An experimental flight allowed a drone to connect two hospitals to transmit human tissue to an analysis laboratory. Operated in Belgium, this test is the first in Europe.

A drone carried out test flights in Antwerp, northern Belgium, on Tuesday (Aug 23) to transport human tissue from one hospital to another for analysis, an unprecedented experience in Europe that could save valuable time during the operation. .

The drone, piloted by the Flemish company Helicus, left a building of the ZNA hospital network in Antwerp to land four minutes later on the roof of the Sint-Augustinus branch of the GZA hospitals, 800 meters away: within ‘a tube connected to the drone, a vial containing potentially cancerous human tissue for analysis in the Sint-Augustus laboratory.

New regulations planned for 2023

This test flight, followed by three others during the day, is a first: Helicus is currently the only European company that has received, in mid-June, the authorization to organize drone flights for medical purposes, over a city and flown to distance. from the line of sight of the operator.

These tests, carried out with a device from the Belgian manufacturer SABCA, come before the new European regulations scheduled for 2023, which will make it possible to generalize the transport of human tissue by drones. Helicus bets on commercial development and regular flights by 2024.

However, “the great advantage of drones is to combine speed, by reducing the average transport time, and regularity, which guarantees logistics reliability,” he argues.

Ten minutes won by the air

The leaders of the ZNA and GZA hospital groups are already preparing for the entry into force of the new European regulations. “Delivery times are vital, and the absence of air traffic jams guarantees reliable flight time,” said Els van Doesburg, president of ZNA, noting that a journey that takes at most 21 minutes by car “will take 10 minutes in drone”.

The four laboratories of the two ZNA and GZA networks must process 1,200 samples taken during a surgical operation each year, which urgently need to be analyzed, in particular for cancer cells, in order to determine the continuation of the operation. They are transported by road, sometimes by taxi.

At the moment, only samples intended for analysis (human tissue, urine, blood samples) are involved in drone transport, but Helicus is already studying the possibility of transporting blood bags or organs for a transplant. “We have done studies, but it will take years, because the challenge is more complicated: with a larger volume, you have to add cooling elements,” recalls Shamim.

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