Researchers seek to combine drugs and near-infrared light to keep on-duty sleep-deprived warfighters alert

May 29, 2024
Researchers want to develop AWARE technology with temporal selectivity to enable reversible activation of the drug precisely when needed.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers will brief industry next month on an upcoming project to develop a combination drug and device to help sleep-deprived warfighters to stay alert without side-effects like anxiety, irritability, or euphoria.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., will brief industry in-person and by webinar on 12 and 14 June 2024 on the Alert Warfighter Enablement (AWARE) project.

AWARE seeks to develop a combination drug and device to increase alertness non-invasively following sleep loss in humans, without negative side effects such as anxiety, irritability, or euphoria, and with reduced addictive potential.

Briefings will be in-person and by webinar from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on 17 June 2024 at the DARPA Conference Center, 675 N. Randolph St., in Arlington, Va.

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Today's approaches for maintaining alertness following sleep loss include drugs like caffeine, and for U.S. military personnel undergoing long-duration training or missions, prescription stimulants like modafinil or dextroamphetamine.

Although dextroamphetamine is shown to be superior modafinil or caffeine at helping boost vigilance following sleep loss, it also can cause irritability, as well as and euphoria, which can lead to addiction.

Instead, AWARE seeks to develop a photoswitchable version of dextroamphetamine that is inactive except in the presence of near-infrared (NIR) light, which activates it. Combining a photoswitchable drug and a NIR-emitting light could activate regions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for executive function, working memory, and decision making, while avoiding deep brain structures such as the amygdala and striatum, which have been implicated in mood alterations and euphoria.

Researchers want to develop AWARE technology with temporal selectivity to enable reversible activation of the drug precisely when needed. Moreover, temporal arrangement of NIR light pulses may titrate the drug dose over time to reduce the potential for addiction. Importantly, the temporal selectivity of switching the drug from an active to inactive state to make restorative sleep possible.

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The AWARE program will have three phases over three years, and have two technical areas: developing photoswitchable dextroamphetamine (“PhotoDex”) molecules; and developing wearable transducers that emit near-infrared light.

Companies interested in the industry briefings should register no later than 12 June 2024 for the in-person meetings, and by 14 June 2024 for the webinar broadcast, online at

Email questions or concerns to DARPA's Pedro Irazoqui at [email protected]. More information is online at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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