Drones May Someday Deliver Genetic Tests to Save Kids’ Lives

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One of America’s largest accountancy-auditing companies is helping a San Diego research hospital potentially save the lives of children via drone technology.

Deloitte and Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine are teaming up to explore drone delivery for medical samples from the hospital to the lab for genomic testing.

When minutes count, an aerial delivery soaring high above snarled-up traffic can provide Rady doctors with timely whole-genome sequencing tests to diagnose newborns and children with rare genetic diseases.

“By rapidly decoding a child’s DNA, we can provide medical teams with vital information to guide personalize patient care,” Rady CEO Stephen Kingsmore said. “When minutes matter, we can’t afford to have a sample delayed in transit.”

“This UAS project is an innovation to speed transport and delivery of samples to their lab,” Josh Nelson, principal, Deloitte Consulting, said. “Together with [Rady], we plan to go from strategy to testing to operational and develop a blueprint for other health care organizations to use.”

As testing ramps up, the team will work with the FAA to validate the drone system’s safety as well as to consider issues such as temperature control and flight protocol during deliveries.

If successful, the group could expand the program to deliver other types of samples over farther distances – especially to rural, underserved regions.

“This technology opens many possibilities for providing faster diagnosis for a variety of needs. Coupling rapid sequencing tests with rapid sample transport will speed the time to precise treatment and reduce the period of uncertainty both for providers and the parents of our patients,” Kingsmore said. “More babies’ and children’s lives can be saved – this is what drives us.”

Medical drone flights may soon become the norm as more agencies and corporations fund deeper research.

In 2014, Bay Area startup QuiQui began working on medical drone delivery as a concept for the Mission District of San Francisco.

In May, a team from the University of Maryland delivered a successfully transplanted kidney to surgeons at the university’s hospital. In addition, researchers at Ireland’s NUI Galway completed an inaugural medical mission last year, delivering medication and blood samples for diabetes care from Connemara Airport to Inis Mór in the Aran Islands.



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