Are Drones the Future of Blood Transportation?

According to a study published in Transfusion, blood products can maintain temperature and cellular integrity during transport by small civilian unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as drones).

Lead author Timothy Amukele, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues tested drone transportation by packing six units of red blood cells (RBC), platelets, and unthawed plasma from the American Red Cross into a five-quart cooler (due to drone transport weight restrictions) using wet ice, pre-calibrated thermal packs, and dry ice. The cooler was then attached to a commercial, remote-controlled S900-model drone for delivery.

The drone flew approximately eight to 12 miles for 26.5 minutes. Ambient temperatures ranged from −1°C to 18°C across two days of the tests. After the flight, blood samples were tested at the Johns Hopkins Hospital to determine if the RBC units and platelets were damaged or changed. Platelets and plasma also were checked for any evidence of air bubbles, which would indicate thawing.

The researchers found no evidence of RBC hemolysis; no significant changes in platelet count, pH, or mean platelet volumes; and no changes in the frozen plasma within 24 hours of collection time. The temperature of all units was maintained during transport and flight.

“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,” said Dr. Amukele.

Sources: Amukele T, Ness PM, Tobian AAR, et al. Drone transportation of blood products. Transfusion. 2016 November 11. [Epub ahead of print]; Johns Hopkins news release, December 7, 2016.