BOULDER - The University of Colorado's BioFrontiers Institute has been awarded a $14.6 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for a project that could impact the military and medical sectors.

The mission of the project is to develop a system to rapidly determine how drugs and biological or chemical agents affect human cells. The project is called the Subcellular Pan-Omics for the Advanced Rapid Threat Assessment, or SPARTA.

Research assistant professor William Old from CU's chemistry and biochemistry department will lead the SPARTA team.

DARPA is an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. The SPARTA project is aimed at giving DARPA a better understanding of how cells are affected during exposure to biological or chemical agents to help prevent mortality during conflicts.

But the SPARTA team is expecting other benefits as well, including biomedical.

"Traditionally it takes decades to figure out how drugs affect an organism's biology," Old said in a release from the Colorado BioScience Association. "Our goal is to rapidly speed up the process, identifying how these compounds work in weeks. This could lower the barriers to developing effective drugs that have minimal side effects."

Part of the contract with DARPA covers the $2.2 million installation of two new mass spectrometers at the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building on the CU-Boulder campus. The Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Core Facility there run by Old already houses seven mass spectrometers. In addition to the SPARTA team, the new spectrometers will also be available for use by scientists, students and companies that use the laboratory.