canning and the process was first proven in 1806 in test with the French navy and the prize awarded in 1809 or 1810. The packaging prevents microorganisms from entering and proliferating inside.

The French Army began experimenting with issuing canned foods to its soldiers, but the slow process of canning foods and the even slower development and transport stages prevented the army from shipping large amounts across the French Empire, and the war ended before the process was perfected. Unfortunately for Appert, the factory which he had built with his prize money was razed in 1814 by Allied soldiers invading France.

So it’s worthy the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which developed packet-switching that was key to the development of the Internet in 1969, long before Al Gore invented the Internet, now wants to develop a commercially viable medicine that delivers quick, temporary protection for soldiers from a variety of diseases such as the flu, diarrhea and malaria.

According to Bloomberg, diarrhea struck as many as 60 percent of deployed troops at the start of the Iraq war, said Mark Riddle, a U.S. Navy commander who performs military medical research at the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. More than 1 million service days were sacrificed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “due to severe diarrhea in deployed forces,” DARPA said in program documents on a federal website.

DARPA typically picks projects where the expected success rate is 10 percent or less, said Stephen Albert Johnston, co-director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine at Arizona State University.

“They’re supposed to be the high-risk guys,” Johnston said in a phone interview. “If they get too high of a success rate, they figure they aren’t taking enough risks.”