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While we are getting accustomed to drones being used for military operations, pictures, and drone delivery, a new medical market is emerging creating Bold impacts on society.  Scientists and physicians are looking at utilizing medical drones to save lives by delivering laboratory specimens in record time. Testing is ongoing to prove the benefits of this technology and how medical drones can save lives and improve patient care.

Triumphant Trials for Medical Drones

Researchers from Mayo Clinic are building the scientific foundation. Pathologist James Hernandez, MD, and Christine Snozek, Ph.D., Director of Clinical Chemistry at Mayo Arizona are spearheading a recent drone study. The experiment, in fact, set a new distance record for medical drones transporting blood samples across the Arizona desert.

Dr. Hernandez said medical drones are helpful in situations where transportation is a challenge. These include rural areas without good roads, military zones, and calamity-stricken areas. Patients in these environments may need blood or blood products fast, and therefore, drone delivery may be their only option to survive.

old man getting medical help from a woman and medical drone
Faster and cheaper services to communities by medical drones.

Medical drone technology has the potential for faster and cheaper services to communities where medical access is difficult. This is according to Timothy Amukele, MD, Ph.D., a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and leader of the study. One example could be the hospital-to-hospital delivery of goods and specimens. Even if the hospitals are not too far from each other, getting from one hospital to another could take up to half an hour, at least, by land transport. A drone would certainly address this easily and it would only take a fraction of the time.

Time-Quality Analysis

Dr. Amukele’s experiment required the transport and analysis of blood samples to determine how drone flights affect them. In their previous studies, Amukele and colleagues proved that drones can deliver biological samples over short distances. These covered about 40 kilometers and lasted up to 40 minutes, and demonstrated in moderate ambient temperatures. This study built the foundation for large-scale experimentation.

The team performed the new experiment in a similar environment with 21 adult volunteers providing a total of 84 blood samples. Forty-two samples were transported by land, while the other 42 samples were flown by medical drones in special cooling boxes. Researchers then performed hematology and chemistry tests at the Mayo Clinic laboratory.

The results showed that the cellular components of blood continued to consume glucose. The glucose level, however, consequently decreases that is why the time of extraction of the liquid components of blood from the cell components matter. The right temperature is also important. For patients that would need immediate blood transfusions, the blood has to be intact and of good sustained quality as per medical standards.

Room for Optimization for Medical Drones

The experiment proved that medical drone flights are indeed a promising alternative as they can cover greater distances than expected. But there is a need to further improve on temperature control within the compartment. They would need to perfect this as health centers desire drone transportation that could go beyond 100 kilometers.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic worked closely with Dr. Amukele’s team for the design of the study with temperature and humidity concerns as their focus for drone delivery. Another concern was specimens must be packed as they are potential biohazards. The specimens were then triple-packed to meet the standards for flown specimens. These details were requirements for safety and the validation of the results.

Hope on the Horizon for Drone Delivery

Dr. Amukele’s team hopes to do the experiment in colder climates. However, while there are no official plans yet, both parties are more than willing to work again in future projects. Both parties understand the value of testing and validation and hope that drone innovations such as this could be an available service for countless people. Once they refine the products, drones could soon be an integral part of medical response operations all over the globe.

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