A drone flew cold human blood for 160 miles over the hot Arizona desert — Smashing records for transport of biological samples on a remotely operated vehicle. The blood was still in good shape once the three-hour flight, which means that the growing role of drones in rural medical aid really might have the potential to save lots of lives.
For those that live in remote areas, reaching to the doctor or getting research laboratory tests can be difficult. That’s why using drones to drop off medical supplies or acquire blood samples for testing can be a game-changer. Some corporations, like California-based Zipline, are within the game for some years, delivering blood for transfusions by drone in Rwanda, and shortly in Tanzania.
As the technology becomes more widely used, researchers wish to make sure that the valuable biological samples transported by drone aren’t powered by the vehicle’s moving engine, or cooked by hot outside temperatures, for instance. Earlier studies showed that drone travel left blood undamaged, however, those were short flights that didn’t reflect the gap a drone may need to travel to reach really remote regions. (Zipline’s drones will fly around 93 miles during a trip.)
So, pathology faculty member Timothy Amukele at Johns Hopkins University collected blood samples from 21 adults and flew half of the samples on a drone for 3 hours over the dry heat of the Arizona desert. (The other half was unbroken in a cool car for comparison.) Amukele and his team used a hybrid drone that combined a helicopter’s ability to launch and land vertically with a glider’s longer flight range. The researchers connected a custom-built, foam-cushioned cooler to the drone’s body. powered by the vehicle’s onboard battery, the cooler kept the samples at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit — 15 degrees cooler than outside air.
After the flight, the team ran 19 tests on the blood, count cells and activity levels of Na and carbon dioxide, among other things. Then they compared the results from the blood on the drone with the blood within the automobile, to see whether or not the flight had affected the test results’ accuracy.
The drone blood was fully fine. only 2 of the test results differed significantly: glucose and potassium levels. However the researchers suspect that as a result of the blood within the automobile was kept about 4 degrees hotter than the samples within the drone, the automobile samples deteriorated somewhat in the heat, skewing the results. The findings were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology.
Before drones are used to carry blood over longer distances, the researchers will need to do a lot of trial flights, using blood samples from those that aren’t quite as healthy because of the volunteers during this study. It’s possible that drone flight might have a much bigger effect on blood with too high or too low levels of glucose, for instance. Plus, there’s the matter of safety: if a drone carrying hazardous materials were to crash, it might endanger people on the ground. thus drones for medical transport ought to be regulated: pilots should have licenses, and specific drone routes should be selected to stop crashes.
There’s lots of work ahead to make certain drones are safely incorporated into the healthcare infrastructure, however, today’s study provides a promising forecast of the future.
Source: The Verge