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ICMR Carries Out Drone Trial to Deliver Tissue Sample in K’taka

Written by : Jayati Dubey

April 11, 2024

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The trial run, conducted for the first time in India, was made possible through collaborative efforts between ICMR, Kasturba Medical College (KMC), and Dr TMA PAI Rotary Hospital.

In a recent development, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has conducted a trial run under its i-Drone initiative. Under this initiative, the research body transported tissue samples for cancer diagnosis surgery.

Taking such initiatives implies ICMR’s aim to expand the drone ecosystem in India, particularly in the healthcare sector, to enhance accessibility and efficiency.

Further, in another recent trial run, a tissue sample was transported in the midst of surgery from Dr TMA Pai Hospital, Karkala, to Kasturba Medical College, Manipal Academy of Higher Education Manipal, covering a distance of approximately 37 km.

This process, which typically takes 50-60 minutes by road, was completed using drones in just 15-20 minutes. Upon arrival at the destination, the tissue sample was promptly analyzed, and the report was electronically conveyed back to the peripheral hospital.

Subsequently, the surgeon proceeded with the surgery based on the received report. This innovative approach streamlines the diagnostic process, enabling quicker decision-making during surgical procedures.

The trial run, conducted for the first time in India, was made possible through collaborative efforts between ICMR, Kasturba Medical College (KMC), and Dr TMA PAI Rotary Hospital.

Currently, ICMR, in collaboration with Kasturba Medical College, is conducting a feasibility study in Manipal, Karnataka, to evaluate the potential use of drones for transporting pathology samples from secondary healthcare facilities to tertiary-level hospitals.

Addressing Key Challenges

Transporting samples for intraoperative decision-making in remote areas presents significant challenges due to limited data on feasibility, utility, and cost-effectiveness. The ongoing research in Manipal aims to address this gap by documenting procedures for quick transportation of intraoperative samples using drones.

ICMR has been at the forefront of utilizing drones for healthcare purposes, with a few other initiatives, including the delivery of medical supplies, vaccines, and medicines in remote areas of Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland.

The i-Drone initiative, initially employed during the COVID-19 pandemic for vaccine distribution, has since expanded to include a range of healthcare essentials.

Dr Rajiv Bahl, secretary of the Department of Health Research (DHR) and director-general of ICMR, said that the 'i-DRONE' initiative was initially utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic by ICMR for distributing vaccines to inaccessible areas.

"Last year, we successfully conducted trials for delivering blood and blood-related products requiring low-temperature storage. Additionally, in another study, we transported medications and diagnostic samples to subzero temperature areas and challenging regions with altitudes exceeding 12,000 feet in Himachal Pradesh,” Bahl added.

In this ongoing study, the focus extends beyond delivering pathological specimens. The primary goal is to enhance patient compliance and alleviate the burden on tertiary care hospitals.

As research efforts continue to explore the feasibility and efficacy of drone transportation in healthcare, the initiative holds promise for enhancing accessibility and improving patient outcomes across India.

About Chime India

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) is an executive organization dedicated to serving senior digital health leaders. CHIME includes more than 5,000 members in 56 countries and two US territories and partners with over 150 healthcare IT businesses and professional services firms. CHIME enables its members and business partners to collaborate, exchange ideas, develop professionally and advocate the effective use of information management to improve the health and care throughout the communities they serve. CHIME's members are chief information officers (CIOs), chief medical information officers (CMIOs), chief nursing information officers (CNIOs), chief innovation officers (CIOs), chief digital officers (CDOs), and other senior healthcare leaders. The CHIME India Chapter became the first international chapter outside North America in 2016 and is now a community of over 70+ members in India. For more information, please visit


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