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New Distance Record Set by Medical Drone Transport

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 28 Sep 2017
A new study describes how human blood samples were successfully transporting across almost 260 kilometers of Arizona desert.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (JHU-SOM; Baltimore, MD, USA), the Mayo Clinic (Scottsdale, AZ, USA), and the University of Arizona (Tucson, USA) conducted a study to assess the stability of paired biological samples from 21 adult volunteers in prolonged drone flights. In all, the researchers collected 84 chemistry and hematology samples in a single phlebotomy event. Half of the samples were held stationary, while the other half were flown in a custom active-cooling box mounted on the drone.

Image: The temperature-controlled specimen transport container used by the drones (Photo courtesy of JHU).
Image: The temperature-controlled specimen transport container used by the drones (Photo courtesy of JHU).

Throughout the three-hour, 258 kilometer flight, the on-board payload system maintained constant temperature at 24.8°C, ensuring the samples were viable for 19 chemistry and hematology laboratory tests after landing. The results showed that while 17 of the analytes showed small or no bias, glucose and potassium in the flown samples showed an 8% and 6.2% bias, respectively, which was attributed to chemical degradation from slightly warmer temperature (+2.5°C) in the stationary samples. The study was published on September 5, 2017, in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology.

“We expect that in many cases, drone transport will be the quickest, safest and most efficient option to deliver some biological samples to a laboratory from rural or urban settings," said lead author Timothy pathologist Amukele, MD, PhD, of JHU. “Drones can operate where there are no roads, and overcome conditions that disable wheeled vehicles, traffic and other logistical inefficiencies that are the enemy of improved, timely patient diagnoses and care.”

Drones are already being used in Rwanda to transport vital medications, vaccines, and blood supplies. The drones, manufactured by Zipline (San Francisco, CA, USA; flyzipline.com/product), can reach a speed of 140 km/hour and fly in inclement weather and heavy winds. Using a GPS, the unmanned drones are able to fly autonomously, based on a pre-determined route, before dropping their payload at the required location. They can carry up to 1.6 kilograms, equal to two standard packets of blood.

Related Links:
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Mayo Clinic
University of Arizona


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