Thursday, December 8, 2016
In findings announced yesterday, scientists from Johns Hopkins University took ordinary commercial drones, swapped out their cameras for coolers and packed them with human plasma, platelets and blood cells. The drones were found to deliver their cargo in usable condition after flights lasting almost half an hour, at distances of up to 12 miles.
“For rural areas that lack access to nearby clinics, or that may lack the infrastructure for collecting blood products or transporting them on their own, drones can provide that access,” says pathologist and lead author of the paper Dr. Timothy Amukele.
Although earlier studies have confirmed that drone flights do not affect the useful properties or microbe populations of human blood products, those experiments were performed on small, vial-sized samples. Here, the drones carried much larger quantities of blood, in the proportions and packaging that doctors and medical technicians would actually use on patients, with units purchased directly from the American Red Cross. Unlike Rwanda’s medical delivery drones, which were custom-made for blood product delivery by Zipline, these experiments were completed with regular, commercially available S900-model machines with minimal modification.
Post-flight, the samples were tested for cell rupture, changes in pH, air bubbles and other damage that might indicate that the packages had thawed out or otherwise become unsuitable for use in transfusions. The samples were found to have arrived intact.
Although the test was performed in an unpopulated area, it is speculated that drones might be useful not only for delivery of blood products to rural medical facilities but also for distributing blood resources through urban areas. John’s Hopkins pathologist and research team leader Dr. Timothy Armukele speculates that emergency medical teams may one day be able to transfuse patients on the spot by calling for a drone to bring blood of the appropriate type.
The details of the experiment have been published in the latest issue of Transfusion.