Blood samples flown by remote controlled drones were shown to maintain their temperature and cellular integrity, demonstrating that this method of transportation could potentially be useful in time-sensitive medical situations.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine flew six units of red blood cells, six units of platelets and six units of unthawed plasma in a 5-quart cooler two to three units at a time, for approximately 8 to 12 miles. The samples were chosen to reflect larger amounts commonly used for transfusion.

The S900-model commercial drone was used in the experiment, with the team replacing the drone’s camera mount with the cooler. Wet ice, pre-calibrated thermal packs and dry ice was used to maintain temperature for each type of blood product respectively, which was monitored consistently. 

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After the flight, the samples were brought to the Johns Hopkins laboratories to centrifuge the units of red blood cells and check them for damage. The platelets were checked for changes in pH as well as the number of platelets; plasma units were checked for evidence of air bubbles, which would indicate thawing. The check revealed no damage to the blood.

“My vision is that in the future, when a first responder arrives to the scene of an accident, he or she can test the victim’s blood type right on the spot and send for a drone to bring the correct blood product,” said Timothy Amukele, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins.

The investigative team has previously studied the impact of drone transportation on smaller blood samples, with positive results. They plan further and larger studies of drone transportation in the U.S. and overseas, and hope to test different methods of cooling, such as programming coolers to maintain specific temperatures.

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