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Advancements in Developing a Drug to Enhance Cold Endurance: DARPA’s Research Initiative


Soldiers working in extreme cold conditions face numerous challenges, as the cold climate poses physical and operational hazards. Protecting soldiers from the elements and ensuring their health and effectiveness is crucial. While appropriate cold-weather gear, hydration, and physical activity can help, scientists are now exploring the possibility of developing a drug that can temporarily enhance the human body’s resilience to extreme cold exposure. This blog article explores recent advancements in this area, including a research initiative funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Soldiers often have to work in extremely cold conditions, where different negative influences from the surrounding area act on them. For example, working in arctic conditions can be challenging for soldiers, as the extreme cold presents many physical and operational hazards.

In cold climates, soldiers need protection from the elements to maintain their health and effectiveness in carrying out their duties.  Soldiers wear appropriate cold-weather gear, including multiple layers of insulating clothing, gloves, hats, and waterproof boots which help them retain body heat and stay warm.

Staying hydrated is important in any climate, but it’s especially crucial in cold weather where dehydration can cause hypothermia. Soldiers need to drink enough water and eat foods that provide energy and hydration.

Exercise can increase metabolism and body heat, as the body burns more calories to produce energy during physical activity. Sleeping in a cooler room can also help increase body heat, as the body works to maintain a stable core temperature.

Unfortunately, there is no known drug that actually makes you impervious to cold, but with recently announced funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), scientists at Rice University and Baylor College plan to start looking for one.

DARPA Grant and Rice University’s Research:

Rice University bioengineer Jerzy Szablowski has been awarded a prestigious Young Faculty Award from DARPA to identify nongenetic drugs that can enhance the human body’s response to extreme cold. The focus of the research lies in brown adipose tissue (BAT), also known as brown fat, which plays a role in thermogenesis and generates body heat. By enhancing the nonshivering thermogenesis response of BAT, it is possible to improve cold adaptation and endurance.

The Role of Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT):

Unlike white fat, which stores calories, brown fat breaks down stored energy to produce body heat. Enhancing the activity of brown fat can help individuals generate more heat in response to cold exposure. This research seeks to find drugs that can boost the BAT response and improve cold adaptation. The potential applications of such a drug range from aiding first responders in treating hypothermia to enhancing performance in arctic exploration.

The Screening Method and Potential Applications:

Szablowski plans to deploy a novel screening method to identify drugs that enhance the cold adaptation response of BAT. This method holds promise not only for the development of drugs to enhance cold endurance but also for optimizing the development of drugs to treat diseases and infections. The mechanism-agnostic approach allows for the screening of a large number of drugs, potentially speeding up the drug development process and reducing costs.

The human body’s response to cold involves two types of thermogenesis. “One involves shivering, which all of us have experienced,” Szablowski explained. “If you are getting ill and you are developing a fever, you begin to shiver, and that shivering raises your body temperature. The problem is that you lose dexterity and it is really unpleasant.

“The other type of thermogenesis involves BAT, which is capable of generating heat through a chemical reaction,” he said. “Nonshivering thermogenesis kicks in sooner but is not as efficient, so it cannot generate quite as much heat, at least not in humans.”

Previous Research and Findings:

Earlier research has provided a foundation for this project. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute identified a metabolite called myristoylglycine, which prompts the creation of brown fat cells in mice without any apparent side effects. Additionally, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that the drug mirabegron, approved for treating overactive bladder, boosted brown fat activity in volunteers, resulting in increased metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

Challenges and Future Directions:

While the research shows promise, challenges remain. Ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the drug while mitigating potential side effects is crucial. Researchers are committed to conducting further studies to explore the full potential of developing a drug that enhances cold endurance.


Advancements in developing a drug to enhance cold endurance present exciting possibilities for improving the resilience of individuals in extreme cold conditions. DARPA’s funding of research at Rice University underscores the importance of this field. While challenges exist, ongoing research and exploration of potential drug candidates may lead to significant breakthroughs in enhancing cold adaptation. By developing such a drug, we can potentially protect soldiers and individuals working in extreme cold environments, ensuring their well-being and operational effectiveness.







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