Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have demonstrated that large bags of blood products are able to remain at the right temperature and maintain cellular integrity when transported by drones. These findings look set to revolutionise the delivery of medical products.

Drone transport for medical supplies now taking off

Every two seconds in the US, someone needs a blood transfusion and every year some seven million litres of blood are used in transfusions. Usually vans are dispatched to deliver the necessary blood products, but other means of transport are starting to be used, including drones. But how can medical institutions be sure that drone delivery will not cause the quality of the blood products to deteriorate? Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been looking into this question.

Their report, published last month, reveals that during tests they conducted, the temperature of the blood products was maintained while being transported by ‘unmanned aerial systems’ (UAS) – aka drones – and that the quality of the samples remained unaffected, even when the bags were large. This amplifies a previous study, also from Johns Hopkins, which analysed the impact of transporting such sensitive items by drone, but using smaller samples.

Both sets of researchers have come to the same conclusion – there is no danger. So, the way would now appear to be open for delivering emergency medical products by air, which is very good news for medical staff and their patients in out-of-the-way places such as mountain roads.

If the research findings are accurate, drones may have a bright future ahead in the healthcare sector. And US startup Zipline has not been slow to grasp this fact. The Silicon Valley-based firm launched a drone medical delivery service in Rwanda in October, and is now planning to deliver medicines and bags of blood products by drone in Maryland, Nevada and Washington State, starting this year.

By Sophia Qadiri
Managing Editor & Journalist