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The DARPA Way

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, commonly known as DARPA, is funding a number of biotech projects, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

For example, Paul Basken at the Chronicle writes that Harvard University's Donald Ingber is funded by DARPA for his work developing a "lung on a chip" on which researchers could test medical treatments before they are used on people. Further, initiatives at the agency include its Living Foundries program that focuses on developing new fuels, materials, and medicines. It is also involved in the Brain Initiative announced earlier this year by President Obama.

Basken notes, though, that DARPA projects are run a little differently than those funded by the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. DARPA projects are more focused on end results and may involve teams from a range of disciplines. And while the agency may take bigger chances, it closely monitors how work is progressing and may cut off funding if it looks like the project isn't going to work.

"There's almost a cowboy atmosphere about the place — that they're out there inventing the future," Alex Roland from Duke University who wrote a book about DARPA tells Baskin.

Ingber says, though, that it's not for "lone cowboys," adding that "[y]ou can't do it on your own anymore."

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