A drone has conducted test flights in the city of Antwerp in eastern Belgium, to transport human tissue from one hospital to another for analysis, in an unprecedented experiment in Europe that may save valuable time during surgical operations.

The helicopter, operated by Helicos, took off from a ZNA hospital building in Antwerp, then landed four minutes later on the roof of the JZA Hospital Saint Augustus, 800 meters away. Inside a tube connected to the drone was a vial containing human tissue potentially cancerous for analysis in the laboratories of St. Augustus Hospital, reports a local Arabic daily.

The test flight, which was followed by three other flights during the same day, is the first of its kind in Europe and “Helicos” is the only European company that received, in mid-June, permission to organize flights for medical purposes of drones flying in the atmosphere of a city and with remote control outside the visibility of the operator.

These tests, which were carried out with a device made by the Belgian company “Sabca”, come before the adoption of new European rules expected in 2023, which will allow the generalization of human tissue transport by drones.

Helicos is counting on developing the project commercially and launching regular flights by 2024.

“In the face of the increasing costs of health systems, expensive medical technology services, including laboratories, can be placed in one place,” Michael Shamim, CEO of Helicos, told AFP, allowing neighboring hospitals to send their samples.

However, “the great advantage of drones lies in the combination of speed, by reducing the average transfer time, and regularity, which ensures logistical reliability,” according to Shamim.

The directors of the two hospital groups, ZNA and JZA, are preparing for the entry into force of the new European rules.

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