ABC Baltimore

Drones could soon deliver medical supplies and blood samples, changing health care

by Catherine Hawley

For the last four years, researchers at Johns Hopkins have been field testing drones to move medical samples. 

"We knew that these samples are sensitive and we wanted to figure out what things do we need to bring to the drone to help make medical transport viable," said Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Timothy Amukele.

Association of American Medical Colleges News

Those Magnificent Medical Flying Machines

by Tom Marcinko

“These small vehicles have the same name as some military weapons, [but] they’re not the same thing at all,” said Timothy K. Amukele, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In 2015, when a student came to Amukele with the idea of using drones to fly blood samples from clinic to lab, the physician was skeptical until he learned that drones were shrinking in size and price. Since then—“a million years in technology,” he said—the demand for drones led his student to found a drone-making company, one of several in the country.

Still, when Amukele applied for institutional review board (IRB) permission, “they thought it was a joke,” he said. Amukele initially had his doubts about drones’ capabilities, too. For example, he thought that in-flight vibrations might rupture blood cells, which happens to samples on bad roads.

But Amukele and his team have shown that drones can transport blood samples and products, and blood and sputum culture specimens undamaged.


Baltimore Sun

Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun

Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun

Drones could soon get crucial medical supplies to patients in need

By Meredith Cohn

Aerial drones could one day ferry life-or-death medical supplies between hospitals now that Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have figured out how to keep blood, medications and vaccines consistently cool during the flights.

Interest in the use of drones has surged in recent years as companies, including retail giant Amazon, explore the use of the unmanned aircraft to efficiently and cheaply transport goods above traffic, through bad weather or to otherwise inaccessible or remote areas.

"If the blood somehow was changed or destroyed in transport, then none of it matters," said Dr. Timothy Amukele, a pathologist and director of the Hopkins Bayview Medical Center's clinical laboratories, who has spent the last 18 months on a team perfecting refrigeration on drones.

Amukele published findings in the journal Transfusion in November that showed no biological change to blood packed in specially refrigerated coolers during test flights, which lasted about 26 minutes and covered 12 miles at 328 feet above ground. He said he knows of no other advanced effort to solve the temperature problem.

Popular Science

Good News: It's Safe To Use Drones To Fly Blood Around

By Kelsey D. Atherton

Delivering objects via drone is a tempting notion bound by hard constraints: drones are small, so the cargo has to be small. Drones need power to fly, and any additional weight requires more power to cover the same distance, which further limits the size of the cargo. For a drone delivery to make sense, then, the small cargo has to justify both its weight and the urgency of a drone flight. Pound for pound and ounce for ounce, few cargoes match that limitation better than blood.

In a study published in the journal Transfusion, Johns Hopkins researcher Timothy Amukele demonstrated that drones are a safe and efficient way to get blood pouches to remote locations. This isn't Amukele's first blood drone rodeo. In 2015, he demonstrated that small vials of blood could catch a ride with a drone and arrive in good condition, no worse for wear than vials transported by car.

Release - Study Shows Blood Products Unaffected By Drone Trips


By Chanapa Tantibanchachai

In what is believed to be the first proof-of-concept study of its kind, Johns Hopkins researchers have determined that large bags of blood products, such as those transfused into patients every day, can maintain temperature and cellular integrity while transported by drones.

In a report about the findings, published ahead of print in the journal Transfusion in November, the investigators say the findings add to evidence that remotely piloted drones are an effective, safe and timely way to quickly get blood products to remote accident or natural catastrophe sites, or other time-sensitive destinations.

“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 Timothy Amukele, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the paper’s first author.

Drones also can help in urban centers like Baltimore City to improve distribution of blood products and the quality of care, he says.

The Johns Hopkins team previously studied the impact of drone transportation on the chemical, hematological and microbial makeup of drone-flown blood samples and found that none were negatively affected. The new study examines the effects of drone transportation on larger amounts of blood products used for transfusion, which have significantly more complex handling, transport and storage requirements compared to blood samples for laboratory testing.

For the study, the team purchased six units of red blood cells, six units of platelets and six units of unthawed plasma from the American Red Cross, and then packed the units into a 5-quart cooler two to three units at a time, in keeping with weight restrictions for the transport drone. The cooler was then attached to a commercial S900-model drone. This particular drone model comes equipped with a camera mount, which the team removed and replaced with the cooler.

For each test, the drone was flown by remote control a distance of approximately 13 to 20 kilometers (8 to 12 miles) while 100 meters (328 feet) above ground. This flight took up to 26.5 minutes. The team designed the test to maintain temperature for the red blood cells, platelets and plasma units. They used wet ice, pre-calibrated thermal packs and dry ice for each type of blood product, respectively. Temperature monitoring was constant, keeping with transport and storage requirements for blood components. The team conducted the tests in an unpopulated area, and a certified, ground-based pilot flew the drone.

Following flight, all samples were transported to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Amukele’s team used the institution’s laboratories to centrifuge the units of red blood cells and check them for red blood cell damage. They checked the platelets for changes in pH as well as the number of platelets and the plasma units for evidence of air bubbles, which would indicate thawing.

The team plans further and larger studies in the U.S. and overseas, and hopes to test methods of active cooling, such as programming a cooler to maintain a specific temperature.

“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,” says Amukele.

Other authors on this study include Paul M. Ness, Aaron A.R. Tobian, Joan Boyd and Jeff Street of The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Funding for this study was provided by Peter Kovler of the Blum-Kovler Foundation.


Doctors Test Drones To Speed Up Delivery Of Lab Tests

By Esther Landhuis

Three years ago, Geoff Baird bought a drone. The Seattle dad and hobby plane enthusiast used the 2.5-pound quadcopter to photograph the Hawaiian coastline and film his son's soccer and baseball games.

But his big hope is that drones will soon fly tubes of blood and other specimens to Harborview Medical Center, where he works as a clinical pathologist running the hospital's chemistry and toxicology labs. In the near future, Baird and others say, drones could transform health care — not only in rural areas by bringing critical supplies into hard-to-reach places, but also in crowded cities where hospitals pay hefty fees to get medical samples across town during rush hour. By providing a faster, cheaper way to move test specimens, drones could speed diagnoses and save lives. "It's super exciting to me," Baird says.