Blood-product drone deliveries are safe to use in supplying disaster sites and remote areas, according to medical researchers who took the controls of the tiny, potential life-saving aircraft.
The study released on Wednesday and detailed last month in the science journal Transfusion, said the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers discovered that blood products maintained "temperature and cellular integrity" while being transported by drones.
"Small civilian unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) are a novel way to transport small goods," said the study's abstract. "To the best of our knowledge there are no studies examining the impact of drone transport on blood products, describing approaches to maintaining temperature control, or component physical characteristics during drone transport."
The Johns Hopkins researchers purchased six units of red blood cells, six units of platelets, and six units of unthawed plasma from the American Red Cross, packed them into a five-quart cooler, two to three units at a time, and transported them with a commercial S900-model drone.
In each test, the drones carrying the blood were flown about 300 feet off the ground at a distance of eight to 12 miles. The flights took about 26.5 minutes and then the blood was tested at the university's laboratories for red blood cell damage.
The Transfusion study said researchers found "no adverse impact" to the blood that was transported by the drones. The study suggested that drones would be "a viable option for the transportation of blood products."
"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 Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
This summer, the Federal Aviation Administration put in effect new comprehensive regulations on non-recreational use drones.
"We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world."
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