Brothers Matthew and Connor Tukel are developing a drone to deliver life-saving medications to patients in need.
Photography courtesy of Matthew Tukel
Matthew and Connor Tukel have some big things in common: They happen to be brothers; they are both in medical school; they graduated from Hillel Day School and Frankel Jewish Academy; and just recently, they reinvented the way anti-overdose drugs such as naloxone are delivered to patients by using a drone.
The brothers discovered that a drone can deliver anti-overdose medication, EpiPens, anticonvulsant medications and even automatic defibrillators.
“We had both been working at Detroit Receiving Hospital in the emergency department and we observed a lot of patients who were coming into the emergency room who had overdosed on heroin,” Matthew said. “We learned that a lot of patients were dying because first responders weren’t able to reach them fast enough.”
During that time, Matthew and Connor were working with drone technology and experienced an aha! moment: Why not create a drone to deliver medications in high-risk situations?
“Our drone is not meant to replace first responders, but instead supplement their efforts,” Matthew said. “The problem that we were exposed to was that medication wasn’t reaching the patients fast enough or there wasn’t enough staff to help.”
“The point is that there is this readily accessible treatment that can be given by anyone,” Connor added. “This is about bolstering access and enabling bystanders to help these patients.”
Their drone is designed with a high-intensity headlamp, a first-person view camera, payload delivery system and shockproof container for carrying intranasal naloxone.
“For first responders, if they have a patient in dangerous areas where there’s not a lot of light or a high prevalence of crime, this could be a tool to survey the area before they head in,” Connor said. “
Matthew, 25, is in his third year of medical school at Wayne State University. Connor, 22, is in his first year at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan..
Once they solidified their idea, the pair acquired the best consumer drone and rebuilt it for the naloxone delivery. They then obtained an emergency response data set from the Detroit city controller to help them gather the data points and distances they needed to test the drone for.
Next, they conducted 50 flight trials with the drone across seven different straight line distances. The data collected at the end of the trials proved that the drone travel times are faster than ambulance arrival times.
“We wanted to have a reference as to what a paradigm was currently for Detroit first responders responding to the scene of opioid overdoses,” Matthew said. “We took their data and compared it to ours that we acquired, and we found that our drone was as fast, if not faster, than Detroit’s first responders.”
If cities do incorporate drones, they would need to develop drone deployment centers near high overdose areas. The brothers shared that these centers would allow for drones to be quickly sent out to reach the patient and empower bystanders to assist before the arrival of first-responders.
Matthew recently presented his findings during a presentation titled,“Time-to-Scene for Opioid Overdoses – Are Unmanned Aerial Drones Faster than Traditional First Responders in an Urban Environment?” at the Michigan American College of Physicians’ annual meeting in Grand Rapids.
He won first place in the medical student category and earned a spot to travel to Los Angeles in April to present at the National American College of Physicians’ meeting.
The brothers have now submitted a more extensive manuscript of their findings to the British Medical Journal with hopes of it being published.
“The significance of the publication is that it will validate the concept,” Matthew said. “It will then open up the door and start a conversation saying that this might be a solution to this big problem.”
While the findings show positive results, there is still more research that needs to be done before we see drones delivering the medications.
“We validated the intuition that a drone can travel faster than an ambulance in an urban environment,” Connor said. “The trials were very controlled and we need to now look at real-world practical considerations.”
The brothers credit much of their success to their family and Jewish upbringing.
“We learned the values of empowerment and feeling like you had a responsibility to do something to improve the lives of other people and had that ingrained in us throughout our lives,” Connor said.