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Emergency Medicine Homepage

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Temperature-controlled specimen
transport container designed by
Johns Hopkins is packed with
blood sample test tubes

Johns Hopkins team transported medical samples in a drone across 161 miles

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
The next time you see a drone, it could be transporting temperature-controlled medical samples.

Johns Hopkins researchers recently set a new delivery distance record for medical drones of 161 miles across the Arizona desert. They're now referring to drones as the "21st century's best medical sample delivery system."

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In a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, they stated that this can be an effective, safe and timely way to transport medical samples from rural areas to urban laboratories.

"It is likely that medical drones will be able to exceed the record we reported in our article," Dr. Timothy Amukele, professor at Johns Hopkins and the paper's senior author, told HCB News. "However, it will require really stringent environmental controls and will depend on the intended use of the sample."

Amukele and his team collected pairs of 84 blood samples at the University of Arizona and drove them to an airfield to be flown 161 miles. They loaded one sample from each pair onto a commercially available drone equipped with a temperature-controlled chamber.

The other sample of each pair was held in a car at the airfield with active cooling in order to maintain the target temperature. The average temperature of the drone samples was 24.8 degrees Celsius compared with 27.3 degrees Celsius for the samples not flown.

After the flight, all samples were transported 62 miles by car to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. They were tested for 17 of the 19 most common chemistry and hematology tests.

The flown and not-flown samples had similar results for red blood cell, white blood cells, platelet counts and sodium levels. There were small yet statistically significant differences in glucose and potassium levels due to chemical degradation from the slightly warmer temperature in the not-flown samples.

The research team plans to investigate this further with larger studies in the U.S. and other countries. Johns Hopkins is not currently transporting medical samples for clinical purposes, but is poised to start a program early next year in South Africa, according to Amukele.

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