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.


Jeff Street

Jeff Street is a drone engineer and pilot with more than ten years of experience leading small teams to develop innovative new vehicles.