With a 3-hour, 161-mile flight across the Arizona desert, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine completed a record-distance medical drone delivery.
During the flight, the drone’s payload system maintained the temperature of the human blood samples stored in a temperature-controlled chamber onboard, keeping them viable for lab analysis, according to the findings published 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,” Dr. Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology and the paper’s senior author, said in a press release. “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 likely to be the 21st century’s best medical sample delivery system.”
To test the flight, researchers took pairs of 84 blood samples to an airfield in Arizona, where one sample of each pair was loaded onto the drone, which also completed its flight at the airfield, and the other was stored in a car with active cooling.
After the flight, the samples were compared using common chemistry and hematology tests, which revealed the pairs still had similar sodium levels and red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet counts. The sets had small differences in glucose and potassium levels, but this was because the samples in the car were kept at a slightly warmer temperature and so experienced some chemical degradation.
Past tests conducted by Johns Hopkins on delivery flights up to 20 miles found that no flown samples were negatively affected.
“Getting diagnostic results far more quickly under difficult conditions will almost certainly improve care and save more lives,” Amukele said.