Photo by Keith Weller, via Johns Hopkins Medicine
Photo by Keith Weller, via Johns Hopkins Medicine

Johns Hopkins scientists recently conducted an unusual experiment: They took a bunch of blood, attached it to a drone, and sent it flying.

This was not just a scientist’s weird idea of fun. The researchers were looking for a better way to transport biological samples, something that’s of special concern in countries without developed road systems or robust infrastructure. Making the problem even thornier is the fact that blood is finicky. It can’t even be sent through some hospitals’ internal pneumatic tube systems, because the stopping-and-starting might destroy cells or cause it to coagulate.

The benefit of drones is that they’re light, swift, and easy to control. And so the Hopkins team partnered with scientists at Uganda’s Makerere University to see if this idea might actually work. They took blood samples from a few dozen healthy people at Johns Hopkins Hospital and then drove them out to a drone test zone. Then, the samples were zoomed around in the air for anywhere between 6 and 38 minutes. Then they were taken back to the hospital where they underwent the 30 most common lab analyses.

“The flight really had no impact,” said experiment leader Timothy Kien Amukele, a pathologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Bring on the drones!